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.
- 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.
- While being respectful of their wishes, encourage survivors to report, but at the same time, be understanding if they choose not to.
- Know that online (www.rainn.org) and phone hotlines (800-656-HOPE) are available to provide support and information about sexual assault.
- If you are an employer, provide education, create and enforce policies, and provide safety resources for your employees.
- 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 GoodTherapy.org.
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