Sexual Violence is Not a Laughing Matter

Sexual violence against women is not a joke. For a public figure, especially someone who is running for the highest political office in the country, to think sexual violence is humorous “locker room talk” is despicable as well as disrespectful to victims of sexual violence.

“This was not just a lewd conversation, this wasn’t just lock room banter, this was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior,” First Lady Michelle Obama said in a speech on October 13. She summed up the situation very well and that started my thinking of the facts and data on sexual violence in America and what can be done to reduce its prevalence.

Every two minutes an American is sexually assaulted and the majority of victims are between the ages of 12 and 34, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. One in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. This set of statistics includes all cases of sexual violence.

One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped in their lifetimes, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. This set of statistics just looks at rape and nothing else in the sexual violence crimes category.

I’m not a sociologist, a criminologist or a police officer. I am not a judge or a prosecutor. I am a college-educated and real-life trained journalist. I am a human being with intelligence. I am a woman — one who has survived sexual assault. I’ve been thinking for a long time about sexual violence and what we can do to reduce sexual violence. Here are some of my thoughts.

 

Counseling is a life-saving tool.

From my own experience, sexual assault victims need better access to compassionate counseling designed specifically for sexual assault victims. The access to advocates who can speak on behalf of victims when they are not getting the counseling they need to fully recover emotionally and mentally from their sexual assault experiences is just as vital in the recovery process.

A counselor who embodies empathy and who is nonjudgmental can be a life-saver. With a counselor’s guidance, I went from victim to healing human to survivor to, “Oh, hell no, this will not happen to me again.” My counselor helped me discover the patterns in my own behavior that was allowing me to be victimized. With her help, I stopped repeating those patterns and am now in a healthy, non-abusive relationship.

For counseling to work, the victim of sexual violence must be willing to commit to a continual period of counseling. Employers need to allow employees adequate time off to complete counseling. Families and friends need to encourage completion of counseling and not hinder the process as well.

 

Society needs to be less lemming-like. In other words, people need to stop and think for themselves more often, especially when a situation doesn’t feel right.

For starters, let’s stop blaming the victims. I should be able to walk down the street completely naked and be perfectly safe from physical harm. In reality, that is not how our country works. Someone will say lewd things to me, touch me, grab me, grope me, kiss me, finger me or even rape me right there on the street.

Once the violence is over with, someone will then say, “Well, she asked for it, walking down the street naked like that.” No one ever asks to be sexually assaulted or raped. Ever. Let’s stop saying such idiotic things about victims of sexual violence.

I understand that sometimes victims of sexual violence make poor decisions, such as drinking in excess or becoming otherwise incapacitated. That is still not a valid reason to shame these victims or blame them for sexual violence outcomes. They did not assault and/or rape themselves.

It is high time we as a society looked at and to the aggressors of sexual violence and laid all the blame for these crimes at their feet. We teach our daughters and our nieces how to avoid being assaulted and/or raped and hardly ever teach our sons or nephews how not to become aggressors. It is time we taught our sons and nephews that all people have value and that sexual violence is not tolerated under any circumstance.

When a belligerent person running his mouth into a microphone in front of thousands, if not millions, of people says something as jaw-dropping stupid as his equating grabbing a woman by her “pussy” as just being “locker room talk,” please walk away from him. Yes, it is his First Amendment right to say what he wants. It’s our First Amendment right to not have to listen to him. Go listen to someone more worthwhile, such as author Kelly Oxford.

After the now infamous “locker room talk” video was released in a media frenzy, Oxford invited women to post their stories of sexual assault on Twitter using the hashtag #notokay. Oxford was expecting a handful of replies, given the painful memories talking about sexual assault can trigger for victims.

MinnPost reported that, “Within three days, almost 27 million people” had replied to Oxford’s Twitter post or visited her Twitter page.

Oxford overwhelming succeeded in finding something positive in a mound of negative. She navigated the conversation away from a megalomaniac back to the heart of the issue: sexual violence against women and how it affects those women.

 

Our judicial system needs an overhaul.

In California, Brock Turner, the 21-year-old former Stanford University swimmer who was convicted in March 2016 of sexually assaulting an unconscious 23-year-old female, was sentenced in June 2016 to just six months of jail time by Judge Aaron Persky. Turner was convicted of assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated person, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object, all of which are felonies. As part of his sentence, Turner is now serving three years of probation and must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Since Turner was incarcerated in a county jail in California, he was released under a California law that gives inmates credit for time served. This allowed Turner to be released after serving just three months of his sentence. After his release, Turner returned to his home state of Ohio. According to the Ohio sex offender registry website, Turner now resides in Bellbrook.

Since the media firestorm over Turner’s case, Judge Persky has voluntarily declined to hear criminal cases. There is an ongoing movement in California requesting the voter recall of Judge Persky.

Meanwhile, in the state of Tennessee, former Vanderbilt University football player Cory Batey, 22, who was found guilty on the charge of aggravated rape of an unconscious woman and on other charges in April 2016, was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison. This is the minimum sentence allowed by Tennessee law. Batey will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life as well.

Unlike Turner, Batey will serve every single day of his sentence as there is no early release option for him.

Seeing the disparities of these two cases, which both occurred on college campuses involving college students as both aggressors and victims, should bring to light the need for a national standard for sentencing those convicted of sexual violence. The concept that one of these rapists only served a mere three months while the other will serve a solid 15 years is deplorable.

 

Rape kits need to be processed in a timely manner.

There is a backlog of rape kits still waiting to be processed in the United States. Some estimates place the number of unprocessed kits at 100,000 or more.

Prompt processing of rape kits can help gather as much evidence as possible from the kits before the evidence degrades during the storage process and can help identify unknown assailants and serial rapists and remove them from communities before they commit further crimes.

“After New York City began testing every rape kit that came into police custody, the city’s rape arrest rate rose from 40 percent to 70 percent,” Slate reported in a September 7 online article about a federal sexual assault survivors’ bill of rights.

According to End the Backlog, major cities such as Cleveland, Detroit and Memphis started processing their backlog of rape kits, entering eligible DNA profiles into the national CODIS database and investigating and prosecuting these cases. As of August 2016, processing of these backlogged rape kits has resulted in the identification of over 1,200 potential serial rapists who have committed crimes in at least 40 states and in Washington, D.C. Many of these identified criminals have been linked to violent crimes besides rape.

With results like these, every city in the nation should be processing rape kits with greater frequency. Removing sexual predators from our communities helps keep us all safer in general.

 

It’s time we pressed our public figures and celebrities to be set a better example for young people. It’s time our media outlets stop victim blaming and our legislatures pass sentencing laws across the nation that will be more severe when it comes to crimes of sexual violence. It’s time for our judges to possess a better inner compass when it comes to using their own personal discretion during the sentencing phase of a trial and for our local police jurisdictions to process the current influx as well as the backlog of rape kits in their possessions. It’s time that we ourselves stop listening to the hate-filled and violence-encouraging speech of others and stand up for what for is right.

Most importantly, let’s teach our children that sexual violence is never acceptable nor is it a laughing matter.

XOXO,

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