You might think the ugly truth about sexual assault is in the numbers, but that is not the direction of this rant. In fact, the literature around this area is becoming more common in our knowledge of interpersonal violence, but in case this is new to you, let’s get it out of the way.
1/4th of women and 1/6th of men will fall victim to sexual assault in their lifetime with 80% of survivors experiencing their abuse under the age of 30. If you live in the United States, a sexual assault will occur about every 90 seconds. Every day, two people report being raped or sexually assaulted in Austin.
As a therapist who often works with sexual assault survivors, I can tell you that they are 3 times more likely to suffer from depression, 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide, 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, and 26 times more likely to abuse drugs (source).
If your heart just sank into your stomach you may want to brace yourself. If you’re still with me, hang in there. Find your breath and take a sip of cold water.
The Ugly Truth
The majority of sexual assaults are not reported to the police, and 98% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
The reason these crimes are so highly under-reported and that offenders are seldom (if ever) held accountable may be due to the fact that over 90% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows.
Some call this acquaintance rape. I call it a sad and unacceptable norm.
I grew up in the 80’s where stranger danger was touted as a growing concern. It taught me a valuable lesson. Don’t talk to strangers (especially adults, more so – adult men). Don’t get in their cars. Don’t be lured by fancy candy.
No one told me to be careful of my teachers, coaches, community leaders, parents, siblings, relatives, babysitters, or neighbors. They told me to trust these people. But the ugly truth is that it is easier to target someone close to you than a stranger because of the immense influence they hold. These people have access to you. They build your trust. They groom you. This process is often incredibly confusing and highly complex. It may feel good to have someone’s attention and to be told you are special, but deep down, your gut screams that something went horribly wrong and that whatever happened felt violating and non-consensual.
If this is you, it is not your fault. If this is some you know, it is never their fault. Let me repeat that again… What happened was not your fault. I’ll save my concerns for a victim blaming culture for another rant and use this space to put the accountability on the perpetrator. This was their fault. This was a result of their bad and hurtful actions.
If you are alone in your silence it makes sense that you didn’t tell anyone. Perhaps you were concerned no one would believe you. Maybe your silence is the fear of your perpetrator’s threats. Maybe the person who hurt you knows your family – or worse, may even sit as close as the kitchen table. There are thousands of reasons why survivors remain silent.
If you have never experienced a sexual assault and don’t know any one who has, you may wonder with such high statistical chances why this might be.
The truth is, you do – they just haven’t told you.
How can I support survivors of sexual assault?
Believe. Listen. Support. This is the mantra of sexual assault advocacy. In over 98% of sexual assault disclosures the survivor is speaking the truth. Trust in these stats. Remember that the perpetrator was most likely known to the victim, which may make it even harder to disclose the crime. Be an active and empathic listener by remaining grounded and focused on the survivor. Ask open-ended questions and give them space to talk and explore their emotions. Make the conversation about them – not you. Support them by asking what they need. Perhaps you can offer up a warm cup of tea and a safe, non-judgmental place to process. You may even offer to accompany them to a doctor, therapist, or sexual assault advocacy center such as Austin’s SafePlace.
Educate yourself. Reading this blog is a good start. It is helpful to familiarize yourself with the facts and myths around this ugly truth. There are many helpful resources online and in Austin, such as this link to how to support a survivor.
Be the change. Become an active bystander by speaking out against sexism and stepping up when you witness something uncomfortable. If we are silent when the people around us use sexist language, sexist jokes, victim blaming, or the objectification of women and men, we are contributing to a rape-affirming culture. I like to think of bystander intervention as an active way to advocate for cultural change and social justice. Be you, and do the right thing.
Note: There are many conflicting statistics around the issue of sexual assault. The statics presented in this blog are based on my resources and experience working with survivors of sexual violence and represent a fair average of what you will find online and in the literature. Because these issues are highly under-reported, it is difficult to accurately reflect the best numbers that represent the concerning reality of the situation.