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Sexual Assault: Why It’s So Important That We Listen To Victims

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It happens every day, every hour, every minute and thirty eight seconds, and it can happen to anyone: sexual assault.

Sexual assault is defined as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.”  This can include groping, recording a sexual encounter without consent, leaking nude photos, rape and attempted rape, and sexual harassment such as catcalling. In the past few months, many people -both men and women – have come out with sexual assault allegations against many figures in Hollywood, such as producer Harvey Weinstein and actor Kevin Spacey, yet statistics tell us 80 percent of sexual assaults go unreported. To understand why sex crimes are so under reported, we must start a national conversation about sexual assault.

According to RAINN, out of every 1,000 rapists, 994 of them will never face any jail time or repercussions for their actions. Sexual assault goes so underreported because of the vicious cycle of victim blaming. Victim blaming takes the form of responses such as “she was walking alone at night,” “her outfit was provocative,” ”she’s so slutty,” “she shouldn’t have drunk so much,” “she was leading him on,” or “she never should have gone to his room.”  The idea is that victim was “asking” for it, but no one is asking for or deserves to be sexual assaulted. We also live in a society where rape culture is very prevalent. Rape culture is the normalization of rape and sexual assault, acting as if it’s not a big deal nor violent crime.  Part of the norm of rape culture is to suggest or assume that victims who report rape are lying or somehow “deserved” what happened to them.

Victims of sexual assault are also pressured to keep quiet about their assault, especially if the perpetrator is in a position of power because they’re afraid no one will believe them, and that the perpetrator will ruin their life if it’s reported. Victims of Harvey Weinstein were terrified to come forward because he threatened to destroy their careers. Also, some people even encourage victims not to report their assault because “it wasn’t a big deal.”

Take Brock Turner for example. Turner, a Stanford University student, raped an unconscious 22 year old woman behind a dumpster in 2015, and only spent three months in jail.  His father asked the judge to not make Brock have to register as a sex offender because “his future shouldn’t be destroyed over 20 minutes of action”. This tells the victim that their attacker’s future is more important than the victim’s life that has been destroyed.

If a sexual assault case does go to trial, the perpetrator’s defense lawyer will often try to turn the judge and jury against the victim by portraying the assault as something the victim consented to but now regrets and is therefore now saying it was an assault. Victims will also be asked questions about their personal lives, dating lives, sex lives, that will be used against them.  Their social media may also be used against them if they have posted photos of themselves partying or dressed in a provocative manner. If the victim has been in a lot of sexual relationships, dresses in a certain manner, or enjoys going out drinking with friends, the defense lawyer will try to turn the victim into an unreliable witness.  Also, having to relive the trauma and face their attacker in court prevents victims from coming forward.

Admitting to people you love, and yourself, that someone did something awful to you is one of the hardest things a person has to do. Victims often blame themselves for what happened to them and see themselves as “damaged goods”.  After being exually assaulted, victims usually  become depressed, suffer from  PTSD, or develop unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcoholism or drug abuse to help ease the pain, or even take their own lives when the trauma becomes too much to handle.If the assaults happen when they are children and are repeated, they may turn into abusers themselves.

Coming forward about a sexual assault is one of the most difficult things a person could do. We must believe the victims when they do come forward, in order to prevent the vicious cycle of victim blaming. It’s on all of us to make sure that sexual assault isn’t normalized anymore and is treated as what it is: a despicable crime.

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Sexual Assault: Why It’s So Important That We Listen To Victims