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Taking back the night

BY GUEST OPINION | APRIL 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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Yes means yes, no means no.

Simple enough, right? Every person should be able to grasp the concept. They either gave consent or they didn’t.

Although this is an easy and recognizable slogan against sexual assault, it is unfortunately just one of the countless misconceptions deterring communities from understanding sexualized violence. It continues a culture that writes off rape and dismisses victims.

So, what if it’s not that simple — what if a person is pressured to say yes but really means no?

Violence, especially sexual violence or assault, are crimes of power, control, and fear. Offenders may use this fear, along with physical pain, threats of more severe injury, or weapons to elicit a target that cannot fight back or say “no.”

It is not consent if a victim is forced to say “yes” or doesn’t have the ability to say “no” or “stop.”

These misconceptions provoke societal pressures where a victim must prove not only his or her own exploitation, but his or her her own innocence. Even a Georgia state legislator (Bobby Franklin, R-Marietta) proposed a bill mandating domestic violence victims be called “accusers” until there is a conviction.

But the facts remain: False reporting is extremely rare (percentages are in the single digits); sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes at 60 percent; and 15 out of 16 offenders won’t serve any time, according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network.

So here’s a better fact: We don’t have to live in this kind of society.

There are many ways to stop the pervasive denial and ignorance of sexual violence in our community. (The Rape Victim Advocacy Program has some great ideas on its website, and it’s nothing a Google search can’t handle.) But let’s start with a few: education and support.

It’s imperative to understand why violence happens and to learn about the long-term personal effects on the victim. Hearing from a survivor can be a life-altering experience.

The more people know and understand about sexual violence, the better equipped they’ll be to speak out against the myths that are still thrown around casually — drunk and wearing a certain type of clothing? They were asking for it. Walking alone at night or agreed to go in the offender’s room? They deserved it.

Saying “yes” to a certain shirt, drink, or invitation into a home never means “yes” to any sexual activity, let alone an assault. These sentiments only serve to minimize the offender’s role and make sexual violence seem distant or unrealistic, so if we can avoid these behaviors, we can feel safe. They take the blame off the offender and place it on the victim.

This is no way to support a victim or survivor.

But by understanding the reactions and effects of trauma, we can give survivors a strong support system. It’s imperative to listen without judging and to let victims know they are cared for and loved.

Experiencing serious traumatic effects is normal — from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to depression to substance abuse. The National Center for Victims of Crime suggests letting the survivors know the assault(s) were not their fault and that they did what was necessary to prevent further harm.

So do your part and educate yourself, support survivors, or help a friend do the same.

You can do all these things today by attending the Take Back the Night rally at 6:30 p.m. on the Pentacrest. The rally will host speakers from the community and campus, march through downtown Iowa City, and allow victims and survivors the chance to share their thoughts and experiences.

Kelli Shaffner is a University of Iowa senior and a volunteer for Iowa Women Initiating Social Change.


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