KELLY BREVIG COLUMN: Sexual violence is an issue that impacts everyone
Our communities have been talking an awful lot about sexual violence lately. As April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we at Support Within Reach wanted to take the opportunity to provide some tools for dealing with sexual violence when these issues touch our communities, our lives and the lives of those we love. Sexual violence is an issue that impacts everyone in our community and it is an issue that demands our attention. The following is a crisis plan created for all of us and is about how to respond when the impact of sexual violence is felt.
Slow down - As in any crisis, the worst is over. During and after a time of shock and awe, allow yourself to feel, grieve, explore and process. Take a deep breath. Resist making sudden decisions and know that a methodical action plan is always best. Slowing yourself down allows space for others to process and offers safety for any further disclosure.
Believe — Believe that sexual violence happens. Believe that it happens here, because it happens everywhere. Believe that it has happened in the past and unfortunately, will happen again. Believe that every 1.5 minutes a person is sexually assaulted. Most important, believe victims and survivors do not make it up. Believe there is healing and hope. Believe that by talking about sexual violence, you can help reduce the impact and harm and help survivors feel safe enough to speak up.
Know the facts - Educate yourself about sexual violence. Know it is a prevalent truth and there are 321,500 victims each year in the United States (Rainn.org). Know that 1 in 3 girls and women in our community are survivors of sexual violence and 1 in 6 boys are also. Know that for 40- years, Support Within Reach (formerly known as the Sexual Assault Program) has been working in our communities, serving victims and survivors of sexual violence. Know that by talking about it, learning more about it and by not tolerating it, we can help reduce the impact and harm of sexual violence. Be bold enough to learn the facts.
Be a safe person — When anyone, child or adult, wants to talk about something as difficult and damaging as sexual violence, they seek out someone they think will help. They want to tell someone who will be the calm in the storm. Truth be told; they may never tell at all. They may "dip their toe in the water" by telling just a bit, then change the subject. It is important to listen, wait and be ready when they dare to "dip their toe" in once again.
Many things can keep a person from disclosing sexual violence, there is shame that it happened, guilt because it did, fear of not being believed, fear of getting others in trouble and minimizing what happened to them. They may just want it to go away. Be a safe person by believing, knowing the facts, know how to connect to helpful resources and by being willing to embark on the journey with them.
Porn is a problem — The reality is, pornography is a damaging drug that is addictive, readily available and highly destructive. Pornography today has become increasingly more and more violent, objectifies women, hijacks our desires and is so commonly accepted in our society we are actually nurturing its growth instead of identifying it as a problem. It is a gateway drug into a world of sexual harm. Porn is the teacher of sexual behaviors and we as a society are its students. The more calloused we become to the rampant porn culture, the more we will allow a self-serving attitude that leads to sexual violence. Research and form your own opinion. A good place to start is "The Porn Myth" by Matt Fradd. Do your research and encourage others to do the same.
Be courageous — We have to be willing to talk about hard realities. Sometimes things are difficult. This is life. If we are brave enough to start talking about sexual violence, we will create a safe place for others to do the same. Dare to step out of your comfort zone. You may be the one person a victim will ever tell. Your belief in them and willingness to JUST listen will speak volumes even if they never tell you.
Hopefully you will never have to personally encounter sexual violence. Unfortunately, many reading this article already have. Know that this community is dedicated to supporting you, that law enforcement believes you and wants to know so they can help. Free and confidential advocacy services are available 24 hours a day through Support Within Reach, (800) 708-2727. There is hope and healing. We all need to start by believing.