Every April, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) sponsors a Sexual Assault Awareness Month campaign known as #SAAM.
The campaign is designed to educate the public, honor survivors, and help prevent future incidents.
The Implications of Sexual Trauma
Before we delve into the facts, I’d like to make a disclaimer: I am a survivor of sexual assault. My first brush with sexual trauma occurred when I was seven; the experience changed the trajectory of my entire life.
For long stretches, I was made to believe I imagined the entire thing—that a doctor wouldn’t do what he did.
Yet I remember what he whispered. I remember how he touched me, and where.
More than a decade later, Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics team doctor, and former University of Southern California gynecologist George Tyndall, were convicted of sexual assault.
Finally, my mother admitted the old, bald man who so deeply affected me when I was little might not have been as innocent as she liked to claim.
The incident numbed me. I was touched inappropriately by much-older strangers again at 13 and 15, and raped in my sleep at 19. Only one of the four men who assaulted me was arrested. I never called the police on any of them; I didn’t report the crimes. I was so ashamed of my rape that I insisted on taking the man who did it out to brunch the next day, as if that would erase what had happened. I insisted that I pay; it felt, in some way, that this could help me take back control.
All four incidents occurred indoors, with at least one other person (excluding the perpetrator and myself) in the room. Today I am okay, but emotionally disconnected. I do not trust people. I envy those for whom relationships come easily; I have a tendency to withdraw from others when things get intimate, then tiptoe back into their lives when I feel ready.
I attend therapy each week and try to sift through why I’m so numb. Feelings flow through me, good or bad, and it takes me months to process them. Sometimes it feels as though my insides have been scooped out. I fill my schedule with work and exercise and sleep, and I try to distract myself into making it through the day. There is so much good in my life, but I don’t feel good. I worry about what people might do to me if I let them close.
But this article isn’t about me. It’s about the scope of the problem and the impact it can have on survivors of sexual assault. I hope my experiences offer shed some light on the emotional implications of sexual assault. And with that, in line with the #SAAM campaign, I’d like to share 10 facts concerning sexual assault in the United States:
1. In the U.S., sexual assaults occur every 73 seconds.
2. 16% of American women and 3% of American men have been the victim of attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
3. Sexual assaults often occur near home.
Here are some statistics on what the survivor was doing when the crime took place:
· 48% were sleeping or working on another activity at home.
· 29% were traveling to or from work, school, or an errand.
· 12% were at work, and another 7% were attending school.
· 5% were engaged in another activity.
4. 91% of child sexual abuse survivors knew their perpetrator.
5. Denim Day was created to combat destructive attitudes toward sexual assault.
April 24 is Denim Day, which plays a key role in Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Wearing denim is meant to combat destructive attitudes about sexual assault. You can learn more about Denim Day here.
6. Sexual violence can leave a range of long-lasting psychological, social, emotional, and physical effects on the survivor.
7. The total cost of child sexual abuse is $9.3 billion in the U.S.
8. The lifetime cost of rape per survivor is upwards of $122,000.
9. Any person of any gender can be a victim of sexual assault.
While women and transgender people are affected more frequently, millions of men also experience sexual assault.
10. Sexual assault is a crime even if the survivor does not fight back.
We all respond to trauma in different ways, and we all have our reasons for reacting the way we do in the moment.
What Can We Do to Protect Future Generations from Sexual Assault?
Together, we can join forces and work to prevent sexual violence.
The first step in doing so is to understand why it happens in the first place. Sexual violence is driven by power rather than sexuality, and the root cause of the problem is oppression—that is, an ongoing, collective state of systemic injustice.
To mitigate this, we might introduce strategies that address different aspects of our lives.
· Policy-level interventions will help to reduce the socioeconomic inequalities that contribute to sexual violence.
· Community-level interventions include social marketing campaigns that encourage attitudes and behaviors against sexual violence.
· Relationship-level interventions range from mentoring and peer programs for young people, to training for parents and staff. (The goal here is to promote healthy, communication-oriented relationships.)
· Individual-level interventions include education and life skills training in support of equality, respect, and understanding.
Now might be the time to revisit the concept of consent as well. An agreement between partners, consent should be clearly, actively, and freely communicated—and it can be withdrawn at any time. The verbal and affirmative expression of consent can help all parties involved respect each other’s boundaries and promote a vital sense of comfort.
It stands to be repeated that consent cannot be given by people who are underage, intoxicated, or unconscious. Unequal power dynamics, including sexual activities between students and teachers, for example, also blur the lines of consent.
With initiatives like #SAAM and the advent of the MeToo Movement in 2016, we’ve come a long way in addressing sexual assault here in the United States. That said, there’s still a ton of work we can do to make things better for future generations.
For the time being, if you’ve experienced sexual assault, please know you are not alone. To talk to someone who is trained to help you process your experience, don’t hesitate to call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673).
Have questions or comments? Please contact Umbrella Security Services for more information.