By Chuck Walker
MOBILE, Ala. – Here is an uncomfortable, terrifying, and daunting fact. A sexual assault occurs every two minutes (or less) in the U.S. alone.
The overwhelmingly large amount of statistical data that represents the victim base may also make you uncomfortable...and it should. Sexual assault has no boundaries. The perpetrators have no boundaries. There is no singular race, gender, age, social class nor any other identifying public that has not had an overwhelming number of victims under its populace.
Sexual Assault can happen to anyone no matter their circumstances and there is but one simple truth regarding it…We are ALL potential victims. In fact, one in three women and one in four men will experience some form of sexual assault in their lifetime.
“Regardless of a person’s age or their gender, the impact of sexual violence goes beyond physical injuries that may be present,” said Narissia Skinner, the Executive Assistant to the Division Commander and Victim Advocate with the South Atlantic Division. “The trauma of being sexually assaulted can linger and can cause stress. I would advise victims to seek counseling and to try the SAFE helpline as a resource.”
With that many people having experienced sexual assault directly, and even more indirectly, why is it such a hard topic to talk about? Why do we get uncomfortable when the topic is mentioned? With that many victims of sexual assault, the chances are extremely high that we all know someone who has been traumatized, whether it is us, a relative, a friend or a co-worker.
It’s because it IS uncomfortable. The very nature of sexual assault should be extremely uncomfortable even if you have been one of a very fortunate few to have never experienced it firsthand or in some manner at all. And if you have, maybe you don’t want to discuss it because of the chance of triggering horrid memories. That is completely understandable, and you should never be faulted for it. But it is important to know there are good people available to support you in your time of need. And it is more than OK to make people uncomfortable in efforts to battle against sexual assault.
Talking about it, specifically if speaking from personal experience, makes us vulnerable, and it is hard to be vulnerable. It is uncomfortable being vulnerable.
Some victims may feel shame and blame themselves for the attack. They may ask themselves, “what did I do to bring this on, to make this happen?”. Some may turn to a friend, relative, or co-worker. And as a friend, relative or co-worker, hearing their story may make us uncomfortable, however it is imperative that we be there for them, support them and help them to the appropriate professional care or service if they so choose to utilize them. One thing to never do is judge them.
“If someone trusts you enough to disclose their assault to you, consider these ways of showing concern,” Skinner said. “Be supportive and as non-judgmental as possible. Please show the upmost care and concern. Let your friend or co-worker know they are believed. Let them know they are not alone. Be sure to also maintain confidentiality.”
If we are a victim, we are not at fault, we did not cause this, and we did not bring this upon ourselves. It may be uncomfortable to share your story, but it may also help to prevent another through education.
We also need to be willing to be uncomfortable if we are the relative, the friend or the co-worker. Be willing to listen. Be willing to show empathy. Be willing to get involved. Be willing to seek help for the victim and for yourself if you need it.
If you or anyone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, please reach out to the following resources: 911, National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-HOPE, the DoD Safe Helpline: 1-877-995-5247 and the USACE helpline at 1-800-281-6224.
You are not alone. There are good people available that want to help and support you.
If we want to make a difference and truly prevent sexual assault, we ALL need to get uncomfortable and address it head on.