Survivors often talk about the shame they feel after having been abused sexually. The shame – sometimes manifested as guilt – is directly the product of the society we live in. American basketball player Layshia Clarendon, a survivor, gives sharp insight about how she suffered silently for years: “I had no idea how much the culture around victims and survivors had influenced my own perceptions.”
(Read more about Layshia’s traumatic journey)
Many survivor stories tell us that society tends to blame or question the victim, not so much the perpetrator. “There is a cultural perception of blame on the victim where the society’s attitudes perpetuate myths around gender roles such as that the victim is somehow at fault or that men cannot control their sexual behaviour.” (Researchers Bennice and Resick)
Is this sport?
In January this year ex-USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was convicted to 175 years in prison. The Guardian reported: “Over the course of the week-long sentence hearing, more than 150 women made impact statements in which they described lives crushed by trauma and shame. Shy little girls who briefly found self-confidence through sport became deeply self-loathing teenagers and adults because the man who was supposed to help them do the sport they loved instead molested them, over and over again.” Many of these women were Olympic medal winners.
Despite complaints about Nassar as far back as 1998, no action was taken. Because, as Christine Brennan, columnist USA Today put it, “They put medals above these girls lives”. They, meaning the institutions and the people in charge. In one case, where Nassar was a friend of the parents, the Dad and Mum refused to believe the allegations of their little girl, even as Nassar abused her again and again.
It took years for these women to speak out.
Is this love?
In the case of marital sexual violence, support and understanding is at an even lower level:
“…where the victim/survivor has previously consented to sex with the perpetrator, the sexual assault is considered less serious and increased blame is attributed to the victim/survivor and less to the perpetrator, compared to a stranger rape scenario. These cultural misapprehensions about the causes and experience of intimate partner sexual violence have the potential to increase the feelings of shame a victim experiences. One aspect of non-reporting of sexual crimes may be an attempt to avoid any escalation of the shame and embarrassment that victims feel by revealing the crime publicly to a judgemental society.” (Researchers Bennice and Resick)
Is this law?
Legally too, the odds are against survivors. According to statistics, out of 1000 rapes, only 310 will be reported to police, only 57 of these will lead to arrest, only 7 will lead to a felony conviction, and just 6 rapists will be incarcerated. To sum up, says RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), perpetrators of sexual violence are less likely to go to jail or prison than other criminals.
The SAAM theme: Embrace your voice, be the agent for change
Society is you, your friends, family, colleagues, relatives and others around you. Change in attitude and change in understanding can start from any and each level. Guidance on how to go about it is coming from many organisations in this Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Read. Understand. Do the right thing.
How to support survivors
Impact of sexual assault