Sexual Assault Awareness: How You Can Help

A woman stands silhouetted in front of rippling water.

Sure, you may know that every 35 seconds, a child is reported to be abused or neglected (NCVC, 2008). You may even know that 1 of out 6 women and 1 out of 33 men have experienced rape or attempted rape (RAINN, 2008). But the numbers are not personal, you cannot really know them. You just know people. You would truly feel that statistic if it was your child, your friend, your sister, your brother, your father, your mother, or you who were assaulted.

I struggled with writing this article, because sexual assault and abuse is tough to write about. Like the analogy a friend recently told me, it’s like being the town crier. You have a difficult announcement to make, to call out; the message is ugly, painful, and shocking. Let’s face it, who really wants to hear that their family and friends are more likely to abuse their child than strangers? Who really wants to acknowledge that you are more likely to be raped by someone you already know? But someone does want you to hear it, and those are the people who have been through it.

The people it has happened to are not just a statistic, though sometimes they feel saddened that they are treated as such. I am blessed to meet them, everyday. They are my clients who have been sexually abused, beaten, raped, verbally attacked, emotionally, and spiritually abused. While the pain and turmoil is great, and the therapy intense, their tenacity, courage, creativity, and inner wisdom is inspiring. To me, it epitomizes the strength of the human spirit to survive and press on through the darkest of experiences. It is truly soul work.

It’s Not Just about Prevention

When you read the title of this article, perhaps you thought it was about how to prevent sexual assault. No, it isn’t. It is about how to increase your awareness of sexual assault’s presence, and how to bring it out of the darkness. We need to own it as a community.

Ironically, there is a tendency to blame the victim. People ask what my female client was wearing, drinking, or even if she “actually wanted it.” First of all, abuse and assault is about power and control, not those factors. Even more importantly, what strikes me is that it puts the burden of responsibility on the survivor. People ask “What did you do?” as opposed to asking the question, “Why did the perpetrator do it?” When we look at the prevalence of sexual assault, perhaps the underlying message shouldn’t be “You didn’t prevent yourself from being assaulted,” but rather, “What, as a community, do we do to perpetuate the idea that it can continue to occur?”

Don’t get me wrong, it is imperative that we bring awareness to the topic via events like Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Of course, I truly encourage you to get involved. Search the Internet, find out about local agencies. Find your voice around the issue and increase awareness in your community. Please don’t forget that this issue is ongoing. Just like forgetting to donate to food banks after the holidays, there are real people who continue to need support.

So, How Can We Help?

When I think about what can be done about this epidemic, which I truly believe that it is, I can only fairly evaluate what I can do, as my part of the issue. That is all anyone can do. So for me, part of my path is to be a witness as my clients release their pain. The fact is, we can all have an impact. In your own subtle way you can all help your sister, your father, your brother, your son, your mother, or your daughter. Even you. Someone may have needed you back then, now, or in the future, but it is not too late. Most of the time it can take something as simple as a few words.

So here’s what makes a difference: Go to sexual assault awareness events. Advocate in your community. If nothing else, take at least one of the ideas listed below. Store the idea for safekeeping. You may never know whether you, or someone you know, might need it.

  1. Don’t forget that telling someone “I believe you,” or “It’s not your fault,” can be the most compassionate and healing words for a survivor.
  2. While being respectful of their wishes, encourage survivors to report, but at the same time, be understanding if they choose not to.
  3. Know that online ( and phone hotlines (800-656-HOPE) are available to provide support and information about sexual assault.
  4. If you are an employer, provide education, create and enforce policies, and provide safety resources for your employees.
  5. If you are a survivor, know that you can experience something different than what you are now. You can become whole again. Start your healing journey.

As Sandra Day O’ Conner once said: “We don’t accomplish anything in this world alone… and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one’s life and all the weavings of individual threads from one to another that creates something.” And with that being said, I hope that this article serves as a reminder that we are part of the greater whole, and that when sexual assault impacts one, it impacts us all—not just the statistics.

© Copyright 2008 by Sarah Jenkins. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Sandy

    June 12th, 2008 at 4:09 PM

    This is so scary to me as a female. Recently in my own community a female was out jogging at 9:45 on a Sunday morning in a pretty heavily traveled area and she was assaulted and raped. On a Sunday morning! As an avid exerciser who loves to be outdoors by herself this has scared me half to death! What can we do to prevent these types of things from occuring to one more person?!

  • Donna

    June 16th, 2008 at 6:13 AM

    This is uch a tough situation because who do these types of assaults do it for control rather than a sexual feeling and how can you control that? Thos eissues have to be identified and addressed early on at home and when there is not stable home life these things are going to continue to happen. It is just a shame that so many women have to suffer the consequences of this cycle of behavior.

  • Jeni

    June 17th, 2008 at 10:45 AM

    So for people like this how do we address this? Do schools become involved, or is there another level of community outreach which can be successful?

  • Lynn

    June 17th, 2008 at 2:21 PM

    As a therapist and one who has experienced abuse, I applaud you on your honesty and tenacity which shone throughout this article. Sadly, the statistics haven’t decreased; sadly, people will continue to keep their heads in the sand. Unless and until we realize and accept the fact that the perpetrator is our brother, father, husband, friend , and do something as a family and community to reduce the attacks on soul and body, nothing will change and the pain and suffering, both short and long term will continue.

  • Kyle

    June 18th, 2008 at 4:40 AM

    And so many people still continue to blame the victim so that in court cases they continue to be traumatized over and over again.

  • Cybthia V

    June 20th, 2008 at 3:25 AM

    My sister was the victim of a sexual assault when she was in college and there are still times when I can call her now twenty years later that I can tell she is having a bad day with it. There is no erasing the horrible memories that this can cause people and I think that maybe if there was more understanding of just how deep wounds like this go then maybe the violence like this would stop.

  • Ashley

    June 23rd, 2008 at 2:36 AM

    I am so sorry to hear that about your sister but hope that one day she will find the strength to overcome this painful event in her past. There is so much more that we as adults and a community need to do to prevent attacks like this but you feel so frustrated because so much of this really needs to start in the home. And you just can’t go into the homes of strangers and teach these things. The cycle of violence has to somehow be broken and it is up to so many of us to figure out how this needs to be done.

  • Jeanette

    June 24th, 2008 at 3:26 AM

    No one has mentioned this and I am not saying that this is the ultimate root of the problem but it is still extremely troublesome when you see the way women are portrayed in many TV seetings, mjusic videos, etc. They are portrayed as trampy and willing to be taken advantage of and unfortunately this is the image that remains seared into many young minds.

  • Austin

    June 25th, 2008 at 9:57 AM

    This is true. Not to blame an entire industry but there are some in the public eye who need to step up and say enough is enough. We are doing all we can behind the scenes and they need to be willing to do it in the face of the public eye.

  • Margo

    June 26th, 2008 at 3:13 AM

    But there are so many more people who are right there at home who need to take action too. I do not think it is the fault of media, etc, this is something that must be taught and changed at home and in the communities around the country. This needs to change at the grass roots level to have any kind of positive impact in the long term.

  • stephanie

    June 28th, 2008 at 2:55 PM


  • gamecock96

    June 28th, 2008 at 2:58 PM

    Do you think that peograms in places like community centers and Boys and Girls clubs could help? for many kids this is the only positive adult interaction that they receive. maybe this would be a good place to start.

  • Nikki

    June 29th, 2008 at 10:58 AM

    I too think that community centers and the like a good places to start with this form of teaching but many of these programs are so underfunded and short staffed that even they have a hard time remaining viable. Churches need to get involved and the bottom line is that it all has to start in the home.

  • amyhop

    June 30th, 2008 at 9:57 AM

    I am appalled that these things are still happening in socirty! I think it is time for us to all make a stand and demand that changes be made. There is no sense in the fact that women still have to worry about things like this happeneing.

  • Sarah Jenkins

    July 1st, 2008 at 7:02 AM

    I’m really glad we are talking about all of these things. I love how much movement this blog started. This, is an of itself, is where change happens. We actually have to discuss that, yes, our communities are impacted by sexual assault.

    I used to supervise a government funded trauma treatment program. I do think that community centers and other programs are great sources of education. They are key. The catch is that, as Nikki stated, the prevention programs get huge financial cuts. On top of that, the programs that discuss sexual assault and “secrets” like that, are often seen as viable, but still “taboo.” We used to have a six month waiting list, just because we were the only ones that would talk about what others’ didn’t want to.

    I also agree that the home is the place to start. The bottom line is that we start by believing those who say that they have been assaulted, and making there be an atmosphere that allows for open discussion about this very topic.

    This links in with listening to our inner voices, and asking for help if we need to heal around this experience as well. I think that we also have to share and become more open to getting help when we have been affected by it as well. Then, it stops being about just others, and the community, but people being open to heal and discuss it. That is where change can begin as well.

  • upstatesc

    July 15th, 2008 at 2:39 PM

    I am still shocked at how often people choose to push this issue under the rug. It is appalling.

  • Sarah Jenkins

    July 23rd, 2008 at 6:17 AM

    Yes, me too.

    The fact is that it is still “taboo” to talk about, which also allows for the maintaining of secrets about abuse in general.

  • Maddie

    July 25th, 2008 at 10:04 AM

    And everything that is involved in the court cases in sexual assault cases makes me sick. We still engage very much in a blame the victim mentality, as if it was somehow her fault that she was attacked. She wore the wrong clothes, she smiled too big, she laughed too loud. The people who spew out that kind of garbage just make me sick to my stomach.

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