Written By: Marialaina Bucci, LCPC, NCC, CDVP, CCTP
“#MeToo.” A phrase coined by Tarana Burke on MySpace in 2006. A phrase that was created by Tarana to create a movement aimed to highlight the pervasiveness of sexual assault, increase awareness, and foster a sense of empathy, connection, and subsequent empowerment for women who have been sexually abused. Over the past 15 years, the movement has gained more and more attention as people all over the world speak their truth and share their experiences.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month
Why is this important? According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, every 73 seconds another person in America is sexually assaulted. Further, 1 out of every 6 women and 1 out of every 33 men in the United States have survived an attempted or completed sexual assault.
Moreover, Child Protective Services agencies “substantiated, or found strong evidence to indicate that, 63,000 children a year were victims of sexual abuse.”
Yet, in spite of these numbers, according to RAINN, out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, 5 perpetrators will be incarcerated compared to 20 out of every 1,000 robberies. Therefore, these numbers indicate that a person is more likely to be arrested for robbery than someone who has sexually assaulted another person.
Why Do People Not Report Sexual Assault?
After hearing those staggering numbers, the next question that follows is often: why do people not report a sexual assault to the police? Unfortunately, there is not a single or simple answer. Everyone’s experience is unique and brings its own challenges. Of the many reasons why someone may not report a sexual assault or abuse to law enforcement, data from RAINN and the Department of Justice (2005-2010) note that some of the reasons included:
- 20% feared retaliation
- 13% believed the police would not do anything to help
- 13% believed it was a personal matter
- 8% reported to a different official
- 8% believed it was not important enough to report
- 7% did not want to get the perpetrator in trouble
- 2% believed the police could not do anything to help
- 30% gave another reason or did not cite one reason
Other Reasons People Do Not Report Sexual Assault:
• Did not want to get offender in trouble with the law
• Did not want the family to know
• Did not want others to know
• Not enough proof
• Fear of the justice system
• Did not know how
• Feel the crime was not “serious enough”
• Fear of lack of evidence
• Unsure about perpetrator’s intent
In light of this information, it becomes increasingly clear that sexual violence is a pervasive public health crisis that deserves clear attention and adequate resources to not only support survivors but to also educate society in order to prevent sexual assault from occurring in the first place.
Sexual violence can lead to immediate and long-term effects including but not limited to: depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, flashbacks, self-harm, sexually transmitted infections (STI’s), substance use, dissociation, panic attacks, eating disorders, pregnancy, sleep disorders, and suicide.
As such, in addition to the #MeToo movement, other efforts including Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) dating as far back as the 1940s and ’50s during the civil rights movement, funding rape crisis centers, and #TakeBackTheNight have been designated to shed light and break the silence on sexual assault.
What Counts As Sexual Harassment Or Assault?
In an effort to continue the discussion, it is important to clearly define what constitutes sexual assault. Sexual assault is “forced or coerced sexual contact without consent- the presence of a clear yes, not the absence of a no.” The driving force behind sexual assault is the need to control, overpower, humiliate, and harm another individual. It is not about sex. More specifically, sexual assault can take the form of:
- Child Sexual Abuse/Molestation
- Oral sex
- Forcing a person to pose for sexual pictures
- Fondling or unwanted sexual touching above and under clothing
- Force which may include but is not limited to:
- Use or display of a weapon
- Physical battering
- Immobilization of the victim
For more information on the definitions and penalties for sexual crimes in Illinois, see here.
Ways To Create Change During SAAM
So the next question is- what can I do to help end the stigma, break the silence, and prevent sexual assault? Here are some ideas from ‘Stop Street Harassment’:
- Most importantly, believe and support survivors. So often people struggle with shame, fear, and many other intense emotions to the point that they remain silent. It can take years for a survivor to tell someone what happened to them. Know that this was one of the most difficult and painful things that they have done since experiencing the sexual assault. The best thing that you can do in that situation is to offer support in the form of, “I believe you.” or “I’m so sorry that happened to you. That must have been so scary to share with me.” or “What can I do to support you?”
- You do not have to go through this alone. Remember that there are resources available to support survivors and their family members as they begin the healing process. Please see below for a list of services specific to the Chicagoland area. Another helpful suggestion when looking for supportive services is that there are professionals who complete a 20-hour sexual assault training or 60-hour domestic violence and sexual assault training thereby receiving intensive information regarding trauma-informed best practices in working with survivors.
- Understand consent. It is the communication of personal boundaries in sexual interactions and must be clearly and voluntarily provided for each activity each time. “Consenting to one activity, one time does not mean someone gives consent for other activities or for the same activity on other occasions.” As stated previously, only yes means yes. Equally important to know, you can withdraw consent at any time if you feel uncomfortable by communicating with the person and checking in periodically to ensure all parties feel comfortable.
- Create a safety plan and know how to respond if someone is pressuring you. Know that this is not your fault and that you did not do anything wrong. According to RAINN, you should trust your gut; develop a codeword or notification system with friends and/or family that can be of assistance in this situation without alerting the person; remember that it is okay to lie or make up an excuse to leave to avoid angering the person pressuring you; and to think of an escape route (how would you escape, who could be of assistance, where you would go once you got away).
- Get active. Wear jeans on April 28th and visit Denim Day to get your active kit and even help raise funds for vital services. Make a pledge and help combat sexual assault on college campuses. Participate in the international Take Back the Night event on April 29th from 7-8 pm and local marches. Get involved and participate in the month-long #30DaysofSAAM Challenge hosted by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
If something happened to you that you did not consent to, please know that it was not your fault. You are not alone. Remember that there is support.
Chicagoland Sexual Violence Resources
- Porchlight Counseling Services – Counseling at no charge for individuals assaulted in college
- Metro YWCA – Sexual Assault Support Services
- Northwest Center Against Sexual Assault – Counseling and advocacy for survivors of sexual assault
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center
- Chicago Metro Rape Crisis Hotline (YWCA): 888-293-2080
- RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE or their online live chat
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center
- Identify as a Male?
At Clarity Clinic, we have highly trained staff who specialize in treatment services to support those who are victims of sexual violence. To learn more about how we can support victims of sexual assault, call Clarity Clinic on (312) 815-9660 or schedule an appointment today.