But what were you wearing? This question, and many like it, haunt us every April. Did you say NO? What did you do to lead her on? Why were you out so late at night? Why didn’t you take a friend to that blind date? Why did you let him buy you a drink? And so on. They shift blame for an assault on what the survivor did, rather than the perpetrator’s decision to act intentionally.
Sexual assault is an intentional act. It does not matter what the survivor did. Period.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This year is SAAM’s 22nd anniversary. SAAM’s goals are to raise awareness about the prevelance of sexual assault, educate communities, workplaces, and college campuses on proactive steps to stop assaults before they happen, and promote support for survivors.
In Kenosha County, our statistics are staggering. Sexual violence impacts nearly a million people in Wisconsin annually, according to the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault. In Kenosha County, 17.7% of women reported being the victim of rape in the last reporting period, while 41.3% of women and 23.7% of men reported being the victim of other forms of unwanted sexual contact. That means, almost one quarter of men and almost one half of women in our county have experienced some form of sexual assault.
According to a study by Dr. Campbell at Michigan State University, survivors are unlikely to report. In the study, 80% of survivors were unlikely to report their assault after one negative interaction –whether it was with family or friends, law enforcement, or the courts – because they felt blamed, depressed, anxious, or “not heard.” That means, only 20% felt likely to move forward with a report after their assault – and even less actually followed through. The Neurobiology of Sexual Assault (2005, rev 2018).
What can you do? First, encourage the survivor to seek professional support from agencies like Women and Children’s Horizons, which operates a 24/7 crisis line and provides free services irrespective of income. Second, speak with the survivor supportively, such as by asking what you can do to make the survivor feel safe and how you can help the survivor seek professional support. Third, keep the blame on the perpetrator by reassuring the survivor that nothing the survivor did – not the clothing worn, not the place of a date, not what the survivor said, or ate, or drank – caused the perpetrator to act. Fourth, practice what you preach –actively promote healthy relationship boundaries. Finally, educate yourself. There are several free resources available online with SAAM, WCASA, and MSU, and our agency, to help you.
SAAM’s goal is to change behaviors and promote respect – and that starts with you. The more we support our survivors, the more likely survivors are to report to law enforcement and perpetrators are to be held accountable.
If you or someone you know experienced sexual assault, contact us for free, confidential support 24/7 at 262-652-9900.