One in five women are raped in their lives. Eight of ten victims know their attackers. One in four girls are sexually abused before they are eighteen years old.*
But only six out of every thousand rapists go to prison.*
In America, April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It’s a time to remember our outrage at the system that lets Brock Turner go free after being convicted of rape, what his father called “twenty minutes of action.”
Cases like that anger us, but when I look at the statistics…I just feel tired.
It is easier to get angry about a single attack, it’s harder to stay angry about the constant reinforcement of sexism and rape culture that build the foundation for them. And we need to stay angry. It is only when people get angry that change happens.
That’s what awareness is for. Many people from the older generation like to look down on what millennials do, on the idea that a like or a share can do anything in the face of the world’s problems. But awareness is important because it is the first step.
In the case of sexual assault, it is not enough to know the statistics. We have to know where they come from. We have to know what societal factors contribute to the numbers.
It’s years of teaching our children that “boys will be boys” and “he can’t help himself.” It’s teaching them that no means “maybe” or “convince me” and silence is consent. It’s acting as though a short skirt or a low-cut top automatically means a woman is open to sexual encounters.
It’s also a society that continues to consume media from actors and creators who have a history of sexual violence. It’s a society that promotes stories where a woman says no before someone “changes her mind.” It’s a country that looks at a man with pending rape charges and says, “Yes, let’s make him president.”*
The first step to changing this pervading culture is awareness. The next is to treat it like it’s wrong, to speak up when someone makes light of sexual assault, to boycott when creators are found to be rapists and abusers or when companies protect them, and to protect the sanctity and power of the word “no.”
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so let’s stay aware and informed. But after that, let’s speak up. Let’s do something about it.