This morning I logged into Facebook and noticed a stream of “me too” status updates. Curious, I kept scrolling and finally one status explained that for anyone who has experienced sexual assault or abuse that they should write it as a form of solidarity among survivors. I almost posted my own “me too” but my fingers kept freezing. I wanted to join the movement, but I couldn’t motivate myself to do so. I just kept thinking….everyone already knows that sexual assault runs rampant in our country and around the world. What is this status update going to do?
At this point, I naturally assume anyone who is female presenting or gender non conforming/trans is already assaulted on the daily. (I know it happens to men as well, but my brain doesn’t go there. Which means I have some training for my own biases to work on.) If you walk down the street I’m sure that at least once (if not hundreds of times) you have been catcalled or followed. If you are gender non conforming or trans person, you are at even higher risk of being assaulted or attacked just based on your gender identity. What does it matter if people know that? I was sexually abused when I was 9, sexually assaulted when I was in college, spent 8 years in a relationship where I was constantly manipulated into having sex against my will, and even was sexually assaulted in my own home less than a year ago. So what? People KNOW this. Yet our justice system is still set up to let victims down. Our society is still set up to blame assaults on victims and glorify predators. We still blame the victim/survivor on how they were dressed, what they said, their alcohol level, the time of day they were out, etc. If people see their social media pages filled with “me too” what happens next? As a survivor myself, it is not enough to know that so many other people have gone through an assault. We KNOW this. We are seeing it in our media every day. The problem is nothing is done about it. The problem is the job of sexual assault awareness is still completely placed on the victims. We’re tired y’all. I need someone else to do the heavy lifting for once. So today, I will post my “me too” but I also want to offer some changes we NEED to see in order to make a real difference in decreasing the amount of gender-based assaults around the world. But the summary of it is…EDUCATION EDUCATION EDUCATION!
- First of all, we need to start these conversations when people are young. There has been an increase of sexual assault awareness programming on college campuses, which is great, but it isn’t enough. By that time so much damage has already been done. People have already developed images of what a relationship “should” look like or what they feel they deserve, the practice of lack of consent has sunk in, unhealthy behaviors have already begun and have become a norm It’s important to start conversations around consent when children are super young. Even something as simple as not forcing a kid to hug someone when they don’t want to goes a long way. You’re not going to force your 35 year old friend to hug someone, are you? So why would you make a 5 year old? That’s not respect, that’s forcing physical interaction. You are also teaching them that their bodies are not their own and that they should be used to having physical interactions that are less than desirable and make them uncomfortable; that is the norm after-all. To support the teaching of consent, physical space and respect it would be amazing for parents and caregivers to have access to parenting workshops. It can be really hard to figure out what sort of language to use to teach kids how to say no, set up their own boundaries, and genuinely treat each other with kindness. These workshops will equip parents with sustainable tactics from when their child is older to adulthood because let’s face it, sexual harassment happens at every age and looks differently as you get older.
- We need to get rid of harmful dress codes. This might seem like a small thing and unimportant to some folks, however, dress codes (and the ways they are reinforced) teach young people to be ashamed of their bodes and that the way they look is to blame for other people’s behaviors.
- Bystander intervention is crucial. Many folks have experienced watching someone being catcalled, shoved a little too hard, a boyfriend grabbing his girlfriends wrist too tight, a woman screaming and cursing at her partner, etc. But they often do nothing. Perhaps out of fear. Perhaps out of minding their own business. But perhaps just out of not knowing what the hell to do. Again, education is crucial. Not only do we need to learn how to engage in healthy consensual relationships, but we need to learn how to support others who may be harmed.
- Police investigations need to be more thorough and believe the victim. Often times cases get thrown out because the victim can’t remember certain details clearly, a physical report doesn’t provide “enough evidence,” or even something as disgusting as the perpetrator was an outstanding citizen up until this point and they deserve “another chance.” The reasons why a sexual assault case gets dismissed are endless but, regardless, the victim is often left feeling alone, unsupported and severely traumatized. If we are going to see any real change in sexual assault decreasing in our country we need to change how these cases are dealt with.
- We need more comprehensive services for survivors. Any assault is never a one time event. The after effects can sometimes be more damaging than the event itself. Some possibilities are PTSD, depression, anxiety, self-harm, etc. And the risk of being re-triggered by a certain sound, smell, action is an extremely real thing. Mental health is already generally swept under the rug in the U.S. It’s not seen as a real disease because it’s “invisible.” But millions of people suffer from mental health challenges every day. By providing psychotherapy access to assault survivors we increase their ability at recovery. All it takes is one attack to ruin someone’s life, but we can equip them with the tools to get better and stronger. Yes, it takes times, but it is possible.
- We all need to DEMAND these changes. One tool I have found useful this year is Resistbot. It’s a texting service that helps you find all of your local government officials, takes you step by step in drafting a letter,and then faxes your completed letter to all of your representatives. SEND MORE THAN ONE LETTER. Demand bystander interventions, sexual assault awareness programs in schools, more thorough and safe police investigations, stricter policies against sexual predators, and more. We have power in numbers, we just need to ensure our voices are heard.
What are your thoughts? What do you feel we need in order to eradicate sexual assault in our country?