Speaking of Women's Rights: Out Of The Shadows, Into The Light

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Out Of The Shadows, Into The Light

Statistically speaking, 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. This data has always perplexed me; I know far more than six women, yet there’s only one woman in my life who is a survivor of sexual assault… or so I thought. I recently received an email from a friend with whom I’ve shared stories and feelings and philosophies of life. Despite all of this sharing, until now, I had no idea that she was a part of the roughly seventeen percent of women who have experienced sexual assault or abuse.

The NBC show “Private Practice” took on the topic of rape last week, depicting a scene where one of its main characters is the victim of a violent sexual assault. There are of course differing opinions on how the show is handling the storyline, but what I find most interesting is that there are a substantial number of comments from women who have been victims themselves. My friend said that watching it is helping her to confront her own attack. This sentiment is echoed in online comments from other survivors.

Also among the comments in the blogosphere is this complaint:

“I was really bothered by the fact that a seemingly strong, independent woman was so afraid that other's opinions of her would change that she didn't report the rape.”

Perhaps this comment has merit, but could it also be simply a truthful depiction of what happens to women, even the strongest among us, when they are sexually assaulted? According to the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center, rape is the most underreported crime in America – a startling 60% of all sexual assaults are never reported. Our society does not like to talk about sexual assault. Just the word rape makes people uncomfortable. Yet so many women share this horrific experience and many are left to deal with the fallout on their own:

Universities, where women are 4 times more likely to be victims, often have no idea how to handle sexual assault.

Women often feel they don’t have anyone on their side. These women end up in tragic situations, like threatening to jump off the King County Courthouse rooftop, or – worse yet – succeeding in ending their own lives.

Advocacy funding for victims is increasingly on the chopping block, especially during this time of difficult budgets.

Reading the statistics and thinking about just how many women are affected by this issue can make the situation feel overwhelming. Luckily there’s some progress being made out there to help victims of sexual assault feel less alone.
The Voices and Faces Project is attempting to give women a forum for their stories with a series of multi-media projects. Their most recent video combines pictures and quotes from survivors.

“…But when I started to talk about it, it freed me.” In my mind, progress involves an array of changes to our thoughts and actions around sexual assault. But perhaps the very first step is to listen.

Photo Credit: Ariion Kathleen Brindley