As April approaches so does the reminder of sexual assault awareness. For all involved in supporting victims on a daily basis, we are very aware of the causes, the repercussions, and the trauma involved when sexual violence takes place. Sexual assault is a vast issue that impacts all people whether it is obvious or not. This awareness is very different from what others not involved in sexual violence prevention perceive. It is this disconnect from what victims and their supporters understand and what the general public perceives that reinforces an indifference among the population. A daunting reminder of this is how 1 in 5 women, 1 in 21 men, 1 in 4 girls, and 1 in 6 boys experience rape, or how 90% of sexual assaults that take place on college campuses are not reported. Looking at those statistics you would imagine that we as a society would harbor greater urgency towards a resolution or prevention yet these experiences and statistics lay in the background not phasing the public until they are individually impacted by the effects.
A personal perception of SA as an advocate and an individual This fact stays in the back of my head while I walk through my college campus, when I go on long distance runs alone, when I pick a parking spot in a crowded lot, or when my niece tells me about how her school treats boys and girls differently. I also think about what my position is within this divergence of attitudes towards sexual assault and within the environment of Mutual Ground. Then outside in my daily life, to be conscious of the signs of sexual violence and understand how vast trauma can be and how it presents itself through various victims. To acknowledge that I, a single individual, cannot prevent every potential assault from happening or protect every victim. One of the facts that is most difficult to grapple with is that there cannot be a dent made in those numbers of people victimized unless there is broadened social change.
A solution to draw from
Some productive methods to altering this predicament may be to expand positive attitudes to those around us through symbolic interactionism in order to broaden the understanding of how to be a part of a supportive system and how to understand what sexual violence looks like. Many victims become isolated and feel they do not have support in their personal life, these victims are held to the expectation that they will have to get over this traumatic experience and re-assimilate eventually. This expectation puts the pressure on the victim and reduces accountability everywhere else. Autonomy and a respect for individuals as their own persons is a lesson everyone of all ages should be aware of. Creating an environment where respect of personal space and physical touch can alleviate the anxiety some victims may feel while simultaneously creating a norm for boundaries that others can learn from. Aside from respecting physical boundaries, sometimes support and the way victims are perceived publicly can be silencing rather than encouraging. When you speak not only to known victims but all people, you want them feeling comfortable to confiding in you. Do not present the plethora of doubts and judgements that may come to mind, instead understand that they are not telling you a story to receive scrutiny; rather this is vulnerability that should be met with an understanding of the gravity of their situation. Not all victims will or are capable of describing details in an objective manner but it should also be understood that this is a situation that comes with great emotion. For the month of April and the months beyond that, consider the ways you may become part of a supportive system and collectively we may create more empathetic and encouraging environments for all.
Ways to create trust and support for those affected by sexual violence
- Respect boundaries both physically and emotionally
- Speak about the situation only when they are comfortable doing so
- Emphasize that you are a person to confide in
- Look to resources they may need but are not aware of
- Maintain a neutral position when hearing their story as this is not the time for doubts to be voiced
- Normalize believing survivors and recognizing how their lives may be impacted (this may also extend to their loved ones)
- Recognize the groups most likely to be victimized and why they may need specific resources
Victim Advocate at Mutual Ground
IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU LOVE are a victim of sexual VIOLENCE AND NEED SUPPORT, CONTACT OUR HOTLINE AT 630.897.8383.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(n.d.). https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/sexualviolence/fastfact.html
National Sexual Violence Resource Center(2019). https://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/publications/2019-07/Risk%20%26%20Protective%20factors_Final508.pdf