Last week I talked a lot about what this month means to people, from Poetry to Autism Awareness. Though both of these are very important, if you live on a college campus or have been affected by this kind of situation, you may also know that this month raises perception to one more thing— Sexual Assault.
Whether you watch Netflix, read the book, or found out some other way, people have been raving about the show 13 Reasons Why, based on the 2007 novel by Jay Asher, since it came out on Netflix on the 31st of last month. The show follows the suicide of high school junior Hannah Baker, 13 tapes telling the story of why she did it, and how her actions impact the people around her life. Not only does the show shine a light on several topics that many people do not talk about, but it also vividly depicts the main subject of my blog post; the show reminds us how prevalent, misunderstood, and damaging sexual assault can be.
Considering that I currently live on a public college campus, these numbers are important to pay attention to— according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, “Among undergraduate students, 23.1% of females and 5.4% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.”
1 in every 6 American women (16%)
3% of American men
“321,500 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States.” – RAINN
It doesn’t happen to just women, or college students, or young people… It can happen to anyone and it truly changes people’s lives.
There are countless impacts this kind of interaction can have on a person, ranging from PTSD and mental health issues, to drug use and a strain on personal relationships. This month was brought to light back in the 1970’s by women in England before it spread to San Francisco and NYC in 1978 for the first time in the US. The month became a dedication in the 90’s and since then the rates of sexual assault has gone down by half.
Change has happened. But it is not enough.
The reason I brought the book/show, 13 Reasons Why, into this post is because oftentimes, the term sexual assault is misunderstood. Kind of like misunderstanding what not hearing the word “no” means.
Not hearing no does not— and never will— mean yes.
In Jay Asher’s novel, the character who commits the assault on several accounts does not consider what he did against the law or wrong in any sort. For some people believe, if the victim does not expressly and verbally say no, then it’s okay. The problem with this is that the only thing that means yes, is yes. Both victims in 13 Reasons considered their attacker a friend, or at the very least, a peer from school. Neither saw what happened to them coming. Even if they did, they may have had no true power to stop it.
When it comes to any kind of big situation, we generally think of the natural fight or flight response. That being said, in many cases the response is actually fight, flight, or freeze. Problem is, most victims end up doing the third option, not because they cannot fight back but because it is their natural response. Freezing happens to 88% of rape victims and though it is not the victim’s fault, it ultimately leads to the next issue: Victim blaming.
Though it is part of Title 9 and conversation about sexual assault has picked up over the years, it is something that many victims stay silent about when they do not have to. Why? Because, they blame themselves. Whether it ties into dress code idea of female rights, saying that showing our shoulders should not be distracting or mini skirts don’t mean that we are “asking for it”, once it happens, many people still do blame their own actions— men and women alike.
But let’s be clear. If this has happened to you, it is not your fault.
I have seen college campuses with T-shirt confessions on them with sayings from “It stays after you walk away” to “I told you no multiple times but… you did it anyway.” As unfortunate as it is, this is not an uncommon occurrence. For those who have experienced it, it is important to know that not only are you not alone, but your voice is allowed to be heard. There is a reason people who have been through a sexual assault are called victims and they are also people who have to live with what has happened to them. To some people, that is the hardest part. But it isn’t about what you did or didn’t do, it isn’t even about what you decided to wear…
At this point, it is only about where you go from here in raising your voice, and the support system you have to get you through it. No matter what people go through or the lives that they lead, the support system they have is everything to their future.
I would like to believe that every person in this world holds all the power they need to achieve what they want— there are a select few events that may happen in our lives that can take that power away from us. Sexual assault is one of them. So today I am breaking what is left of my own silence on the topic, reaching out to anyone who has had this happen to them and raising awareness for those of us who have not. It is time to raise our voices and our heads to the issues going on around us every single day, what we see and more importantly what we do not.
Because when it comes down to it, we are each other’s support systems. And there are people who need us.
For anyone who has been a victim of sexual assault and would like to call the National Sexual Assault Hotline, it is free and confidential, 24/7 at 800-656-HOPE.
On Monday, in light of this blog post, I will be posting a poem I wrote on the topic in my senior year of high school in honor of both Sexual Assault Awareness and National Poetry Month.
Have a beautiful weekend.