I had the honor of attending a Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) event as part of April’s ongoing efforts to raise awareness about rape and sexual assault. Unlike many other months of awareness, like Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Black History Month, or most recently, Social Work Month, Sexual Assault Awareness seems as though it is the elephant in the room. We can do better.
According to the National Institute of Justice & Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, a person is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes. The Department of Labor estimates that between 20-48% of females have been sexually assaulted while involved in training or military duty. But women aren’t the only ones at risk.
In 2012 there were 26,000 cases of reported sexual abuse with 14,000 of those cases brought forward by males. This is our military who takes an oath, swearing to protect and uphold our nation; as a nation we must start protecting them. Our military must also take a stand against this atrocity. I’ve had enough with a society that bolsters rape culture and shames the victim when it occurs. I’ve had enough with the misconception that men are immune from the dangers of rape and sexual assault, either by other men or women. The most dangerous impediment to stopping this epidemic is the idea that the person who was raped somehow deserved the crime, or the “blame the victim” mentality.
A while back, SJS posted a photo of a pie chart listing the causes of rape. The pie chart was all one color that coincided with the only thing that causes rape: Rapists. The responses were unacceptable. The amount of individuals who believe that clothing, alcohol, or not walking in packs causes rape is a reflection of the failure of our society and shames me. The anger and blame put towards the victim is astounding. Many compare it to “leaving a valuable item on a porch and not locking it up.” Except this isn’t some laptop, this is a person assaulted for no more than being physically present to assault. These two situations cannot be compared. At no point does the victim of a murder get blamed, even if he or she was out alone, unarmed. It is understood that even if a poor choice leads a person to that place, their rights to safety are no less intact. As the guest speaker for the SAAM event mentioned:
“Alcohol and darkness are the tools the rapists use.”
Unfortunately, rapists have other tools, and it is the complacency and lack of care we give to those who survive that assault. Luckily for individuals in New York City, the justice department leads the country in testing and prosecuting rape kits, leading to a 70% arrest rate.
A few years ago, this was far from the case and we sat among the national average of 20% arrest rates and had a backlog of rape kits that sat by the thousands. Imagine anywhere from 11,000-20,000 tests that left 20,000 people waiting for justice for a crime committed against them. Many of these cases come together because repeat offenders cross over multiple victims, and yet they sit sealed away. These are only the kits from those who have reported the crime; untold numbers of men and women don’t ever report the assault. Sometimes it’s fear, sometimes it’s feelings of guilt (undeservedly), and other times it is shame. That shame doesn’t speak for them, it speaks to us.
We have an obligation to change the way we view sexual assault. In doing so there must be a shift from shaming the victim to an unmerciful prosecution of the perpetrator. There must be a change in views on why it occurs and what the response from our judicial system must be. It astounds me that proven assailants feel assured that they’ll probably never see a courtroom, and can also look up to other guilty abusers held in the spotlight of movies, sports, and musical performers. Fear of exposure and justice is the remedy. Survivors need safe ways to advocate for their rights. Seeing survivors stand together during this presentation, witnessing them acting strong, proud, and thriving (not without struggles), made it clear that while the attacker may have had control at that point in time, they must never gain power. They are the survivors, and we need to stand with them.
By: Courtney Kidd, LMSW