3 Ways Society Can Assist Victims Of Sexual Assault
Recently, reports have surfaced from 2005 stating that Bill Cosby admitted to drugging several women with the intent to have nonconsensual sex with them.
This news comes just months after dozens of allegations, spanning over approximately 40 years, surfaced from women claiming Cosby had drugged and sexually assaulted them.
Many people are now raising questions as to whether or not Cosby will be prosecuted, or if these victims have criminal cases on their hands.
Statistically speaking, we didn’t really need a confession.
Studies show that somewhere between 2-8 percent of sexual assaults are falsely reported.
I studied sociology, so my math may be rusty, but if at least 30 allegations have come against Cosby, this means, at the most, 2.4 of those women are lying (you can do with the .4 whatever you will).
The other 27.6 women are telling the truth. Yet, people are still desperately clinging to their cozy Cosby sweaters and sucking on pudding pops while watching re-runs of "The Cosby Show" — say it ain’t so, Bill!
The issue of violence against women is bigger than Cosby, the NFL and other often high-profile cases.
Female sexual assault and how our society perpetuates rape culture is particularly important to our generation, seeing that one in three women aged 18-24 will experience rape.
Unless perpetrators admit to the crimes, we as a society often revictimize these victims of sexual assault when we don’t believe them or question their accounts.
And, realistically, there will not be an equal number of people admitting to rape to the number of reported sexual assaults that occur each year.
Research shows that 80-85 percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows.
We don’t want to believe some people who commit sexual assault and similar crimes are mentors, celebrities, athletes, coaches, family members, partners or generally influential individuals.
We have a difficult time seeing the positive role model as a criminal, and we easily believe people are generally good and incapable of such heinous crimes.
Sexual assault is a crime that is significantly underreported.
Studies show, on average, out of 100 sexual assaults, some 32 are reported, seven lead to an arrest, three are prosecuted and two lead to a felony conviction where a perpetrator faces prison time. Ninety-eight will walk freely!
Work needs to be done on the criminal justice end, but we as a society need to change the way we view and discuss rape and sexual assault.
So, what can each of us do to create a supportive culture for victims of violence?
We can listen, believe and support.
During my time in college, I had the opportunity to work with my campus relationship and sexual violence prevention center as a peer educator.
If the statistics and social justice jargon didn’t stick with my peers after a presentation, I wanted them to remember these three things in case they needed to be an advocate or friend to a victim of sexual assault.
You do not need to have all the answers. You do not need to have a sociology degree or work for a state coalition to simply listen.
Sometimes, survivors just need someone to talk to in order to make sense of what has happened to them or have a safe space to tell their story.
Many of us listen or read about high-profile cases of sexual assault, but we don’t believe the victims.
Sexual assault is unlike many other crimes because it is a direct violation of one’s own body.
Few of us would be eager to share with one person, let alone the rest of society, a sexual encounter we’ve had. Most would approach that topic reluctantly.
Now, imagine how victims of sexual assault feel when (1) they build up enough courage to tell someone about the worst sexual encounter of their life and (2) they are not believed.
Believing victims is crucial because the first person victims open up to can have a major impact on whether or not they choose to disclose in the future.
Should someone want to seek action, it’s important to be a reliable resource or at least know where to find resources.
There are tons of free resources through local, state and national agencies.
Knowledge is so easily accessible for our generation, and educating yourself about these issues — or at the very least, knowing how to contact your state coalition, campus centers or other community agencies against sexual assault — is important.
You should also be supportive should a survivor choose to not seek action or resources.
This is incredibly difficult, but I can’t stress how important it is to let survivors make their own decisions.
After all, the act of sexual assault took away some of their power, and letting survivors choose to either seek justice or just vent can give so much of that back.
I hope to see a serious shift in the way we think, talk and handle issues of sexual violence in our culture.
It can all start with our generation by talking with our friends, becoming aware of assistance agencies in our communities, working in public policy and, when possible, getting involved to help end violence against women.