The need for sexual assault awareness past April

How a sexist culture normalizes rape and sexual harassment

Madeline Bruce, Editor-in-Chief

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, which is great. The goal of this month is to raise public awareness about sexual assault as well as educate communities and individuals about how to prevent sexual violence.

Violence is perpetuated by silence, so the fact that there is a month in which sexual assault awareness, prevention and education are at the forefront of the public eye helps to break the silence that can often surround sexual assault. But, it doesn’t mean that this type of violence is eradicated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost one in every five women in the U.S. experience rape or attempted rape. In the same breath, about 44% of women and 25% of men experience some kind of sexual violence in their lifetime. To me, these numbers are too high.

Anything higher than 0% is too high.

Sexual violence is often the result of abuse of power. Those who possess power think that possession gives them rights to whatever they want, including the bodies of other people. This power can look like the CEO of a company, a doctor, a manager or even a man.

So, why did I say being a man at the end? Not all men think they have power just because they are men, right? I mean, that is true.

But, the idea that power gives a person the absolute right to anything they want, including other peoples’ bodies, is inherent in our patriarchal society. It comes from the idea that women are lesser than men, and we see this idea carry over to people of any gender.

The simple idea that just because someone is in a position of authority or deemed as better than their counterparts is exactly what keeps this cycle of sexual assault going.

Think about it – who is often blamed for an act of sexual violence in our society? The victim is. Questions about what the victim was wearing, if they were intoxicated, and how they were behaving at the time of the assault are ones that frequently come up during an investigation into the assault.

The normalization of sexual assault in our society is called “rape culture,” and it doesn’t consist of just rape. Seemingly “harmless” behaviors like sexist attitudes, rape jokes and locker room talk lead to catcalling, unsolicited photos, stalking and groping. This then can lead to things like threats, contraceptive sabotage, molestation and, eventually, rape.

This perpetuation of rape culture in our society is also what causes victims of sexual assault to want to remain anonymous in reporting sexual assault, refrain from pressing charges and even avoid coming forward at all.

In fact, according to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network in the U.S., only 310 of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police. Of college-age female individuals ages 18 to 34, only 20% of students report and 32% of non-students report.

This, then, results in a miniscule amount of sexual assault perpetrators going to jail or receiving punishment for the assault. According to RAINN, 50 of those 310 reports lead to arrest, 28 lead to a felony conviction and 25 of those perpetrators are incarcerated.

And even when they are incarcerated, the sentences they are given often pale in comparison to the emotional, physical and mental trauma endured by the victim.

Just think about the Brock Turner case. Turner, who was convicted of sexually assaulting Chanel Miller in 2015, ended up serving only three months of his six-month sentence, which was already a relatively light sentence.

This is just one of several cases of sexual assault that exemplify how embedded rape culture is in our society.

So, while something like Sexual Assault Awareness Month is important, it does not fully eradicate the normalization sexist attitudes, abuse of power and assault in our society.

Will we ever get to a point in which it is fully eradicated? I can’t say that for sure. We can, however, get to a point in which there are more advocates for victims than perpetrators. So, if you see something, say something, and never stop educating yourself.


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