In a world of #MeToo’s when is enough going to be enough? When do we as a society- as a community- do more than offer condolences to victims and survivors of sexual trauma and assault? The reality is that sexual abuse and assault is a man-made disaster that is wreaking havoc in families across gender, economic, racial, and ethnic lines. It happens in homes, schools, parties, churches, and with your trusted friend or lover. There have been many well-meaning articles for women on ways to stay safe and protect themselves from getting “into a situation” where they may be attacked. Unfortunately, when we focus on the stranger in the dark situation we lose focus on where the most common perpetrators lie- those whom are trusted individuals.
For many people who have experienced sexual abuse, their attackers were known to them. In fact, the majority of crimes committed against children and adults are committed by people in a position of power and trust. For more information, please see https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/sv-datasheet-a.pdf.
Well-intentioned articles such as Miyam Bialik’s recent op-ed https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/13/opinion/mayim-bialik-feminist-harvey-weinstein.html in the New York Times continue to victimize the victim by placing the responsibility and blame for a perpetrator’s actions squarely on the woman. Dressing modestly or not attending a party does not prevent the majority of attacks from taking place. Imagine for a moment what it must feel like as a young woman to be told either overtly or covertly that she is responsible for the sexual assault that took place due to her drinking alcohol at a party or just by being at a party even if she didn’t partake of an alcoholic beverage. Imagine being a 7-year-old child, who has already been told by their perpetrator that it is her fault that she is being abused- then as an older teen or young woman sitting through church sponsored chastity lessons or reading an article that infers that sexual abuse occurs because of dressing “immodestly” or “sexy”. Imagine being the young man whose trusted mentor drugs and assaults them. Imagine for a moment the feelings of guilt and shame that any of these individuals must feel when they have already believed that they must be responsible for this act of violence or that they should have yelled, fought back, screamed, scratched, or done something more than they did to stop their attacker from taking away the most important and precious to them- their voice- their sense of self- their innocence.
Sexual assault and violence is never about sex. It is not about sexiness or attractiveness. It’s not about not being able to control sexual urges and desires. It is about power and being completely powerful over another human being. Until we start addressing sexual assault and abuse for what it is, the list of #MeToo’s will continue to grow. For those who have experienced sexual abuse or assault- please know that this is NOT YOUR FAULT. You did not choose for this to happen to you regardless of what you wore, what you drank, where you walked, or how you stood.
In the meantime, here is a list of things you should say to someone who has experienced sexual assault and violence:
- I believe you
- It’s not your fault
- I’m so sorry this happened to you. Do you want to talk about it?
- It’s okay if you don’t want to talk with me. Can I help you find someone you do feel comfortable talking with?
- You are not responsible for this.
- How can I be a support to you?