Sexual assault thrives in the shadows

Written by Kelly White

Woman looking out a window.As we prepare for another high-profile case wherein a woman will be excoriated for coming forth with her story, I am reminded that sexual assault continues to live in the shadows.

Sexual assault is an epidemic in our society. Yes, so often when a survivor – in this case a woman – has the courage to confront the crime perpetrated against her very person – her most intimate self – she is shamed, blamed, and publicly attacked.

“She’s lying.”

“She changed her mind – it’s just buyer’s remorse.”

“She should have known better – why did she even get in his car?” 

“She was drinking.” 

“They were married.” 

“She’s a slut, a whore, a prostitute.”  

We wonder why so few sexual assault survivors are willing to come forward. What we should be asking is why anyone would put themselves through the horrific abuse and further traumatization that comes with telling others, contacting law enforcement, and pursuing prosecution. And we should be lauding those who are willing to step out of the shadows in an attempt to hold their perpetrators accountable.

In a recent Community Needs Assessment conducted by the Travis Country Sexual Assault Resource and Response Team, the most common reason cited by rape survivors for reporting to law enforcement was to keep other women from experiencing future assaults.

Survivors take the often difficult step of coming forward in an effort to protect others from the same soul-wrenching pain and trauma.

No means no. No matter what she is wearing, her marital status, her livelihood, occupation, age, where she is walking, running, sleeping ,or living. And it’s impossible to say “yes” when under the influence, asleep, passed out, or without the cognitive ability to give informed consent. We are working to make sure all people – every adult and young person we can possibly reach – understands this.

But until we can change our culture and remove the reality of sexual assault, it is imperative that we not penalize victims further for stepping out of the shadows. Because only by stepping into the light will we ever begin to stop this epidemic – to end the scourge of sexual assault in our community and in our country.