Every 98 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted. By the time you watch a full-length movie, almost 100 people have been sexually assaulted. Microwaving popcorn? Someone else was just sexually assaulted.
At college, this can be a scary reality. According to the White House’s sexual assault report, one in five women will be sexually assaulted while in college. This is not too far off from the average for both men and women in their lifetimes.
“It is so frequent. One out of four women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime and approximately one out of six men will be sexually assaulted in his lifetime,” Candice Linehan, the director of the sexual assault services for Delaware County Women Against Rape, said. “So if it is not you, by the grace of God, it could be your loved one, your friend, your neighbor, your colleague, your partner, your child. And so, unfortunately, crime doesn’t discriminate and, unfortunately, you will meet someone or love somebody or care for somebody that unfortunately has been a victim.”
For the sake of not only possible victims but also all of those other people who could be affected by knowing a victim, April is national sexual assault awareness month. The awareness month is important to not only get people to remember the issue of sexual assault, but also to educate every person on the topic.
“These are topics nobody wants to talk about, to be honest,” Tommie Wilkins, the Violence Against Women grant coordinator at Cabrini University, said. “If I just came up to you and went, ‘I want to talk to you today about sexual assault,’ you would run or your eyes would glaze over and you would go into this like, ‘I look like I’m listening but I’m not.’”
Education is key to moving forward. Some are not even aware of the true meaning of sexual assault. The term ‘sexual assault’ not only means rape, but also covers any form of unwanted touch or advancement by another person.
“Anything that you don’t want to happen to you [is sexual assault]. Sexual assault is sort of the umbrella phrase,” Wilkins said. “Under that umbrella, sexual assault, is rape and forcible touching and kissing and hugging. Rape is penetration. So if there is no penetration it is not considered rape. But it is sexual assault; still a crime, it’s just that’s the minute difference.”
Sexual assault awareness month dates all the way back to the 1970s, where women first began Take Back the Night marches, where women began marching in the streets to protest the violence that took place against them at night. Later, men became involved in these marches and protests as well. These Take Back the Night marches even today continue to happen each year.
The marches are just one example of public protest against sexual assault across the world, but possibly even more important is the personal battle with sexual assault. This again is where education becomes highly important, not only for the sake of the victims but for those people who become confidants.
“That is a really crucial point, when someone chooses to disclose to someone,” Linehan said. “That is so courageous and so the person who’s on the other end of it, it can be very overwhelming. And so it’s helpful to be open to education about what to do and how to help.”
There are many outlets for all people to get educated on the different ways to help with sexual assault situations. Just in the area local to Cabrini is Linehan’s Delaware County Women Against Rape located in Media, Pa. They provide free services to any victim or family member in Delaware County or with connections to Delaware county (work, school or the location of the victimization).
Another local outlet is the Women’s Center of Montgomery County, which offers services through seven different offices in the county. They not only work with victims but also focus much of their efforts on education for students of all different ages as well as the surrounding community.
Robin Jordan, the center’s community outreach coordinator, offers five summarized ways to best help support a victim. “The best way to help a victim is to: 1. Stay calm. 2. Keep things drama-free and confidential. 3. Be non-judgemental. 4. Do not force the victim to get help if they are not ready. Gently encourage them to get appropriate help, but respect their decision to act… or not. 5. Know that YOU are not expected to solve the problem. Your job is to be supportive and help provide resources who are trained to help. If there is a true immediate emergency, however, do not hesitate to call 911.”
Jordan’s advice is similar to that of most sexual assault and domestic violence experts. One of the key pieces of advice given out when working with victims is to focus on the will of the victim. For some it is not about getting justice, but more solely about being able to first speak about the incident.
“You can’t tell someone what to do. You can say these are your options and this is what you can do,” Wilkins said. “Stepping forward and saying, you know, ‘Can I do something for you? Here are some people you can call. Do you just want to talk?’ Just being a listening ear for the victim and trying to figure out what is going to be their best way to get some assistance.”
“If you are informed and educated and sensitive and open to learning and willing to help somebody, then somebody will trust you enough to disclose,” Linehan said. “And it’s a true privilege.”
While it may seem like an obvious point to some, it is important to avoid blaming the victim for the situation if they come forward to talk about their victimization. However, in society it has almost become normal to first point to what the victim was doing to rationalize the attack.
“We have a habit of, for sexual assault, blaming the victim. Well why was she dressed that way? Why was she in that neighborhood at that time of night? Why was she drinking?” Wilkins said. “None of these things are things that go here’s my sign saying please come attack me and touch me and feel me and do things to me that I think are highly disgusting and frightening. Please come and do these things. But, we’ll ask those questions. We’ll say those things. The first thought well what was she or he doing to cause it? Breathing.”
Education is not only important for those who are helping the victims after the fact, but also for every person so they can try to avoid future sexual assault situations. Based on the statistics, there is a likely chance that any person may be in an assault-type situation during some or multiple points in their lifetime; so, it can be key to know some ways to avoid being a victim.
“We do go to the mall, we go downtown, we go to New York because we’re in a great location [at Cabrini]. We can hop almost any place we want to on this side of the country in a minimum of two hours, or just go downtown,” Wilkins said. “We are out there with other people and, not to say that they’re all horrible and evil and all rapists and stalkers, but you don’t know. So the incidents can be high. It’s just educating people about being aware of your surroundings and just taking care of yourself.”
It is important for people to always stay aware of their surroundings and try to stay out of potentially harmful situations. This can upset some people because they do not want to have to constantly feel on guard.
“People get upset because, why do women have to be vigilant? Why aren’t we talking to men about not raping? Which we are doing, but that’s a cultural shift,” Wilkins said. “So until it shifts we, and not just we women, men also get raped, have to be vigilant about our surroundings and our safety. So, yes, it’s unfortunate that we need to do that, but we need to do both.”
It is important to always be looking out and always practice self-care. There are many ways to help or seek help for a sexual assault, but one must be willing and ready to do so. If you are interested in helping, local organizations are always looking for volunteers. However, Linehan warns that the job can be tasking at times, making self-care even more important.
“Ultimately if they’re not good to themselves they can’t be good to anybody else and so that’s key,” Linehan said. “And if there’s a time when staff feel really down and really blue and just not hopeful, it is my job to assess that situation and try to offer them some guidance and consultation. Self-care is huge.”
“I think what motivates me particularly is when I see hope. When I see individuals who heal, when I see individuals start to smile, who start to find different ways to cope, who end up learning their new normal,” Linehan said. “Every single person that calls our office or comes in here, even if it’s at their worst during their time of crisis, they made it. They survived. And it’s the most courageous step to pick up the phone and say, ‘I need help’ or to walk into this office. Everybody could choose to pull up and decide I’m turning right around. But they walk through these doors and that gives me hope. It truly does.”