Sexual Assault isn’t Sexual.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. You can help create better awareness by focusing on the assault part and help heal the sexual by ending the stigma.
Here’s an analogy that might help:
I use my brain for thinking, but if someone were to bash my brain, harm, abuse it, or make it bleed, would we call it a thinking assault?
If these things happened to me, would I be blamed for being the one who started the conversation?
I yelled, “shut up.” I tried to walk away. Or maybe I asked for the conversation to be tabled for another time. Maybe, if it were a friend, a colleague, a coach, or a clergyman, I just tried to change the subject or awkwardly giggled to make them stop talking to me.
I did not invite the harm. I just thought we were talking, and then I wanted it to stop.
If my brains were assaulted – would you question me? “What were you thinking?” “Why were you talking?” “Were you drunk when you started the conversation?” “Were you wearing an enticing thinking cap?” “Have you had thoughts and conversations before?”
To take the analogy further – if my thinking organ was bashed in, abused, or made to bleed, would you fault me after the assault for having trouble thinking? Would you wonder why I didn’t talk or why I am jumpy when the conversation turns my way? Would you expect me to get over it, pick up my scattered brains and move on quickly? Would you get me help? Offer me a helmet as protection? Would you be patient with my new way of thinking?
Sexual assault causes injury, much like brain injury. In fact, the trauma can alter brain chemistry. The abuse changes the way a person thinks about relationships, trust, safety, sexuality, and self-agency. And yet we often don’t account for these changes when dealing with a loved one who has been sexually assaulted.
It’s understandably difficult to know how to help someone who has been sexually assaulted. Too often, the taboo of even talking about sexual assault, or sex for that matter can isolate a victim and contributes to their inability to heal truly.
Victims of sexual assault need much of the same comfort one would offer someone who has been mugged. They need to be listened to and to feel validation for the pain that the harm did to them. They need to be reminded that they did not cause the harm. They need to feel a sense of hope that there will be accountability.
They need not feel judged.
If you struggle with any form of judgment about the assault, from wondering if they could have avoided it or if they may somehow have incited it, it might be helpful to know that even someone who doesn’t use a crosswalk isn’t asking to be run over by a Mack truck.
No one asks to be raped.
And it’s helpful to remember that ALL Mack trucks are equipped with breaks. So, the truck could have/SHOULD have breaked. The only person to blame for the assault is the perpetrator.
Accountability for sexual assault cases is statistically rare.
Less than 20% of cases are ever reported.
Can you imagine having your head smashed in with a lead pipe and being afraid to report it?
Victims of sexual assault have many reasons for not reporting, including fear of retaliation, not being believed, protection of a family member, immigration issues, or the belief that nothing would be done. All are valid.
Only 50 cases out of 1000 ever make it to an arrest, and of those that do, only 2.7% make it to court. Most of those cases end in a plea bargain, a plea bargain often greatly disappointing to the victim.
Plea bargains can be the end result of tactics used by perpetrators to drag out cases to the point of breaking down a victim until they agree to a plea bargain. Try to imagine months, sometimes years, of being dragged into a court, a public forum, where you are asked to recount the most traumatic moments in your life endlessly to a roomful of strangers, who may be judging you for being harmed.
975 rapists out of 1000 will get away with it.
Even when judicial justice is served (2.5% of the time), it is not healing for a victim of assault. There is no punishment that can erase the trauma. Victims themselves can feel imprisoned after assault, afraid to travel, trust, be alone, be with others, or enter new relationships.
Healing from trauma takes time, but more importantly, it takes support and understanding from family and friends, professionals, and our community.
Help those who have been harmed heal by becoming aware of the complexities and by eliminating the barriers victims face.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, call Starting Point at 1-800-336-3796 to speak with an advocate. Advocates can help victims heal and assist anyone seeking to help others.
If you would like to join the Starting Point team, a volunteer training program online begins on April 10. For more information, email [email protected]
Starting Point provides free and confidential services in Carroll County for victims of domestic and sexual violence, stalking, and human trafficking. Advocates can be reached Monday thru Friday from 9 to 4 pm at 603-447-2494 and 24/7 at 800-336-3795.
Raetha Stoddard is the Outreach and Prevention Specialist for Starting Point. She has been with the agency for more than 40 years, first as a volunteer’s daughter, then as a volunteer herself, and for the past 8 years as a staff member.
Conway Office: 603.447.2494
PO Box 1972, Conway, NH 03818
All services are offered free of charge and are strictly confidential.
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