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Embrace Your Voice

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), “this year, SAAM is celebrating its 17th anniversary with the theme ‘Embrace Your Voice’ to inform individuals on how they can use their words to promote safety, respect, and equality to stop sexual violence before it happens.”

There are a lot of things in the world that we can debate about these days, but one thing we should all be able to agree on is that sexual violence is way too prevalent in our society. In case you would beg to differ, let me break it down for you.

One in Two. That’s the number of women who have experienced sexual violence other than rape in their lifetime. That’s 50 percent of women if you care to do the math. The number is one in five for men.

One in Five. That’s the number of women who have experienced completed or attempted rape in their lives. While the number is quite a bit lower, I still find one in sixty-seven men to be startling.

Keep in mind with these numbers that almost 67% of rapes are estimated to go unreported, according to the US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

One in Three. That’s the number of women who have experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner.

Think about the number of women that you have in your life, then take another look at these numbers. What do you think the chances are that at least one of them hasn’t experienced some sort of sexual violence at some point in their life?

Add this to one in six boys being sexually abused before the age of 16. Add that to 41 percent of women reporting physically aggressive street harassment. Again I ask, what do you think the chances are that someone you know or love hasn’t been a victim of some type of sexual violence?

So what can we do?

Chances are, someone you know is a survivor of sexual violence. They may not have told anyone for fear of being judged or blamed. If someone in your life is considering sharing something personal, they are listening to your opinions and attitude for clues on how you may respond. A comment or joke based on stereotypes may not seem like a big deal, but it could impact someone’s ability to have the courage to talk to you, or anyone else, about what happened to them.

Don’t wait for a critical moment to say the right things. The words you choose every day communicate your beliefs. When you hear comments that blame victims or don’t take sexual assault seriously — speak up. You may not have a perfect response, but never hide that you are not OK with what is being said. Show that you don’t believe in stereotypes, that you do believe in survivors and that you are safe to talk to.

Whether you are showing support for survivors or helping someone understand the issues better, your voice is important to this conversation.

To have a better conversation about sexual violence, it’s important to understand sexual violence. Sexual violence is any type of unwanted sexual contact. This can include sexual harassment, catcalling, nonconsensual sharing of private images, obviously sexual assault and rape.

Also understand that anyone can experience sexual violence including children, teens, adults, and seniors.

Victims often know the person who sexually assaulted them family, friends, partners — they may use manipulation, threats or force to commit violence.

Please remember that victims are NEVER to blame. I once wrote in an article, “I don’t care if she is walking down an alley, alone, in the middle of the night, drunk and buck-naked. There is never a provocation for taking something from someone that isn’t being offered freely.” Remember that earlier stat of an estimated 67% of sexual assaults going unreported? I bet my paycheck that most of that are due to concern over not being believed, or fear of being shamed or made to feel like it was somehow the victim’s fault.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, I encourage you to get help. In the immediate sense, contact law enforcement or ask to be seen by a member of the Sexual Assault Forensic Nurse Examiners Nurse Team (SAFNET) at any of the UPMC emergency rooms. A member is always on call to help.

In the broader sense, if you or someone you know needs help or counseling, or you want to do more to prevent sexual violence, I encourage you to contact the YWCA. They can point you in the right direction.

Remember that healing and justice look different to every survivor, not all will choose the criminal justice system and healing is an ongoing process. Be there for them the best that you can, and reach out for professional help if you need to.

Sexual violence thrives when it isn’t taken seriously, and your voice is essential in setting the record straight.

Embrace Your Voice.

Also, Jimmy will be back next week. We banned him and his flu from the office.

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  • Clair E. Clark, Jr.
    April 15, 2018, 2:04 pm

    I enjoyed the article "Embrace Your Voice" from the April 11 issue. It did leave me wondering if Steph Nordstrom is aware that there is a ministry for those rescued from human trafficking right here in our back yard. It is Oasis of Hope Ministries located in northern Lycoming County. They have a informative web site Although they don’t publicly advertise there location much information can be found on the website. My church had a work day there last fall and are going again this coming Saturday. I felt blessed to help them in a small way last fall and I am looking forward to returning there this Saturday to help them again in some small way.