In 2016, Why Are Sexual Assault Victims Still Afraid to Speak Up?
Sexual assault is a serious issue that has been around for ages, but until recent years, remained a topic that wasn't often discussed openly; it was considered taboo. Victims of sexual assault were afraid and some even ashamed, misguidedly thinking they were somehow to blame. Some saw silence as a better alternative to the negative attention that would be sure to follow. As a result, many attacks went largely unreported for fear of retaliation, or upsetting the status quo.
So, where do we stand today?
Let me share some statistics, courtesy of RAINN.org (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network - the nation's largest anti-sexual assault organization):
- 44% of victims are under the age of 18; 80% under the age of 30.
- Every 107 seconds, another American is sexually assaulted.
- Each year, there are about 293,000 victims of sexual assault.
- Approximately 4 out of 5 assaults are committed by someone the victim knows; 47% of rapists are an acquaintance or friend.
- 68% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police.
- 98% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
These sobering facts give one a better appreciation for how gigantic this issue really looms, and how desperately it needs to be brought to the forefront of our society's focus.
Progress is being made as more and more people stand up and speak out against these horrific, demeaning crimes; Lady Gaga and 50 abuse survivors bravely took the stage at this year's Oscars, as she delivered an emotional performance of her song, "Til It Happens To You." The performance brought a tremendous amount of attention to her story of survival, as well as the realization that many deal with this struggle privately, unbeknownst to the rest of us.
However, we still have quite a ways to go in this battle.
I've been thinking a lot about Ke$ha (aka Kesha) lately (in case you're unfamiliar, she's the singer of Timber, Crazy Kids, Tik Tok, etc.) and her lawsuit against Sony Music and her former producer, Dr. Luke. To catch you up, quickly, courtesy of Wikipedia: 'In October 2014, Kesha sued producer Dr. Luke for alleged sexual assault and battery, sexual harassment, gender violence, emotional abuse, and violation of California business practices which had occurred over 10 years working together. The lawsuit went on for about a year before Kesha sought a preliminary injunction to release her from Kemosabe Records (owned by Sony Entertainment). On February 19, 2016, New York Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich ruled against Kesha's request. On April 6, 2016, Judge Shirley Kornreich rejected all of Kesha's claims against Dr Luke.'
Obviously I don't know Kesha personally, but one has to speculate that she isn't risking her entire career without reason. Other celebrities have spoken up in support of Kesha, such as Lady Gaga, Adele, and Taylor Swift (she donated $250,000 to provide relief with legal costs as Kesha remains unable to work and release new music). Many artists have worked with Dr. Luke over the years, and to me it is telling that not one (that I am aware of) has stood up or vouched for him as these accusations have come to light. Prior to her April 6th hearing, Kesha alleges that she was offered freedom from her contract with Sony and having to work with Dr. Luke if she would simply retract her previous allegations, and apologize publicly for the entire 'mess.' She defiantly refused, stating that she would rather risk her career to rest in ruin than allow that 'monster' to get away with his crime(s). I cannot speak to the minute details of this case, but I can tell you what I see from where I sit: a celebrity has spoken up for herself, risking everything she has worked so hard for, and she is being denied at every turn to gain the justice she seeks. Even Sony, with all the negative PR this case has garnered, is refusing to step up and help her; they are (in my mind) equal parts, if not more, responsible for allowing this trauma to continue to unfold. I am willing to guess that many others see this from the same perspective, which creates a lot more doubt and fear when you think about how you would handle abuse if it happened to you... would you be as likely to stand up and speak without fear? Do we want sexual abuse victims to be afraid, and is this the message we hope to spread?
No - I believe Sony is victimizing the victim and it is absolutely unacceptable.
I have some personal insight on the topic...
When I was 9 years old, I was sexually assaulted on the side street by my house. It was summertime, and I was playing with a few friends. A man walked around the corner near where we were playing, and while we knew something was not quite right about how he walked past us, we were young and just laughed it off. My friends wanted to go for a quick bike ride around the block, but I said I would just wait for them there. A few minutes later, the man appeared back out of nowhere and was standing in front of me. I froze as I realized he was fully exposed, and as he saw my eyes register what was happening, he asked me to touch him. I said no, though I'm not sure how I even managed to speak, and as I stood there frozen, he brushed against me, running his hands over me, over my chest. One of my friends returned and saw what was happening; her scream pierced the entire neighborhood, and he took off running. I remembered thinking that he must have been an athlete, he was so fast. This literally happened just out of view of my house - it was 2 houses away, so close.
The man who assaulted me, Ronald J. Amate (a name I have never forgotten), was a 27 year-old ex-stripper with an uncommonly high IQ (no sarcasm - he apparently was highly intelligent, as it was testified to repeatedly in court). When apprehended and charged, he told the police that he was accustomed to receiving female attention, and I suppose my/my friends laughter indicated that we wanted 'it.' The rest of that summer was a blur; I was barely allowed out of my house, and if I went to a friend's house, my mother literally walked me door-to-door, coming and going. I resented it at the time, but I can only appreciate now, as a parent myself, how devastated and terrified she was that this had happened to her daughter, right outside of her own house. I slept with the lights on for awhile; I was afraid that he would be able to come and find me once he knew who I was, especially as he had run right past my house during his escape. The incident sparked the creation of a Neighborhood Watch and Task Force, and everyone in school knew about it and asked me for a play by play of what had happened. I got a lot of attention, whether I wanted it or not.
Probably the most scary part of the whole ordeal was picking him out of a lineup, and then testifying in court against him. I honestly don't remember much, because I blocked it out, but I had to look at him in the eye, identify him, and explain what he had done in a courtroom full of people I didn't know; my parents weren't allowed in the room, for fear of influence, I guess. For a 9 year old, this was a pretty daunting task, but I did it.
This event definitely had an impact on me; it made me conscious of many things I really didn't know or understand just yet at only 9 years old. The insinuations were no longer lost on me. It stole some of my innocence, not just in regards to sex, but in believing that all people were good; it was my earliest life lesson. However, the fact that I was extremely lucky was not lost on me then, nor is it now. While it wasn't easy, I think about what COULD have been. Now, the point I was coming to, that required that backstory...
After I testified against him, Mr. Amate's parents (who I believe put their house up for sale to help their son financially during his case), also testified and essentially said that there was no way this had happened, that I was lying. Their son was just so intelligent and too good a person to have done what I was accusing him of. I remember being amazed at their words; that they actually believed a 9 year old randomly concocted this tale for no reason. The power of denial is a crazy, strong thing... however, a year or so later, when he abducted a 5 year old from the front of her house and attempted to rape her, I guess they finally realized that I wasn't a liar. (I wasn't able to locate any old newspaper clips in my brief search, but I did find this).
While I experienced this assault, I do not label myself as a sexual abuse victim. Again, I am lucky in that the incident was isolated and nowhere near as damaging as it had the potential to be. I guess this is what makes me feel all the more strongly about what sexual abuse victims like Kesha are going through. Remembering how I was called a liar at 9 years old, being told I made up things I didn't even understand before that day happened, was a slap in the face. I can't imagine the toll these experiences truly take on a person. No one should have to be frightened to speak up for their mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
It saddens me that it is 2016 and we have so much work to do. Here is what I know: society as a whole - you and I - need to shed light on this issue and support victims that are brave enough to speak up. Statistically, sexual abuse could be - and maybe already is - happening to someone you know...imagine how you would feel if it were your cousin, sister, or daughter.
Have you or someone you know suffered sexual abuse? Visit https://ohl.rainn.org/online/
to get free, secure, confidential help.