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Building Connected Communities

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) commemorates the start of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in April with their “Building Connected Communities” campaign. The campaign “uplifts the role of inclusive, equitable, and connected communities in reducing sexual abuse, assault, and harassment. Community is an integral part of all our lives, and the health and well-being of our communities shape our lives. During this month-long campaign, NSVRC will be reinforcing that whenever anyone experiences sexual violence, every community member is affected. By working to promote the collective well-being of our communities, we are also buffering against the risk of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment.”

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 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 listen 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, believe in survivors, and are safe to talk to.

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, and partners — they may use manipulation, threats, or force to commit violence.

Please remember that victims are NEVER to blame. Remember that earlier stat of an estimated 67% of sexual assaults going unreported? I bet my paycheck that most of that is 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 you can, and reach out for professional help if needed.

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