Sexual violence is a global pandemic. Every 73 seconds, another person experiences sexual assault in the United States. Assault survivors are not only women but people of all gender identities and ages. The numbers are daunting.
Instead of thinking of statistics, first, imagine the individual people who experience sexual violence. Perhaps there is a child you know who is often taking care of by a neighbor. Something changes in that child’s behavior. You ask how they are. Their response? Silence or “Nothing” or “I’m fine.” Something or somebody has told them, “don’t tell anyone.”
Or imagine a young person, perhaps a college student, assaulted while walking across campus to their dorm. Most survivors immediately following an assault deal with disbelief, disorganization, and embarrassment. Many survivors don’t know how or even who to tell. They may think that they are at fault or believe that they could have prevented the assault. Denial is another pervasive experience. It will go away if I don’t think or talk about it.
Sexual assaults can happen anywhere. One of the reasons survivors don’t report the assault is that most victims know their assailant. It might be an intimate partner, a family member, a neighbor, a person in positions of power, or an acquaintance; much less often is the perpetrator a stranger. Many children who are victims have known, trusted, and loved the abuser.
Sexual violence, and rape, in particular, is considered the most under-reported violent crime. Only 23 percent of survivors report sex crimes to the police. Common reasons for individuals not reporting the crime include worrying about retaliation—not just from the perpetrator but also from society. A large number of survivors don’t report because they think that the police won’t do anything. There is also the fear of not being believed and fear of getting into trouble.
Sexual assault is a humiliating and dehumanizing act against someone. Because our culture tends to blame victims in general, survivors often don’t get the help they need, and offenders go undetected.
So what can we as GRRs do? On a personal level, we can start by believing the survivor’s story, listening without judgment. Let them know you respect them, however much or little they want to share. Offer to support them in seeking medical help, therapeutic support, or joining a support group. The more we support survivors and stop blaming them, the more people will feel confident speaking their truth, allowing others to share their experiences.
Another way to help is to become a sexual assault advocate at your local sexual assault center. RAINN is also a source for combatting sexual violence through working for protective legislation and supportive funding policies.
Our goal is two-fold: to support survivors in ways that lead them to thrive and advocate for legislation to help them do so. By collaborating with other organizations such as RAINN or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, we can work to make the world a safer place for all.