To the Editor:
One in five women will be raped in her lifetime according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey.
The prevalence of this crime, along with recent news headlines, has revealed our continued tolerance for behaviors that normalize sexual assault.
Too many people cling to outdated notions of what constitutes sexual assault and harassment, including how the victim should respond and how long it should take them to recover. These attitudes prevent progress and can be downright dangerous. We must remove the barriers that keep many victims from achieving justice and other victims from being heard at all.
Recently, college campuses and workplaces have made advances in addressing sexual assault in those environments.
However, children, men, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and other populations face nearly insurmountable barriers to reporting sexual assault and other forms of abuse. Often the most formidable barrier is finding someone they trust who will believe them. Many victims who report undergo further traumatization when they tell friends and family, report to law enforcement, or participate in the investigation or trial. The criminal justice system is not always a welcoming place for victims of sexual assault, causing many victims to question whether it is even worth reporting when sentencing is often not commensurate with the crime.
As a society, we must change attitudes and put an end to the persistent dismissal of sexual assault. We must provide the opportunity and environment for all victims to be heard and believed.
While we cannot overcome every barrier overnight, simply believing and supporting a victim of sexual assault can lead to a path of healing and recovery. It is critical that we no longer look the other way. We must hold perpetrators accountable, confront stereotypes, and change systems that hinder justice.
Ilene J Burke
Renewal House executive director