April is National Sexual Abuse Awareness month, and it provides an opportunity to highlight sexual violence as a preventable problem.
Almost everyone has talked to someone who has been a victim of sexual abuse or sexual assault, whether you knew it at the time or not.
We know that one in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused or sexually assaulted by their 18th birthday, according to One Voice Enterprises, an organization that raises awareness of sexual abuse and related issues.
It might be a friend, a family member, a professor, a person sitting next to you in class, a co-worker or a cashier at the convenience store.
You might not know this about that person and he or she may never tell you.
It is also the most underreported violent crime in America on college campuses. It has been estimated that 1 in 5 young women experience rape while in college, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Most of these rapes are never reported.
However, let’s also not deceive ourselves into thinking that only women are victims. Young men are just as capable of being a victim of rape.
Rape, sexual abuse and sexual assault are all about the power and control the offender has over the victim. They have little to do with the actual act of sex, and most victims know their attacker or abuser.
It is estimated that up to 90 percent of child victims, according to the Office of the Attorney General of the State of California, and anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of adult victims, according The American Association of University Women and Sarah Lawrence College, know their offender.
It could be a parent, sibling, family member, priest, pastor, teacher, counselor, friend, coach, police officer or another person in authority. “Stranger danger” is actually the least common form of sexual abuse or sexual assault.
It goes to show that as a society, we have spent too much time, energy and focus on stranger danger, when we really should have been focusing on education about victimization by friends, family, and acquaintances.
Furthermore, sexual abuse and sexual assault cross all facets of American life. Offenders and victims come from all walks of life: rich, poor, Christian, non-Christian, Muslim, Jewish, white, black, religious, non-religious, dual-parent homes, single parent homes, straight, gay, male and female. We must guard against the “it can’t happen to me or in my family” mentality.
According to the World Health Organization, victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault are:
- three times more likely to suffer from depression.
- six times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
- 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol.
- 26 times more likely to abuse drugs.
- four times more likely to contemplate suicide.
So what can we do?
The first issue to tackle is legal consent.
A disclaimer: I am not advocating pre-marital sex. In fact, I believe that sex should be between a husband and a wife within the confines of marriage. However, for legal purposes, we must extend the argument to include premarital sex, as it is not illegal.
In any sexual encounter, there must be consent. This may seem trivial to you, particularly if you are in the heat of the moment. It might even seem unnecessary.
Consensual sex means your partner clearly said yes. Not “maybe” and certainly not “no,” or nothing. It isn’t part of a “game” if your partner says “no.” Maybe and no both mean no. That means you don’t have consent.
To continue at that point is rape.
Next, you have the opportunity to act to prevent an assault by stepping in when you see something that doesn’t look right.
Maybe you saw someone slip something into a drink.
Maybe you witnessed a friend taking advantage of someone who has had too much to drink.
Maybe someone grabbed your friend’s butt as she walked by.
We are all critical in preventing rape, sexual abuse, and sexual assault.
Sure, in a society that promotes a ‘mind your own business’ message, speaking up is difficult, but if you see something that doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.
If you think someone is in trouble, ask if they are okay. Be honest and direct in explaining your concerns and reasons for intervening.
If you don’t feel comfortable approaching a situation on your own, ask—a friend, a resident director, anyone— for help.
You aren’t wrecking someone’s fun or being a jerk if you speak up. You are watching out for someone’s brother, sister, girlfriend, boyfriend, parent, child and friend. Next time, it could be your loved one that someone helps out.
Finally, if you are a victim, remember that it is not your fault and you are not to blame.
Speak up; silence only enables the offenders.
Seek help. Your friends and family can be a source of strength while counselors and therapists can provide professional help as you walk through the difficult journey of healing.
You are not damaged goods, you are still a beautiful or handsome person, and you are strong.
Together, we can prevent and help end rape, sexual abuse and sexual assault.
David Trower is a senior management information systems and media business double major from Waco. He is the Web editor for the Lariat.