April is sexual assault awareness month. There is a large amount of stigma around the topic, so here are six ways to dismantle the harmful stereotypes that are commonly found around the issue of sexual assault.
Stop asking what the person was wearing when they were assaulted
- There is an assumption that whatever the victim was wearing at the time was too revealing and caused the assaulter to be more enticed to do what they were doing. This is victim blaming and is a common issue. Essentially this is portraying that the assault was the victim's fault for something their assaulter did. Another common form of victim blaming in this situation is saying that the assaulter “couldn’t help themselves.” This is equally as bad if not a worse thing to say then to ask them what they were wearing.
Stop assuming the person is lying
- Never assume the victim is lying. This can lead to victims suppressing events and / or being uncomfortable in moving forward with getting help. The National Sexual VIolence resource states that only about 2 to 10 percent of all people who are sexually assulted are lying. No matter who the case is against, whether it be a D1 athlete or a celebrity, you should always believe the victim unless proven otherwise
Stop saying that only women are sexually assaulted
- According to the National Sexual Violence Resouce Center, around six percent of all men have been corhereced into unwanted sexual acts and around 1.4 percent of all men have experienced unwanted sexual contact. Around 28.7 percent of all male rape survivors reported that they were sexually assaulted before the age of 10. Females are not the only ones to encounter this and by furthering this narrative, you are silencing male victims voices. Just because it is something that happens less frequently to men does not mean it does not happen.
Stop telling men that they should have “enjoyed it”
- There is a common and harmful misconception that all men should enjoy all sexual acts, including ones where consent was not given, but this is the farthest thing from the truth. Stop spreading this around. This allows for male survivors to feel like their experience was not as detrimental or harmful as a female survivor, which is not true at all.
Stop saying that if it was really that traumatic or aggressive they would have reported immediately
- According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, around 63 percent of all sexual assault cases are never reported to the police. They also state that victims will often hold out on reporting a case due to neurobiological and psychological responses to their assault. Just because they did not report what was going on does not mean that it was not a big deal. Saying that they since they did not report immediately, that they do not care about what happened or implying that they are reporting it now for their own gain is hugely problematic. Sexual assault is an extremely traumatic experience that many people repress or do not feel safe reporting soon after the event occurred.
Stop saying that because the person being assaulted never said no or faught back means its not sexual assault
- A large portion of people who were sexually assaulted never fought back or clearly said no. Keep in mind that, if you and another person are going to engage in some type of sexual contact, there needs to be a clear and consensual “yes.” And, if at any time, the person takes back that yes or becomes unsure, the act needs to stop. Remember that just because someone did not clearly give a “no” does not mean it is a “yes.” It is also inappropriate to beg for a “yes,” to take their “maybe” as a “yes,” or to take their silence as a “yes.” It does not matter who it is either, whether that be a partner of two weeks or 12 years, consent should be sought and granted every time a sexual act occurs. A lot of the time there are cases where someone who is being sexually assaulted will not fight back and instead stay frozen and silent. If you respond at any time to a victim with “well did you fight back or say no,” you are essentially just victim blaming and making the victim feel guilty.
Here's what to do if you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault
If the assault is an event that has recently happened there are multiple hotlines you can call depending on your area. If you call (833)338-SASS (7277), it will direct you to Families First, Indiana’s 24 hour hotline for victims of sexual abuse.
If someone you know is going through an event like this make sure they have a designated person or people they are able to go to help them through their trauma. You should also encourage them to speak up about the event as soon as they are ready to come forward.
Here are some things you can tell them to make them feel more comfortable with opening up about the subject: “I believe you,” “it is not your fault” and “you are not alone.”