Sexual assault is a serious issue that has been around for ages, but until recent years, it remained a topic that wasn't often discussed openly. Victims of sexual assault were afraid, and some were even ashamed, thinking they were somehow to blame.
Some saw silence as a better alternative to the negative attention that would be sure to follow. As a result, many attacks went largely unreported for fear of retaliation or upsetting the status quo. So, where do we stand today?
Let me share some statistics, courtesy of RAINN.org (Rape, Abuse And Incest National Network):
- 44 percent of victims are under the age of 18, and 80 percent under the age of 30.
- Every 107 seconds, another American is sexually assaulted.
- Each year, there are about 293,000 victims of sexual assault.
- Approximately four out of five assaults are committed by someone the victim knows; 47 percent of rapists are an acquaintance or friend.
- 68 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the police.
- 98 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
These sobering facts give one a better appreciation for how gigantic this issue really is, and how desperately it needs to be brought to the forefront of our society's focus. Progress is being made as more and more people stand up and speak out against these horrific, demeaning crimes.
Lady Gaga and 50 abuse survivors bravely took the stage at this year's Oscars, as she delivered an emotional performance of her song, "Til It Happens To You." The performance brought a tremendous amount of attention to her story of survival, as well as the realization that many deal with this struggle privately, unbeknownst to the rest of us.
However, we still have quite a ways to go in this battle. I've been thinking a lot about Kesha lately and her lawsuit against Sony Music and her former producer, Dr. Luke.
Obviously I don't know Kesha personally, but one has to speculate she isn't risking her entire career without reason. Other celebrities have spoken up in support of Kesha, including Lady Gaga, Adele and Taylor Swift. (Swift donated $250,000 to provide relief with legal costs as Kesha remains unable to work and release new music.) Many artists have worked with Dr. Luke over the years, and to me, it is telling that not one has stood up or vouched for him as these accusations have come to light.
Prior to her April 6 hearing, Kesha alleges she was offered freedom from her contract with Sony and having to work with Dr. Luke, if she would simply retract her previous allegations and apologize publicly. She defiantly refused, stating that she would rather risk her career than allow him to get away with his crimes.
I cannot speak to the minute details of this case, but I can tell you what I see from where I sit. A celebrity has spoken up for herself, risking everything she has worked so hard for, and she is being denied at every turn to gain the justice she seeks. Even Sony, with all the negative PR this case has garnered, is refusing to step up and help her. The company is (in my mind) equal parts — if not more — responsible for allowing this trauma to continue to unfold.
I am willing to guess that many others see this from the same perspective, which creates a lot more doubt and fear when you think about how possible future victims may handle abuse. Do we want sexual abuse victims to be afraid, and is this the message we hope to spread? No, I believe Sony is victimizing the victim, and it is absolutely unacceptable.
When I was 9 years old, I was sexually assaulted on the side street by my house. It was summertime, and I was playing with a few friends. A man walked around the corner near where we were playing, and while we knew something was not quite right about how he walked past us, we were young and just laughed it off.
My friends wanted to go for a quick bike ride around the block, but I said I would just wait for them there. A few minutes later, the man appeared back out of nowhere and was standing in front of me. I froze as I realized he was fully exposed, and as he saw my eyes register what was happening, he asked me to touch him. I remember saying no, though I'm not sure how I even managed to speak. He came closer, and brushed up against me.
One of my friends returned and saw what was happening; her scream pierced the entire neighborhood, and he took off running. I remembered thinking that he must have been an athlete because he was so fast. This literally happened just out of view of my house. It was just two houses away.
The man who assaulted me was a former stripper. When apprehended and charged, he told the police he was accustomed to receiving female attention, and I suppose our laughter indicated that we wanted "it." The rest of that summer was a blur. I was barely allowed out of my house, and if I went to a friend's house, my mother walked me door-to-door both ways.
I resented it at the time, but I can only appreciate it now. As a parent myself, I realize how devastated and terrified she was that this had happened to her daughter, right outside of her own house. I slept with the lights on for a while. I was afraid he would be able to come and find me once he knew who I was, especially as he ran right past my house during his escape.
The incident sparked the creation of a neighborhood watch task force. Everyone in school knew about the incident and asked me for a play-by-play of what had happened. I got a lot of attention, whether I wanted it or not.
The most scary part of the whole ordeal was picking him out of a lineup, and then testifying in court against him. I honestly don't remember much because I blocked it out, but I had to look at him in the eye, identify him and explain what he had done in a courtroom full of people I didn't know. My parents weren't allowed in the room. For a 9-year-old, this was a pretty daunting task, but I did it.
This event definitely had an impact on me; it made me conscious of many things I really didn't know or understand before at that age. The insinuations were no longer lost on me. It stole some of my innocence, not just in regard to sex, but in believing all people are good. It was my earliest life lesson. However, the fact that I was extremely lucky was not lost on me then, and it isn't now. While it wasn't easy, I think about what could have been.
After I testified against him, his parents also came to the stand to testify. They explained their son couldn't have done what he did, and that he was too much of a good person to have assaulted me. I remember being amazed by their words. They somehow believed a 9-year-old concocted this tale. I learned from a young age that the power of denial is a very strong thing. However, a year or so later, he was in trouble with the law again, and he proved his own character.
While I experienced this assault, I do not label myself as a sexual abuse victim. Again, I am lucky this was an isolated incident and nowhere near as damaging as it had the potential to be. I guess this is what makes me feel all the more strongly about what sexual abuse victims like Kesha are going through.
It was a slap in the face to be called a liar at 9 years old and being told I made up things I didn't even understand before that day. I can't imagine the toll these experiences truly take on a person. No one should have to be frightened to speak up for his or her mental, emotional and physical well-being.
It saddens me that it is 2016, and we still have so much work to do. Here is what I know: Society as a whole needs to shed light on this issue and support victims who are brave enough to speak up. Statistically, sexual abuse could be happening to someone you know. Imagine how you would feel if it were your cousin, sister, daughter or friend.
Have you or someone you know suffered sexual abuse? Visit RAINN.org to get free, secure, confidential help. #FreeKesha.