sexual assault awareness month.

| Monday, April 5, 2010
Today's Tune: Breathe Me

I don't really post about my personal politics or pet issues in this space, because... well, it's not that kind of blog. However, there are some issues so huge, so damaging, and so intertwined in our daily existence that I can't sit by and say nothing. I hope you'll read this post today, even if it's not what you came for, because this issue is important and affects so many people. It might even affect you, now or in the future.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This issue is very close to my heart, as a woman and as a human being. The crimes of sexual assault and abuse are so often misunderstood or cast aside, and the voices of the victims are many times left unheard. I humbly ask now that you open your ears, hearts and minds. I ask that you listen.

Sexual assault is considered a women's issue, and while it's true that the majority of victims are female, this isn't just our battle. It's everyone's battle. Men and boys are also sexually abused, and what's worse, they are shamed into never reporting their abuse for fear of social retaliation. They, along with their female counterparts, are silenced by societal pressure, fear and apathy.

Setting male sexual abuse aside, men are still affected by this issue. Their wives, girlfriends, daughters, mothers, sisters and friends are the victims. Their own sex is most often the perpetrator. This must be combated. It is no longer okay for a man to sit idly by while his friends make light of violence against women, scoff at rape victims, or perpetuate crimes such as spiking drinks and having "flings" with unconscious or heavily inebriated women. My male friends, I ask that you take a stand. If you love and respect us, I ask that you join us in this fight.

Women, we have a responsibility, as well. We have a responsibility to our significant others, our children, and each other to let our voices be heard, and to teach respect and personal safety. Do not misunderstand me: in an instance of sexual assault, the ONLY person at fault is the assailant. I only wonder how many instances of sexual abuse could be avoided or better handled after the fact if we spoke about these issues. If we taught self-worth to our daughters. If we told them they are more than what lies between their legs. That their body is wholly theirs, and no one may use it in any way without their express permission. That being a victim of rape does not mean you are stupid, or slutty, or broken.

There is so much falsehood and myth attached to sexual assault, and it paints a picture that is vastly untrue and leaves so many victims unprepared when it happens to them. Rape is something we don't talk about, because we secretly believe it will never happen to us or anyone we love. But it does, every single day. It is not something that can be avoided by simply avoiding dark alleys and carrying pepper spray.

A few statistics and factoids for you, courtesy of RAINN:

- 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. That is 17.7 million women.

- 2.78 million American men have been the victim of sexual assault or rape.

- 60% of rapes and sexual assaults are not reported to the authorities.

- This one is important: 2/3 of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows.

Sexual assault is not interchangeable with rape. It can include many types of physical, mental or emotional sex abuse, including stalking, molestation, flashing, groping, exploitation, peeping, harassment or hate crimes.

Rape is not usually about sex. Sex is a mutual act between consenting parties. Rape is more comparable to a home invasion - something that leaves you feeling violated, vulnerable, afraid and as though something has been stolen from you. Only this invasion is of your most sacred, personal home - your body. It is an act that can cause severely damaging mental and emotional scarring, and not something that a victim can just "get over already."

Most rapists are not freaky violent weirdos who hide out in alleys waiting to attack. They are friends, neighbors, and lovers. And the horrible, frightening part? They may not consider what they're doing to be rape. We live in a culture where a guy can have sex with an unconscious or barely conscious woman at a party, and he thinks he just got laid. No one told him it was wrong, and his buddies didn't see an issue with it. I mean, the chick wouldn't have gotten wasted and passed out on his bed if she weren't looking to hook up, right?

So few rapes are reported because it's a lot harder to file a report about someone you know - especially someone you love. Even those that are reported are a crapshoot. Reporting a sexual assault does not mean the perpetrator will be arrested. Being arrested doesn't mean the perp will be convicted. Being convicted doesn't mean they will be sentenced jail time. Only 6% of rapists will ever see the inside of a prison.

Here's the bottom line: anyone should be able to go out, get completely plastered, and dance naked in the middle of a crowded room without a fear in the world that the may wake up a rape victim. Everyone should be a responsible sexual partner and make sure the other party is 1.) aware of what they intend to do, and 2.) 100% okay with it. Sadly, we do not live in that world, and we must do the best we can with what we've got.

It starts with changing the perception of rape, sex, and what is and is not okay. It starts with changing the myths and underhanded slights about a very real and notoriously silent group of people.

Yes, there are false reports of rape. They comprise about 2% of all reported rapes, and the majority of them are attention-seeking women who make up a fake assailant and later confess to their deception. We could pull out the old argument that "it only takes ones bad apple..." but do you really want to go there? You want to turn a deaf ear to the other 98% just because you can say, "la la la, some people are liars?" Don't be that person.

Yes, it is irresponsible for anyone to get so inebriated that they can't even see straight. This does not in any way, shape or form make it okay for someone to have sex with an individual who cannot consent.

Talk about this. Don't keep it tucked away in the corner of your brain reserved for "things that will never happen to me." Support anyone you know who is a victim. If you are a victim, find your voice. Do not allow your friends and family to get away with snarky rape humor or questionable behavior. Share. Teach. Learn. Grow.

If you have stayed with me through this overlong post, I deeply thank you. I know it was probably like reading an essay. But this issue is so important, and so insidious, that I felt the need to speak on it.

Again, thank you for reading. If you are interested in what you might do to help combat sexual violence, please visit the RAINN website.

Edit: -

I completely forgot to add: to bring this back around to young adult lit, I absolutely recommend the novel SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson. It is a powerful, moving account of a young woman's struggle to overcome her sexual assault and find her voice again. I wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone who has yet to read it.


{ JustineDell } at: April 5, 2010 at 6:18 AM said...

Excellent Post! I work for a University and they recently did a newspaper article on this. I was SHOCKED to learn that only like 5% of sexual assault victims on campus actually report the crimes.

Really good information you've provided. Thank you.


{ Christi Goddard } at: April 5, 2010 at 6:32 AM said...

I never mind sharing my experiences, good or bad. I was molested by a family member (good gods, not my dad if that's where your mind went) for nearly four years. I lost my actual virginity at 13 to an 18 year old boy who was 'popular' so I told no one, afraid I'd be considered a slut. Years later, I was raped again while in my 20s.

I don't consider myself a victim. I don't hate on other men. What I've been through sucks, but I will never let another person break me. I feel terrible for those who can't pick up the pieces and move on. I have a friend who is slowly losing her mind because of her own experience a few years ago. I'm a listening and understanding ear for her, and I wish I could give her some strength.

I have two teenaged daughters. I'm up front and honest about my experiences to warn them. If I meet any male friends, I'm probably kind of scary to them with my "I KNOW where you LIVE" attitude regarding the safety of my most precious gifts.

I give to battered women's shelters, as I was once one, too. I thought I didn't deserve better. Ten years later and having been free for a decade, I know that these experiences have shaped who I am, have given me strength, and are a source to draw information and insight from while raising my kids.

{ Matthew Rush } at: April 5, 2010 at 6:42 AM said...

Thanks for sharing Steph, I understand your hesitancy to put this up on your writing blog but it is a really important issue.

I have a 14 year old daughter who will be entering high school this fall. She has already reported dozens of inappropriate comments and gestures made by male students to her mother and myself. Nothing so bad that it would need to be reported to administration but still ... this kind of thing is always out there.

She is in Hapkido (martial arts) and has taken other self defense awareness classes but sexual assault is not something that can always be avoided by simply knowing how to defend yourself. Date-rape, or being assaulted while not aware of your surroundings happens all too often these days.

Anyway thanks for sharing and thanks to Christi too for being so open. Only by facing the harsh reality about these kind of things openly can we hope to change them.

{ maybe genius } at: April 5, 2010 at 7:11 AM said...

Justine - It is shocking, and scary.

Christi - Thank you so much for sharing your experience. You are wonderfully strong person. I prefer to use the term "survivor" usually, but not everyone warms to it, which I find odd.

Matthew - I am so glad you are involved with your daughter and the sort of issues she's facing already at 14. You're a good dad.

{ Ken } at: April 5, 2010 at 7:26 AM said...

Thank you for including the male survivors of sexual abuse in your blog. Too often this is seen as a women's issue and not a human one.

{ Roland D. Yeomans } at: April 5, 2010 at 8:29 PM said...

In what seems almost another lifetime, I counseled sexually abused women as part of my final training as a counselor.

Our prayers and support should be with these bruised survivors each day.

On a less traumatic note, come check out my blog with its new post :

Thank you for your past kind comments, Roland

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