Sexual assault is a huge problem all over the world. Defined as illegal sexual contact that usually involves force upon a person without consent, sexual assault happens everywhere: school, work, home, parties, streets. It can happen to any person, of any age or gender. But no matter where or how it happens, it is a tragedy and a crime that nobody should have to experience. Sexual violence is an epidemic all over the globe and we need to help stop it with education.
When a person is raped, their life can fall apart. I interviewed Josie Torielli, LCSW, who works as the Assistant Director of Intervention Programs at the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault (NYCAASA). She told a story about a woman whose relationships with her friends, family, and romantic partner were all torn apart. She was scared constantly; she didn’t even feel safe in her own home because she had been assaulted near there. This illustrates the deep impact on a person that a rape can have. Counseling and therapy help people to move past this awful event in their lives, even though they will never forget it. “The work of therapy and counseling is to make it so that that’s not the main story of your life” (Torielli, personal interview with author, November 12, 2017). If counseling and advocacy are more available to rape victims, more people will have a chance to get their lives back together after a traumatic experience.
Many people never press charges against the person who raped them because the offender is close to them, like a significant other or a family member. Rape by a significant other is often foreshadowed by relationship abuse. “It was a mistake” and “it won’t happen again” are often voiced in order to regain a partner’s trust. “Abuse and assault are things someone intentionally chooses to do to someone else, not accidents, not misunderstandings, or something that just ‘happens’ without the person or people doing it making it happen.” (Corinna 2016, 311). These phrases are manipulative and almost never true. It will happen again, and it’s best to get out of the situation while it is safe. If you think that you are in an abusive relationship, find out more from RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), NYCAASA, and S.E.X., by Heather Corinna.
Many rapists are never convicted. This is a serious problem with the legal system in America. Only six out of every 1,000 rapists are jailed, and only 334 out of every 1,000 rapes are ever even reported (RAINN, “The Criminal Justice System: Statistics”). Every year in the United States, 321,500 people above the age of twelve are raped (RAINN, “Victims of Sexual Assault: Statistics” 2017). These statistics need to change. Until our criminal justice system takes seriously the damage that sexual assault has on people’s lives, rape will continue to be a serious problem in our society.
Many people are talking about this issue right now because of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. In the past months, more than 80 women have accused him of sexually assaulting or sexually harassing them (Williams 2017). In response to this, the “Me Too” movement began on social media. Women who have experienced sexual assault or harassment tagged “#MeToo” on a post explaining their experience on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. At the time of writing, there are 561,888 posts tagged with “#MeToo” on Instagram. This shows just how many people have been affected by sexual assault.
There are many organizations that are dedicated to solving the widespread problem of rape. One of them is RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), an organization that “…carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help survivors, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.” (“RAINN’s Mission”). Ninety-three percent of the money donated to RAINN goes to helping survivors recover and preventing sexual violence. RAINN operates a hotline for victims, educates people about prevention and recovery, and helps with criminal trials. Another organization that does great work against sexual assault is NYCAASA. “We work directly with survivors, we have counseling, and advocacy services for them.” (Torielli, personal interview). Ms. Torielli trains police officers, medical providers at hospitals, and social workers to help them properly support rape victims.
The best way to prevent sexual assault is through education. If we start educating people at a young age, they are more likely to understand the importance of consent in sexual relationships. Torielli explained that a root cause of sexual assault is the way that society thinks and talks about women. Kids who grow up hearing phrases like “throw like a girl” are going to think that women are inferior. The language that we use every day encourages the objectification of women. We should be teaching middle school students about respecting women, and all people. Although NYCAASA teaches courses at universities to educate college students about identifying and preventing rape, it is often too late because many assaults happen to middle and high school students.
It is also important that we teach younger people about consent. “A lot of the time when we teach kids about sex we don’t teach them that they have the right to control what happens to their bodies” (Torielli, personal interview). Consent means that both partners must give their verbal permission for each stage of sexual activity. This means that an absence of a yes is a no. People need to know that they have the right to say no. The “Tea and Consent” video, produced for the Thames Valley Police in the U.K., is a short animated video that explains consent in terms of giving somebody tea. If somebody said that they didn’t want tea, you wouldn’t force them to drink it. If they weren’t capable of telling you if they wanted tea, you wouldn’t give it to them. Tea is an analogy for sexual activity, and the video is helpful because it shows how clear consent should be.
Through education, we can help prevent sexual assault. Sexual assault continues to be a problem throughout the world. We cannot continue to live in fear of something that shouldn’t ever happen. Please help by sharing this website and creating a better society for the world to live in. With the next generation, we have an opportunity as a society to create a world in which respect and consent are the norms.
For more information and a look at the website created to accompany this essay, please visit Rubyraol.simplesite.com.
Blue Seat Studio. 2016. “Tea and Consent (British VO Version).” YouTube video, 2:49. Thames Valley Police, June 12, 2016. Web. November 18, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7Nii5w2FaI.
Corinna, Heather. 2016. S.E.X: The All-You-Need-to-Know Sexuality Guide to Get You Through Your Teens and Twenties. Boston: Da Capo Press, 2016.
RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network). n.d. “The Criminal Justice System: Statistics.” Accessed October 31, 2017. https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system.
———. n.d. “Victims of Sexual Assault: Statistics.” Accessed October 31, 2017. https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence.
Williams, Janice. 2017. “Harvey Weinstein Accusers: Over 80 Women Now Claim Producer Sexually Assaulted or Harassed Them.” Newsweek, October 30, 2017. http://www.newsweek.com/harvey-weinstein-accusers-sexual-assault-Harassment-696485.
Accompanying Photo: “Pink Hat” by Avrah Ross
For more on sexual assault, please visit our Resources section.
Join the conversation!