April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and is a time to focus public attention on the epidemic of sexual violence that plagues our communities. According to statistics provided by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), a sexual assault occurs once every ninety seconds in the United States.
The natural inclination for most of us is to say that these problems occur somewhere else, in much larger communities. This type of thinking could not be further from the truth. Sexual assault is a common problem that all police departments in Iowa deal with on a far too regular basis.
Sexual assaults, non-stranger and stranger rapes affect women, children, and men of all racial, cultural, and economic backgrounds. None of us are immune to this devastating crime. It is outrageous that more is not being done to stop sexual assault and aid the survivors. Rape crisis centers, victim advocacy groups, and law enforcement agencies work diligently to combat the crime of sexual abuse, to help survivors and to try to stop sexual assaults. Unfortunately, resources for these efforts are thin, and there is not enough open and honest dialogue about the problem within our communities.
People are often too uncomfortable or embarrassed to talk about this problem. We tend to avoid the issue and try to keep it hidden as an unmentionable secret. This only makes it harder for sexual assault survivors to come forward and report these crimes. Many survivors worry about how the community will perceive them. According to information I have obtained from the NSVRC website and a study by the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, "69 percent of rape victims reported feeling at least somewhat or extremely concerned that others would blame them or hold them responsible for the rape." The trauma of being the victim of a sexual assault is unbelievably devastating for survivors. However, as a society we make this trauma considerably worse by tolerating an atmosphere of blaming the survivor and making the survivor feel a sense of shame and stigma for being associated with these crimes.
The fear of being blamed makes it next to impossible for the survivor to come forward. Women survivors in particular have to go through the pain of people questioning their conduct by saying that the survivor must have been "overly seductive," "drunk," or "careless." For other crimes within our community, do we look to blame the victim? Is it the shop owner's fault that his store was burglarized? Is it the convenience store's problem that they were robbed? This type of thinking has to be changed. We need to get to the point where, as a society, we are willing to openly discuss the problem of sexual assault. Survivors need to be encouraged to come forward and be supported when they do so. It is not the survivor's fault that this crime occurs. No amount of individual precaution is going to stop a sexual assault from happening.
In order to stop sexual assault, we all need to work for social change. Nothing will change until we all stand together to fight sexual assault, speak up publicly about sexual abuse crimes, and stand up to those who make light of these crimes and perpetuate myths about sexual assault. As a society we all need to work together to stop the crime of sexual abuse. As a society we need more resources, stronger support from policy makers, and to educate ourselves about this horrific crime.
Men also need to be more vocal in their fight against sexual assault and in their support of survivors. When you consider that some studies have shown that one in four women has been sexually assaulted, it is highly likely that someday someone close to us - such as our spouse, sister, mother, or even our daughter - will report to us that they have been sexually assaulted. As men, we need to better understand this crime and be better equipped to respond appropriately. An insensitive or inappropriate response will only cause more damage and can hinder the survivor's recovery. As fathers, we need to educate our daughters about the crime of sexual assault and provide them with a support system in which they feel comfortable seeking help if they are victimized. We also need to educate our sons to be more respectful of women, the rights of women, and to understand that "NO MEANS NO!"
If you are a survivor of sexual assault and would like to seek out support services within Marshall County, you can contact the Domestic Violence Alternatives/Sexual Assault Center, Inc. at 800-779-3512. You may also report this crime to your local Marshall County law enforcement agency at their 24-hour number: 641-754-5725 or 911.