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Recently at Jewell the topic of sexual violence has been discussed in various forums. In this article, I want to discuss how both women and men can prevent sexual assault, the myths of sexual violence and my story working with victims of violence. Right now, I am a volunteer hospital advocate for rape victims through MOCSA (Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault), and I have witnessed firsthand victims of sexual assault. As an advocate I provide the victim guidance through the SANE exam (Sexual Assault Nurse Exam), law enforcement procedures and provide them with resources so they can make informed decisions.
When we think of rape we have a specific image of what rape represents, but that image is almost never what rape looks like. Rape is not always graphic or includes physical assault. Most of the calls I get for sexual violence at hospitals are not graphic. There are a few that are violent and graphic in nature, but a majority are not violent, even though force was used.
Almost every victim I have worked with knew the perpetrator. The perpetrators can be husbands, sisters, aunts, uncles, friends, co-workers and boyfriends. I have noticed a pattern of perpetrators raping their partners, because the logic is since a relationship is established, consent is already given. It is not the case that a relationship equals consent. Victims have discussed the feeling of being pressured by boyfriends to participate in sexual acts, which eventually turns either into a forced act or a non-emotionally/mentally invested activity.
In my time as an advocate, I have worked with victims who were drugged or under the influence of alcohol. When working with those victims, it is hard to go through the whole process with them because they realize they were not in control of their actions at the time. By law, alcohol erases the ability to give consent and to obtain consent from another individual. When it comes to victims being under the influence, their actions come into question. Drugs, alcohol, sexual promiscuity, attire and previous sexual contact does not warrant fault on the victims behalf. In our society, we like to blame the victim, but if we look at the situation differently, then we come to a different conclusion. The perpetrator is in control of their body and when they want to impose their will on another individual, they will find a way regardless of the victim’s actions, because the victim is not the one choosing to do wrong.
It is hard to sit through a two hour SANE exam to realize that because of the victim’s actions, they cannot fully prosecute their rapist. If asked by the victim if they should prosecute or if they have a case, I have to tell them that the best decision for them is the best. But my heart hurts when I hear the trauma they went through, knowing they cannot successfully convict their perpetrator because alcohol, their actions such as walking at night, or dating the perpetrator. I have had only one case where I believe that the person had a 50% chance of his or her case ending in a conviction.
1 in 6 women will be a victim of attempted or completed sexual assault in her lifetime
Women do have a role in preventing sexual assault, but it is a small role since women are sexually assaulted at an extremely higher rate than men. Women need to be more aware for each other and depend on each other more. If more women feel empowered, then they will feel safer and confident. This does not deter rape, but it does start the process of preventing rape. I am not saying to live in fear, but women look through a different lens than men and notice more questionable actions. I overtly look through the lens of sexual assault during my day by expecting the worst, but at the rate of sexual assault, it is the burden I and women have to carry. A real life example I experienced was when I was in China this summer. My first concern about traveling to China was not will I have a fun time, enough money, make friends, but my thought was I am a young women traveling to a strange country where I can be raped. I was catcalled in the streets and followed by men. It was a scary thought to know I am not safe just because of my gender. To add some humor, my first reaction to the men following me was to turn around, yell at them in English and Chinese and chest bump one of the men who ran back to his group.
Men are a critical element in preventing sexual violence since a majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by men. The only way sexual assault will end is if men realize they are the key element to ending this phenomenon. Men need to know the hard reality that is present in sexual assault. If we want to stop sexual violence, men need to stop sexual assaulting others. Men can control their bodies, and they need to connect the reality that the woman they are objectifying/groping/sexual catcalling/staring at her body is happening to their sister, their aunt, their mother and their girlfriend. Men need to realize that women can do everything to prevent sexual assault, but that is not enough because rape will still occur because it is not the victim that is causing the rape. Women live in a different world than men. Women see the world through a different lens by safety planning and cautious decisions. Sometimes decisions are made with the mentality “will this be held against me if I am harmed.” The sad realization that men need to realize is that women’s sexual assault is almost always criticized, denied and [made to seem to be] their fault.
In order to prevent sexual violence, both women and men need to stop slut shaming. Slut shaming is a future component of blame for a victim’s sexual assault. Also slut shaming damages the image of women more than men and directs the view that the most important aspects of a woman is her sexuality. The damage of slut shaming makes women more likely to not be believed when their sexual assaulted, and feeds the viewpoint that if that woman wasn’t promiscuous then they would not have gotten assaulted. I am guilty of slut shaming and it takes a real change of mind to see that the number of sexual partners someone has does not mean they are a slut. I catch myself judging another girl, but it is that fact of the matter that I consciously question my judgment and realize how harmful those thoughts become.
Second, when both women and men joke or don’t take seriously sexual harassment and assault, then this normalizes the actions talked about. This is dangerous because you are most likely normalizing the sexual harassment/assault in front of someone who is a perpetrator or future perpetrator. I do have a sense of humor, but it is hard for me to hear men joke about how catcalling/harassment is not bad. I look at that situation and think out of those men in that group there is a possible perpetrator who does really believe that joke.
Third, we need to understand why and what is the role of sexual affection between partners. If it is between long term sexual partners or a one night stand, then there needs to be respect for each other and consent from both parties mentally, physically and emotionally. If one of those aspects is missing, then sexual affection is not achieved at the fullest level. Why bring up sexual affection? There is a difference between sexual affection with all of the criteria above and sex that has an agenda. Sex with an agenda is using someone for your own sexual means, disregarding the partner’s emotional, physical or mental presence. Rape is an act of sexual nature without consent, but sex with an agenda pertains to consent with a person who is not fully present. Sexual contact should be not about using that individual, but about respecting the act and individual itself. Working with rape victims the hardest thing for me to hear is how the perpetrators used those individual for their own sexual perversion.
Most of the individuals I have worked with ask me why and how I can be an advocate. They ask me how come I do not cry or show extreme emotions beside empathy. I tell them that I became an advocate because I am passionate about helping sexual assault victims. I want to know why individuals commit this crime and what are the repercussions. I am an advocate because I am strong enough to guide that victim when they are at their lowest or need a person to demand what they cannot. I do not cry in front of the victims, but once I depart that hospital and leave the victim I return to my car to cry. I cry because I see and hear what another human can do to another for their own self-gratification. I cry because that individual’s life will be forever changed and forced onto a new, difficult path. I cry because after spending five-six hours advocating, comforting, holding their hand, listening, and creating a safe environment, I must leave that individual to never see them again or know if their journey ends with them being a whole individual again.