This past week I had the good fortune to read an advanced copy of a powerful book Fault Line by my good friend Christa Desir. Fault line tells a story about a young woman who was raped and how that act of violence shatters her and how that shattering reverberates among the people who care about her. I’m not going to give the whole story away now (it goes on sale on October 15th (you can purchase it here), however I want to say two things about it. First this book really shook me. I want you all to get it because this is the kind of book that makes you want to talk to people you love after reading it. It is a difficult book to read, but then again many important things are often difficult.
The second aspect of the book that struck me was that the woman who was raped went into a spiral of self-destructive behavior because she wanted to be able to feel something, even if that something was negative. She did not seek help because of multiple reasons and that ultimately lead to some difficult situations. Seeking help is important and we should be working as a society to lower barriers for victims of sexual assault to get that help.
A big part of the problem facing victims of sexual assault is what has been coined “rape culture” – a persistent set of broadly held beliefs which 1) deemphasize the severity of the attack 2) shift the blame from the perpetrator to the victim and 3) create a environment where sexual assault jokes and allusions are more broadly acceptable. I’m calling bullshit on this. Ms. Desir has already written a wonderful piece on how guys can reduce rape culture here and I urge you all to read through and think about what she has to say. What I would like to add to this conversation is a sense if invisibility that the victims of sexual assault have, and how that allows rape culture to be perpetuated.
I can completely understand how a person who was raped may choose not to come forward and broadcast loudly what they have gone through. I cannot imagine what surviving that act of brutality must be like, and I’m not sure I would be comfortable sharing it with everyone. However many people have gone through this and while I am not down with outing them as victims of sexual assault, I do see some value in raising awareness of how many people have been sexually assaulted.
Some folks don’t think rape is a real problem where they live. They may not have had anyone tell their story, or they may not choose to believe what happened was, in fact, sexual assault. This is problematic because when we ignore a problem we lose the opportunity to provide help for the victims and we lose the chance to change the conditions that lead to the assault. So what I’m going to do are use statistical analogies to show that even if you think you don’t know someone who is a victim of sexual assault, you probably do.
[Statistics disclaimer – I am not a demographer and what I’m about to do will probably make them grate their teeth. If you are a demographer and want to redo these stats correctly I’ll be happy to update. That being said these are ballpark estimations]
I’m stating off with data from the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, which estimates that 1 in 6 women will be the victim of sexual assault. That works out to be 16.67% of the female population. (incidentally it also works out to one sexual assault every two minutes, which is nauseating when I consider how long it has taken me to write this post).
About .6% of the population is allergic to peanuts. Assuming no differences between genders that means that for every woman you know who is allergic to peanuts 27 have been victims of sexual assault
About 5% of women are left-handed. So for every southpaw woman you know, you probably know around three victims of sexual assault
About 6% of people have some form of Gluten sensitivity, so for every woman who passes on bread and beer you probably know between 2 and 3 women who have been victims
Lastly, about 1-2% of people are allergic to eggs, let’s split the difference, so for every one you know, you also know 14 women who have been sexually assaulted.
So you can see based on these rough estimates even if a victim chooses to not come forward to you about what she has gone through, she is out there. Your words and your actions have power and I urge you to think about how you use that power.
When someone makes a joke about rape, says “yeah, but did you see what she was wearing” or says “things like that don’t happen in this neighborhood” those words sting, they hurt the victim, and they diminish us as a society. If you have been sexually assaulted, please talk to someone. If you know someone who has been assaulted, be supportive, and if you hear someone perpetuating rape culture, call them out on that. Take a stand and lend your voice.
[Note, these pictures are all CC BY-NC 3.0, so feel free to use them to help spark discussions – credit and linking would be appreciated but not necessary]