If Me Too has taught us anything, it is that women often hide incidents of sexual assault. Shame, fear, and threats prevent individuals from speaking out – sometimes for years.
The Me Too movement provided a safe space for women across all demographics and socioeconomic statuses to express their stories. Sexual Assault and Prevention Awareness Month is a way for us to honor these women and so many others who have suffered in silence for far too long. It is also a way to spread awareness, distribute resources, and educate the public on assault and prevention.
Sexual Assault Statistics
Here are some sobering statistics to know about sexual assault -
· Nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men have been raped in the United States
· More than half of female victims reported being raped by someone they knew or an intimate partner. 15% report being raped by a stranger
· Approximately 13% of women and 6% of men have experienced unwanted coercion of some kind. This includes unwanted sexual penetration after being coerced and goaded in some way
· 80% of women who were raped were raped before the age of 25
· In 2018, 734,000 people were raped across the United States
What to Know About Sexual Assault
Sexual assault occurs every two minutes in the United States. According to experts, sexual assault occurs when a person intentionally touches another person without that person’s consent. It can also occur when a person coerces another person to engage in a sexual act against his/her will. While many assume sexual assault refers to only rape, it can also refer to child sexual abuse, groping, or sexually related torture.
A person is more likely to be assaulted by someone they know than by a stranger. Furthermore, women of color are much more likely to be assaulted than white women. Approximately 40% of black women report some form of sexual assault by the time they reach 18 years old. In contrast, 17% of white women report sexual assault by 18. Those in the LGBTQ community are also much more likely to be sexually assaulted than heterosexual individuals.
Because assaulters typically do not use condoms, there were 32,000 unintended pregnancies just last year. 31% of women who were raped were physically injured. Moreover, assault victims are 3 times more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and PTSD. They are also 26 times more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.
Consent is a complex subject in the era of Me Too. Many assaulters claim their partners gave consent when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Most assaulters use consent as a defense mechanism. Experts say that consent is something that occurs throughout a sexual experience. If a person consents to an act and then changes one’s mind, the assaulter is at fault for not stopping. Claiming that a person consented, in the beginning, is not an excuse to continue if that person is no longer comfortable with the encounter.
As we can see by these statistics, sexual assault is a serious public health problem. Education, resources, and awareness are needed to eliminate future assault and treat current assault victims. Sexual Assault and Prevention Awareness Month was enacted to do just that.
How to Talk to Someone Who’s Been Sexually Assaulted
It can be hard to know what to say to a sexual assault victim. Sometimes the victim acts as though everything is o.k., and the friend is too uncomfortable to press the matter further. While it’s impossible to provide exactly the right words to say to a friend in need, there are some best practices. These include -
1. Offer Support
When a friend feels confident enough to tell their story, the best thing a person can do is support him/her. Offer words of encouragement, such as “I believe you and I support you” or “Thank you for being brave enough to tell me” or “I’m sorry for what you went through and I’m here to help.” Don’t press for exact details or ask too many questions until the friend is comfortable discussing the matter further. Let him/her take the lead.
2. Check-in Periodically
Many times, people tell their story and then shut down. They do not want to rehash the painful details over and over again because it brings up bad memories. While it is not a good idea to trigger anyone, it can help to ask how the person is doing regularly. This lets them know that it is ok to be upset, angry, or sad for as long as they need to be. It also reminds them that available for support.
3. Don’t Make Judgements
Too often, people judge a sexual assault situation before knowing all of the details. It is difficult to understand monstrous acts like rape, and people are quick to look for reasons. Rather than try to figure out the situation or come up with reasons for why this happened to him/her, practice compassion. The friend is the victim, and there is no legitimate reason for rape or assault.
4. Provide the Right Resources
While friends are always a great support system, they are not always equipped to handle sexual assault. There are excellent resources available from therapists, healthcare providers, and rape prevention experts. Provide a list of the following if a friend needs further assistance -
· National Sexual Violence Resource Center - Provides resources and tools to help stop and cope with sexual violence. Please visit nsvrc.org for more information.
· CDC - Provides strategies and tools to prevent sexual violence. Please visit cdc.gov/violenceprevention/sexualviolence/ for more information.
· National Domestic Violence Hotline - Helps women who are dealing with domestic violence a