By Grace Lewis || Staff Writer
There’s a shame that goes with sexual assault. There’s a shame in feeling as if it is your fault that you could not protect yourself. The shame is personal; it’s as if you are failing yourself and the people around you, causing them pain. Then there is the shame that goes along with telling someone, the reaction that has been built into our culture and society goes a little something like this: “what were you wearing?” or “did you say no?” or “why didn’t you scream?” or “were you drinking?”, and “were you asking for it?”
Let’s quickly establish two things. First, if you ever say no to anything, that means NO, there are no exceptions and no always means no. No one has the right to touch you or speak to you in a way that makes you uncomfortable without your consent. Second, a victim of sexual assault can be of any gender. One out of every five women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime (NSVRC), and one out of six men will be also (1 in 6). But with all of these assaults happening, one almost every 98 seconds in the United States, why are there only three hundred and ten rapes reported to every thousand? And even more shocking, why are only six of those people locked up for their crimes? (RAINN) These statistics are scary and make us wonder why so few rapes are reported and even fewer arrests are made.
In the events of the past week in the hearing of Brett Kavanaugh, I have heard and read masses of accusations and attacks against Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who first accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault during their teen years. Why did she wait to report it? Why now? How can she remember in so much detail the events of that night? It can be hard to understand why wait to report or why so many assaults are not reported at all. But from the accounts of those who have been assaulted and not reported it, it all stems from the trauma, fear, embarrassment, and culture surrounding rape and sexual abuse in our country.
Trauma has been known to cause lifelong issues to those who experience it, thus why it’s called trauma, not pain or temporary suffering. Trauma is a steep slope to climb and can last a lifetime. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is defined as “a condition may last months or years, with triggers that can bring back memories of the trauma accompanied by intense emotional and physical reactions. Symptoms may include nightmares or unwanted memories of the trauma, avoidance of situations that bring back memories of the trauma, heightened reactions, anxiety, or depressed mood” (Mayo Clinic). We often associate PTSD with veterans and those in horrific accidents, but sexual assault survivors are among those who suffer from this condition. Kandee Lewis, executive director of The Positive Results Corporation said, “Being sexually assaulted or abused is such an invasion of our body, personal space, and, safety. People often can’t move past that point” (Positive Results Corporation). Trauma has the ability to consume its victims, which makes it arduous for the occurrence to be experienced again. Filing reports or even telling people after an assault is simply reliving the painful experience over and over again.
Going back to the case of Dr. Ford, President Trump is among those who call Ford fake and question why she did not report. Thousands of messages soon swarmed in, telling stories of different experience of their sexual assault and why they did not report, going from a child fearing their mother would lose their friend, to a woman in Afghanistan who did not want to go against her teammate, someone in a relationship with their attacker, or fear of ruining their own life and reputation amongst their peers. The list goes on and on about different accounts, and there are thousands of reasons why people do not report the sexual assault they have experienced (New York Times).
There is a stigma around being sexually assaulted in our culture, and that is known as rape culture. This culture normalizes different behaviors that contribute to the toxic masculinity that plagues our society, and makes it okay to blame the survivor of a sexual assault for what happened to them. It is rape culture to teach people how to not get raped instead of not to rape people. This culture is alive and thriving in our society. The questions listed before are a perfect example of this culture and are considered victim blaming, making the survivor feel as though it is their own fault for being attacked, not the attackers.
People don’t report their sexual assaults and that is the way our culture is. We live in fear of each other and their actions. Those who question why survivors don’t report often do not understand the magnitude of the ripples that comes from sexual assault. We have to support each other and believe each other when we have gone through difficult times. Understanding and compassion can go a long way in any situation. Just by beginning to treat each other with kindness, in the same way we learn as children, we can begin to be rid of this culture that perpetuates that survivors of assault are not important and don’t matter, because they do, and we must show them that.
First-year Grace Lewis is a Staff Writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.