Sexual Assault Awareness Month: What Society Can Do to Help Victims
Start the conversations early and prevent the violence from happening. The month of April, labeled Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), is dedicated to educating individuals about sexual violence and how to prevent it. The SAAM campaign stems from the "Take Back the Night" marches performed by women in the 1970s to end violence. In April 2001, the United States observed the first national SAAM movement, and today, the group is making incredible feats by delivering to all age groups. It targets the core area — childhood development — to prevent gender violence. Ultimately, it aims to promote substantive dialogue and positive behaviors.
But besides this impressive and valuable work, what else needs to be done? The conversation must extend beyond prevention alone and delve into the consequences of assault. Specifically, there needs to also be a discussion about how an assault affects a survivor and whether or not the rehabilitation process effectively teaches a perpetrator to not commit another assault.
Every two minutes, an individual is sexually assaulted in the United States. Out of the 200,000 plus assaults that happen in the U.S. annually, only 46% are actually reported.
Society needs to be equipped with the skills and tools to work with survivors. Some survivors are able to repress the memories, internalize it in unique ways, and find ways to distract themselves. But others experience the assault much differently. The touch of another human being can be so painfully triggering ... violent imagery, stigmatizing flashbacks, and emotional bleeding. An offensive and degrading hoot can evoke the most traumatizing nightmares. How is one ever to trust again?
Survivors hold incredible strength, but the stigma of an assault can tear apart anyone. And sometimes, without society empowering that person, the experience can be even more isolating and dehumanizing. If you know a survivor, be there for them. Be a resource, friend, and whatever else they need.
In order to truly empower a survivor, society needs to obviously work toward preventing assaults in the first place, but then must also appropriately deal with a perpetrator when that person commits an assault.
Currently, society has used the prison system to make individuals pay retribution for the crimes they committed and rehabilitate them back into society. Unfortunately, only 3% of rapists actually face imprisonment.
And even for the 3% who end up in prison, the rehabilitative process is a mess. In a 2011 study conducted by Pew Research Center, 52% of offenders released from prison end up returning for a serious crime. Additionally, only about one-third of prisoners receive any education while being imprisoned and less people than that receive any vocational training.
Does prison culture foment backlash from prisoners? Does it disengage individuals from society and inhibit the rehabilitation process? Is prison actually a breeding ground for more crimes?
When such topics are under debate, it is obvious that society needs to greatly emphasize the correction and reintegration aspects of prison. There is much work to do to ensure that the majority of prisoners actually have jobs lined up when they return to society, something untrue in the status quo.
Prisons serve as temporary solutions to remove dangerous individuals off the streets. And despite the seemingly noble purpose, the legal entanglements and frustrating judicial system set 97% of perpetrators free. How are we supposed to empower survivors when the current system does this? This is where prison reform and revitalizing rehabilitation are very limiting approaches and the way society handles perpetrators needs to seriously be reevaluated.
The campaign to raise awareness of prevention is a powerful step in the right direction. It beautifully addresses the root cause of the issue. Nevertheless, the conversation about rehabilitation and the consequences for the survivor need to also be on the docket. This is the time to discuss whether or not the legal system actually makes sense for perpetrators. This is the time to ensure the survivors are empowered by societal structures, not afraid of them.