Written by Paula Penebaker, president & CEO, YWCA Southeast Wisconsin
April is the month when we shine a light on sexual assault. As many serious issues have a month where organizations and advocates bring to the fore challenges associated with issues, the problems are often ignored until showcased the next year during the assigned month.
This is a problem that highlights our attention span relative to societal ills. We tend only to focus on the issues that are most important or relevant to us. With regard to sexual assault, we often don’t think about it because we don’t know that it’s happening.
A big issue with SA is that victims are more often than not women, and that they are not to be believed for any number of reasons. “She came on to me” or “She was scantily clad and asking for it” or “She was drunk and should have known better” or that “She shouldn’t have been in one place or another.” These are commonly heard criticisms from men and women in the wake of a sexual assault. At the core of the criticism is sexism.
For ages, women have been seen as sexual objects to be played with as men please. They have been conditioned to believe that any unwanted sexual advances were because of something they did or didn’t do. They’ve been threatened not to tell because it would hurt their career. They’ve been threatened with more violence if they told anyone. They’ve been told no one would believe them. They’ve been told they had it coming. All these things are why women keep their mouths shut after they have been assaulted. And when high profile cases where women have come forward and been put through the wringer, is there any reason they suffer in silence, some for years, decades even?
When it comes to SA, silence is the enemy; it can be deadly. Often, we suspect a person can be a victim, but we don’t know how to help. We’re afraid we’ll be rebuffed, that we’ll be accused of being nosey or too invasive. If that’s where you are, there are resources available to help you help. Look for them. You can start with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. They have tips: Teach young people that that they must ASK FOR CONSENT before engaging in sexual activity. They also encourage adults to TEACH CONSENT in late childhood and early adolescence. And as many of us have heard, NO MEANS NO!
It is important to note that SA can happen to anyone, e.g. boys and men, members of the LGBTQ community, etc. While this post emphasized women as victims/survivors, anyone can be affected.
Lives are at stake when SA occurs. If you believe that, then FIND A WAY that’s comfortable for you to help. Someone’s life could depend on it!