By Ashley Wilson
Special to The PREVIEW
The color that represents Sexual Assault Awareness Month is teal, so we have lined the streets with teal ribbons. This is just one of many ways that Rise Above Violence tries to raise awareness about these important issues in our community.
Preventing acts of sexual violence starts with sharing with our community and providing education. Having the visual reminder around town makes people ask the question, “What are those teal ribbons for?”
The ribbons help us acknowledge the 21 victims of sexual assault that Rise Above Violence helped in 2017: nine adults and 12 children, along with the families and friends affected.
They also help us acknowledge that two out of every three sexual assaults go unreported. That means that, statistically, it is likely that our community has at least 63 victims of sexual assault every year. There are many reasons victims choose not to report at the time of the crime: Fear of retaliation, the belief that the legal system would not do anything to help, fear of humiliation, belief that it is not important enough to report and many more.
Some of these reasons we as a community cannot control, but for a victim to believe that sexual assault is not important enough to report is a reflection of a message that society is sending. We can change that message. That is why it is so important to use your voice to change the message.
Use your voice to prevent sexual assault: Believe survivors, challenge victim blaming, respect boundaries.
1) Believe survivors. Here are some guidelines for supporting a survivor of sexual violence provided by Georgetown University Law School:
Believe unconditionally. People rarely lie about being sexually assaulted. Be sure your friend knows how much you support her or him. Let the survivor control the situation. Let your friend determine the pace of healing. Help your friend understand the options available, and encourage your friend to keep her or his options open. Most importantly, allow your friend to make her or his own decisions. Assure your friend that it was not her or his fault.
No one asks to be sexually assaulted. Avoid blaming questions and judgmental phrases such as, “Why didn’t you scream?” or “If I ever get my hands on the creep …” or “I would have done this …” Avoid searching for things your friends should have done. Show you want to listen. A friend may confide in you 10 minutes or 10 years after the assault. At that time, it doesn’t matter so much what you say, but how well you listen.
Remember that your friend’s sense of trust has been violated, so one of the most important things you can do is respect her or his need for confidentiality. Don’t be afraid to ask for outside help. Your friend may need medical attention or counseling. Offer to help your friend access outside services.
2) Challenge victim blaming. Victim blaming refers to questioning what a victim could have done differently in order to prevent sexual assault from happening, thus implying the fault sexual assault lies with the victim rather than the perpetrator.
“Casual victim blaming among friends, rape jokes or blatant disregard for the feelings and experiences of people who survive sexual violence in the media are all a part of rape culture. If we hear this stuff often enough from people we love, respect, believe in or care about, then it becomes normal. It matters because we start to believe it,” wrote Ali Mailen Perrotto of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
Victim blaming comes down to a lot of those statements you hear when a case is in the media: “What was she wearing?” “She was flirting so much, what did she expect?” It focuses on the action of the victims rather than the person who committed the crime.
3) Respect boundaries. Teach our youth to respect boundaries. It is not about boys will be boys, it is about being respectful of others’ bodies and space. This needs to be an expectation of our children as well all adults in our community. This begins with asking permission and then being OK if “no” is the answer. We have to remember that someone can choose to say no at any point — even if you feel like you have been getting the “yes” signal.
Use your voice and support survivors. Join Rise Above Violence on April 25 for the Denim Day Walk around main street. We will meet at noon at the bell tower on Lewis Street and main.
Rise Above Violence provides free 24/7 support to victims, survivors and their support network. If you need information on how to help a friend or family member we are here for you, too. Our 24/7 hotline number is 264-9075.
By Ashley Wilson