DISCLAIMER: This post contains a topic that may trigger difficult emotions for some people and the content is what I would describe as “mature.” No explicit language is used.
I have previously posted a blog titled “1 in 3” on domestic violence. This blog focuses on another horrific statistic in our nation, the rate of sexual assault against women. 1 in 5 women is a victim of sexual assault. 1 in 5. In the US. I’m not kidding. Not something you see advertised, right? About a third of these women experience assault or sexual violence during their college years. Also not advertised. The most common perpetrator in these situations is someone the victim knows, such as a current partner, family member or someone else they know. Contrary to what most people think, only about 13% of sexual assault is committed by a stranger. We obsess over who is using our bathroom but ignore the violence perpetrated by family and friends. Over 30,000 children are born as a result of rape in this country annually. Shocking, I know. These women are often broken in so many ways and are now charged with the difficult duty of raising a child.
The CDC uses the term “sexual violence” and this includes a wide spectrum of attempted or completed unwanted sexual behavior. They utilize multiple data sources to track sexual violence in the US and find out what prevention programs are useful as well as identify risk factors for assault. It is interesting to carefully look at the factors associated with sexual violence. And while none of these can directly be correlated (that is, no single or combo of these behaviors or situations guarantees you will be a victim) there isn’t much surprise in this list. Many of those risk factors are community and society related such as poverty, weak community support, tolerance of sexual violence and societal norms that view women as inferior to men. As you can imagine sexual assault has very serious and very long consequences. There are physical and psychological consequences, but women who are victims often are more likely to engage in behaviors that have negative consequences for themselves and the community around them.
Why should we care and what should we do? Well, we should care because we have daughters, sisters, aunts, mothers and other women in our lives who might experience sexual violence. We should also care because our society deserves better. I believe we are ill-equipped to deal with sexual violence in our high schools, our college campuses and in our homes. In the last 3 months I have read several articles about universities that are under investigation for their handling of sexual assault cases. In many of these, the perpetrators have been accused multiple times and in some cases have transferred schools and found other victims. We must do better.
Many prevention programs focus on education about sexual violence, improving bystander intervention and helping people understand what consent means. Unfortunately, these programs are underutilized. Why? I don’t have all the answers, but I will tell you what I think is happening. First of all, we avoid discussing sexual behavior in general. Second, we think that telling people not to have sex is the answer. Until we begin to have the hard discussions with ourselves and our children about how our bodies work and normal sexual behavior we don’t have a context in which to educate young men that sexual violence is absolutely unacceptable. We need to teach our children what it means to love and respect one another, as well as what it means to not standby when others are victimized. We live in a culture where sexual assault is more likely to be videotaped and placed on social media than someone actually trying to intervene or help a victim.
Let’s all do better on this one. If you have kids, make sure they understand what it means to love and respect themselves and the other gender. If you know someone who has been victimized, don’t blame them for what happened. If you work at a church, university or another large organization with young people, find out what, if anything, you are doing to address the problem of sexual violence. If you see something, say something. Maybe we can make a difference and change this statistic. From my life with the pastor I am reminded of my charge to care for the orphan, the widow and the sojourner…the 1 in 5 is in the midst of these. Let’s help them.