I will likely never feel the same emotional pain of those who have been sexually abused or placed in unwanted sexual encounters. Either way, when it comes to the issue of sexual abuse, what scares me the most is the silence following an attack.
I had a friend who was abused in high school by someone they trusted. My friend, the victim, approached me about it and asked me not to tell anyone or to report the incident. I was at a loss. What is the best way to help a friend in this sort of situation? Someone was to blame for hurting my friend, and I wanted to respect her trust in telling me. But I also wanted to tell someone who could take appropriate action.
In the end, I did what she wanted and kept the incident to myself. Healing takes time, and now, five years later, she is doing a lot better. She has moved on from the incident, she is doing well in college, and she is happy .
The silence surrounding incidents of sexual abuse and assault is deafening. Statistics about reported incidents versus actual incidents are difficult to accurately obtain, but several studies indicate that only 25 to 35 percent of sexual assault and instances of abuse are ever reported.
At first glance, the reason for this is clear. Rape is not easy to talk about. A multitude of other factors may also lead to a victim’s silence. The victim might blame himself or herself, feeling guilty for the incident. They could feel ashamed or embarrassed that the incident occurred. They could feel, and probably are, scared and humiliated. They could be scared of the repercussions that may follow after reporting an incident, not to mention the potential for retaliation. The threat of backlash that might follow reporting an incident can compound these concerns for the victim as well as other parties involved.
In order for the victim to contribute to the apprehension of the offender, he or she must face the facts all over again and relive the experience as they report the situation. Understandably, this is a painful dilemma.
Unfortunately, victims cannot and should not remain silent (acknowledge somehow that this is your opinion as someone who has never personally had an experience with this) if the perpetrators of the crime are to ever be apprehended. Without their arrest, the possibility for future assault remains, however likely it may be.
I’m not sure how to define rape culture exactly or what effect it might have on these incidents. As I think about this issue, I only really know one thing: Sexual assault is morally, socially, and physically wrong, and the people who perpetrate these acts are guilty. No amount of provocative dressing and no amount of drunkenness give allowance to an assault.
I don’t know whether or not I should have told someone about my friend being sexually assaulted. Ultimately, the person who harmed her was not punished for his actions. I sometimes wonder how she would feel today if someone had reported her case.
Every case of sexual assault is different, but no victim should ever feel silenced. Victims and friends of victims should be cognizant of and use every possible resource available to them. If you hear something, speak up and break the silence.
Smith is a member of
the class of 2014.