Sexual Assault Awareness: Shining a Light on a Daily Issue
April was Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention Month. If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I chose to bring awareness to this issue by posting a new letter every day during April, from a student who had been raped or molested. I wish I didn’t have enough letters to be able to post one each day for an entire month. But, not only did I have enough, I could continue posting letters every day for months sadly.
Rape and molestation are happening at such epidemic proportions that I believe only bringing attention to them one month out of the year is doing a disservice to the issue. So, I’m purposely choosing to write a post about it after the designated month is over. I guess it’s my way of rebelling against a culture that doesn’t always acknowledge the severity of the problem.
Quiet as it's Kept
When I wrote a post to highlight Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention Month last year, I shared a story of a young lady who had been date-raped two years earlier and had never reported it until she told me. Since then, I’ve continued to see a pattern of girls keeping their sexual assault/rape a secret. Even if they do tell someone, many times they don’t want to press charges or get counseling.
Unfortunately, many girls blame themselves when they are violated. They tell me they don’t want to press charges and risk going to trial and being interrogated as if they were at fault. They also don’t want to get counseling because they don’t want to replay the incident and the trauma and shame that comes with it.
Earlier this year, a high school junior who was raped by four guys in an abandoned house when she skipped school during her freshman year, wrote the following:
I will never forget that day. It plays over and over in my head. It’s been two years, but feels like it was yesterday…I just couldn’t fight them off. Their words still haunt me, ‘Shhhh just take it. Let it happen.’ I felt like it was my fault because I didn’t try harder to fight back because I was scared it could have gotten worse…When you’re a rape victim at a young age, people turn on you and say, ‘She’s lying. She wanted it.’…But, you made me realize it wasn’t my fault. You also made me feel that I am still worth something. What happened doesn’t define me. Even though I may never see you again, you impacted my life a lot. I don’t have anyone to talk to so I keep everything inside. I have not dealt with this. But it felt good to let it out in this letter.''
The letters I receive from students are normally written anonymously. This young lady chose to identify herself. I’m sure it was her cry for help. Though she had reported the rape, she had refused counseling. When I returned to the school, I spoke with her. I was able to convince her that she needed to be free from the pain, guilt and shame resulting from the rape and counseling would help her heal.
One of my friends, who is a counselor agreed to provide counseling free of charge. When I contacted the young lady’s mother to share my friend’s offer, her mother was shocked that her daughter shared her story with me and even more shocked that she was now agreeable to counseling. The mother said her daughter had refused to go to counseling for the past two years since the rape.
Educate the perpetrator vs. the victim.
As hard as it is for me to believe, apparently some guys don’t see anything wrong with forcing their girlfriends to have sex:
I didn’t even love my ex-girlfriend. I was only with her since she would always give it up whenever she came by and when she didn’t want to, I forced her. She had our future planned and was thinking about colleges we both could attend, but we broke up. I realize after hearing you that I probably left her feeling worthless. I want to tell any guy that you may show this letter, ‘please don’t do what I did. The girl deserves more. If you don’t want your daughter or sister treated like that, don’t treat a girl like that.’
It sounds like this young man will never force a girlfriend to have sex again as a result of what he heard in class. I’m hoping and praying that’s the case.
If we are going to make strides in preventing rapes from occurring, we must begin conducting as many workshops for males on not becoming a perpetrator as we do for females on avoiding being raped.
That’s why I talk to the young men in my classes about being a protector vs. a predator. They need to be held to a standard of decency and respect for oneself and others, just as much as we like to hold young ladies to that standard. And you know what? The guys I talk to appreciate it!
As adults, it’s our job to challenge a culture that tells guys it’s okay to pressure a girl to have sex with you; and tells girls it’s best to remain quiet when he does.
We are doing both girls and guys a disservice when we choose to stick our heads in the sand about the prevalence of sexual assault among our young people. Even as I write this post, news has broken about a rape involving college students from two well-known, highly respected institutions.
While I’m glad there is awareness being brought to the issue of sexual assault during the month of April, I am reminded letter after anonymous letter, that hope, healing and prevention education are needed the remaining 11 months as well.
- What are some ways that we can keep sexual assault awareness at the forefront 12 months out of the year?
- What can we do to change the mindset of guys who believe it’s okay to pressure girls to have sex?
- What can we do to empower girls to tell someone if they have been sexually assaulted?