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Wednesday, 31 May 2017 16:24

Siren’s Song: Silence is Not Golden

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As prom, graduation and summer break draw near, we must remind ourselves how quickly these times of celebration can turn to tragedy.

All too often, these benchmarks in life are tinged with the use of drugs, alcohol and, more often than many would like to think, sexual assault. When things go sideways, people are often too afraid to come forward. Many can look back on their own lives during this time and acknowledge that they got through just fine. What about those who cannot?  Sadly, all too often we do not hear about those who were victimized.

Many who have experienced sexual assault are reluctant to disclose the incident out of fear. Negative reactions from professionals have led survivors to question whether future disclosures would be effective; negative reactions from family and friends reinforce feelings of self-blame. A negative reaction from either source reinforces the uncertainty of whether their experience was even rape at all.

Assault survivors are all too often exposed to victim-blaming behaviors or attitudes from others. This experience can seem like a second assault or second rape. Speaking out may even have detrimental consequences for survivors subjected to further trauma by the very people they turn to for help.

Knowledge is power and we must embrace this as an ideal. We must vigilantly teach our children how to protect themselves by being able to analyze situations and safeguard against potential wrongful acts. We must support those who come forward while encouraging everyone to take a stand against harm toward others.

At Stanford University in January 2015, two young men intervened and stopped the rape of a 22-year-old unconscious woman. They were rightfully regarded as heroes. Yet even in this case, the assailant was given a light sentence, once again favoring the privileged and reinforcing the powerlessness of the victim. Do we not have an obligation to speak out against any situation in which an assault on another is marginalized?  By not doing so, we become bystanders in a culture that reinforces the silence of victims.

As parents, we needto empower our children and create a culture that protects sexual assault victims. It’s important to figure out how our children can confront comments that seem harmless but subtly reinforce a lack of respect and credibility for rape victims. What may seem an off-handed remark about sexuality says, “If you’re raped one day, no one will believe you, either.”

There are over 293,000 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States. Most of the time, the victim knows the attacker. It could be your daughter or your son, since men are also routinely victims of assault and harassment.

Bystanders play an essential role in shifting our culture toward one that condemns rather than condones sexual harassment. It is uncomfortable, even for adults, to confront someone who is disparaging another. It seems easier and safer to stay silent. But abuse thrives in silence. When we stay quiet, we contribute to a culture that demands that victims stay silent too. We need to teach our kids how to correct these misconceptions and stand up for victims and themselves before a crime occurs.

The best way to do so is to model courageous communication ourselves. We have many opportunities when simply watching TV or listening to the car radio with our kids to model this behavior. The trick is to refute what’s been said without directly confronting the person who has said it. “It’s never OK to blame a victim who has been attacked sexually,” is a great invitation for important dialog. Talking about assault—how it happens and why and how to prevent it—is the most powerful weapon we have to fight it.

Anne Nesbit is a volunteer battalion chief for the Key Peninsula Fire Department. She lives in Lakebay.

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