The recent spate of news coverage related to sexual violence is, no doubt, shocking to some. It may feel like this level of sexual violence is new to our region or that our idyllic rural areas have somehow been immune to this sort of devastation.
Unfortunately, our area is not immune, and this type of violence is not new. Sexual violence has long been a deeply held secret for many victims who have accepted the cultural messages that place both shame and blame on those who had their most personal space violated. It is only in more recent years that the push to bring justice for such victims has resulted in more consistent reporting and investigation, and in successful prosecutions.
But the myths around sexual violence persist, and until they are dismantled, hurdles will persist when trying to bring justice for victims and to stop sex offenders from assaulting.
To continue the effort of raising awareness, I am challenging a few of the persistent myths that damage victims and that give permission to perpetrators:
Myth: The victim’s provocative clothing or behavior invited the rape.
Reality: It is very common for both men and women to flirt or to dress in order to attract a mate. However, to suggest that this behavior is an invitation for rape, typically the rape of a woman by a man, is demeaning to men. It suggests that men are born with animalistic and uncontrollable behaviors and that they cannot resist the urge to force sex on someone who is flirting with them. This is not true. Men are as capable of understanding “no” as are women; instead, some men choose to ignore clear signals that sex is not fully consensual.
Myth: Mothers of children who have been sexually abused by an adult male in the family knew about it.
Reality: Child rapists are exceptionally cunning and manipulative, and they find ways to take complete control of the child they are abusing. It is extremely important to believe a child who is attempting to disclose. When such disclosures occur within a family, it is not uncommon for the entire family structure to collapse, and it becomes extremely important to support a mother whose child has been abused.
Myth: Men cannot be raped.
Reality: Male children are certainly susceptible to sexual abuse by older males. And both males and females sexually abuse young children, though males account for an overwhelmingly higher percentage of abusers. But our society is often confused by the rape of adult males. The reality is that adult males are most typically raped by other males, and such violence often occurs in the context of same sex relationships, hazing rituals, locker room harassment, or homophobic hate crimes. And while 1 in 6 US females are victims of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetimes, roughly 1 in 33 males will also report such violence throughout a lifetime.
It is important that our culture understands that rape and sexual violence are the products of a willful intention to take control of another person for their own gratification. It is illegal, and it is violent and/or coercive, and it is painful and devastating for the victim. And both perpetrators and victims come from all walks of life and engage in a wide range of occupations and social activities. Sexual violence claims victims at every age, from infants to the elderly.
Turning Point provides support and advocacy for victims and for their family members and/or significant others in the aftermath of sexual violence. We will be there throughout the legal/court process, and will assist with filing crime victim compensation and/or victim impact statements. All contact with Turning Point staff is completely confidential and private, and all services are free. Callers can remain anonymous when calling the hotline just to talk about their experiences.
Until we find a way to stop sexual violence, Turning Point will work to protect the rights of victims of such violence.
Ellen Reed, MPPA
Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Shelter and Advocacy Services
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