By Neha Ayyer
“She was asking for it.”
“Boys will be boys.”
“It’s your fault for wearing provocative clothing.”
“It was just a joke.”
“Why didn’t you scream or fight back?”
Rape. Those four letters are the one size that fits all; your gender, size, or sexuality doesn’t matter-everyone can get raped. It’s brutal and horrific, with the ability to ruin a person’s life in just two minutes. The impact of sexual assault affects not only victims but those surrounding them as well. It has the power to destroy lives and mentalities.
And let’s not forget that it doesn’t end there: the biases and stigma surrounding rape (and sexual assault in general) ostracize victims from their community, making it harder for them to live on. Sexual violence is so normalized and excused in media and pop culture, that people, mostly women, limit their activities because of the existence of rape. They live in fear. This way of life, rape culture, is a belief that normalizes sexual abuse and protects rapists instead of the victims. It teaches people ways that they can avoid rape, rather than teaching not to rape.
Society’s perspective on sexual assault is the reason why survivors don’t speak up and report the crime. In rape culture, a victim’s justice is often neglected. If a woman does report it, the first thing asked is what she was wearing and if she was drunk. Not information about where the rape happened, details about the rapist, or even a simple “Are you safe/okay?” If the rape is reported, the chance of arrest is 50.8%. This means that about every 1 in 2 rape report ends in just that—a report.
Neglection of rape silences survivors, without anyone to talk to, which in turn causes mental health problems. It makes sense—their life fell apart. The beliefs that they thought would protect them are crushed; the people they thought were allies have now turned their backs. The trust that they thought the word deserved is now gone.
How can we blame them? Survivors are forced to keep quiet as no one is willing to listen to them, and because it seems like no one is on their side, bad consequences can follow. Many start thinking they got raped by some fault of theirs, and that they may just be overreacting. About one-third (31%) of all rape victims develop PTSD and are 13 times more likely to have attempted suicide than non-victims. Additionally, victims are 26% more likely to have major drug abuse problems. That needs to change.
There are many different ways we can help rape survivors. We need to first believe them when they say that they were assaulted. One of the main reasons why survivors are silent is because they worry that no one will trust them. Also, it’s good to be informed on how assault is reported. Nowadays, there are numerous different approaches that can be taken to report rape. The most obvious is to call the police or local authorities. There is also the National Sexual Assault hotline: 800-656-4673. Just because one way doesn’t work, doesn't mean to stop trying.
The third thing you can do is to try joining the movement. There are many organizations out there that are working to end sexual violence. The most well-known ones are the MeToo movement and the It’s On Us organization. The MeToo movement is a movement that shows survivors they are not alone. This community publicizes allegations of sex crimes and provides resources for survivors on their healing journey. The It’s On Us organization is an association that was created by Barack Obama and the White House Council to end sexual abuse on college campuses. This organization focuses on sexual assault prevention.
Lastly, correct others’ misconceptions when you hear them. Being a sexual assault survivor can be a very traumatic experience, and horrific rumors can be infuriating. Don’t leave them to deal with it on their own. If you hear a misconception, call it out. Work to help others understand the realities of rape and sexual assault.
“About the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline.” RAINN, www.rainn.org/about-national-sexual-assault-telephone-hotline.
“Facts and Statistics.” Central MN Sexual Assault Center, 20 May 2016, cmsac.org/facts-and-statistics/.
Kilpatrick, Dean. Mental Health Impact of Rape, 2000, mainweb-v.musc.edu/vawprevention/research/mentalimpact.shtml#:~:text=Rape%20victims%20were%20three%20times,heath%20problems%20are%20life%20threatening.
“Rape Culture.” Sexual Harassment & Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP), 28 May 2019, www.unh.edu/sharpp/rape-culture.
“Rape Culture.” Womens Center, www.marshall.edu/wcenter/sexual-assault/rape-culture/.
Thorpe, JR. “7 Little Ways To Support Sexual Assault Survivors.” Bustle, Bustle, 1 July 2016, www.bustle.com/articles/168835-7-little-ways-to-support-sexual-assault-survivors.
Whittall, Zoe. The Best Kind of People. Hodder, 2018.