Providing services to victims of domestic and sexual violence since 1983
A Message on Sexual Violence
from Patricia Bailey, Executive Director of Women’s Resource Center
Sexual violence is very serious issue, and one that has a devastating and significant impact on survivors, families, communities, workplaces and institutions. How we respond to victims is important. Our discussions surrounding sexual violence are important. What we say to victims and others is important. Poorly chosen words are not forgotten. We want survivors to know that we believe them and support them. One thing we must always avoid is blaming the victim. Victim blaming is exactly why victims of sexual violence don’t come forward. Victims fear not being believed. Victim blaming creates feelings of shame, guilt and fear. When victims remain silent; perpetrators are allowed to continue these behaviors against others.
We have recently witnessed unprecedented national attention on sexual harassment and sexual assault. The #MeToo survivor movement provided survivors the tool and opportunity to have the courage to speak up and speak out about sexual harassment and sexual violence committed against them. The #MeToo movement also helped to create an environment where those having committed acts of sexual misconduct are being called out for their misconduct.
Sexual violence in all of its forms is a serious issue. Sexual harassment in the workplace includes behaviors such as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Sexual violence in the workplace creates an environment where employees feel threatened, harassed and unsafe. When an individual uses a position of authority or power over an employee, employees find themselves in situations where they have to choose between their livelihood and their safety. A person should never be placed in such a position. It is very easy to say what we would do in a similar situation, but the reality is that the decision for some has grim consequences.
When victims do have the courage to come forward, we ask wrong questions. We ask what the victims were wearing. We asked if the victims had been drinking. We ask why the victims went to that particular establishment. We ask why the victims were alone. By asking these questions, we are really saying is that the victims somehow asked to be the victims of sexual violence. Who would knowingly ask to be a victim of sexual violence? We need to be asking the right questions. We need to be asking why the perpetrators sexually harassed or sexually assaulted the victims. We don’t seem to want to acknowledge the predatory and sometimes criminal behaviors of the perpetrators.
We are witnessing every day a greater understanding of sexual violence. Those of us that are involved in working with victims of sexual violence are very encouraged by the public awareness and public outrage. Education, awareness and prevention is the responsibility of everyone. Sexual violence happens in all communities and all walks of life. Sexual violence is allowed to continue because victims are reluctant to come forward. The secrecy allows the sexual violence to continue. The offenders are often people we know and sometimes people that are publicly respected. This does not, however, give the offenders a pass. Offenders of sexual violence must be held accountable for their actions. Would we want justice for our family members if they were victims of sexual violence? Would we want the offenders to be held accountable? My guess is that we definitely would.
As a society we are becoming increasingly more outraged at lenient sentences, inappropriate comments and victim blaming statements made by judges, law enforcement officials, public figures, attorneys, pastors and other community leaders. We are now becoming increasingly more aware of the shaming and blaming that has kept victims silenced for decades. We can’t push sexual violence out of our minds and pretend that it doesn’t exist. We can’t just ignore sexual violence because “we don’t talk about things like that”.
We have a responsibility to be educated on sexual violence. We have a responsibility to support victims of sexual violence and not blame them for being victimized. The recent national events that have consumed us for weeks and continues today has created a national conversation and a shift in what behaviors will not be tolerated. We’ve seen many high profile men being fired or forced to resign after accusations of sexual misconduct that includes rape.
One person can make a difference. One voice does matter. Change can and does happen. While we have a long way to go, we have seen some small changes take place in the military, the NFL, the entertainment industry, the news media, and in congress. I hope to see changes take place in our local communities as well. We have a responsibility to continue this conversation.