April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Trigger warning for mentions of sexual assault, rape, and abuse.

Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

I’m a mental health therapist in Utah and treat many survivors of first and second-hand sexual violence.  The stories and experiences my clients have been through are traumatic to the core. I am often in awe of what my clients have survived. The bravest choice most of them have ever made was to just keep living. 

These are things I think you should know (my apologies that this is USA-centric) 

  • Statistically, every 68 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. 
  • Every 9 minutes that person is a child. 
  • Only 25 of 1,000 perpetrators end up serving time in prison
  • 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.
  • About 3% of American men—or 1 in 33—have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
  • The Majority of Sexual Assaults Occur At or Near the Victim’s Home

I believe our religious culture of sexual purity makes us believe sexual assault does not happen in our LDS communities. It does. Sexual assault occurs at the hands of average LDS members, sometimes even priesthood holders, sometimes by people in positions of great authority in the church. I have heard countless times, “this person would never do that [sexual violence] because they’re a return mission, priesthood holder, bishop, stake president, etc..” Believe me when I say, someone’s church calling does not make them incapable of becoming a perpetrator.


So how can you help? The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVR) suggestions are: 

  1. Believe the victim. Make it clear that you believe the assault happened and that the assault is not their fault.
  2. Remain calm. You may feel shocked or outraged, but expressing these emotions to the victim may cause confusion or discomfort.
  3. Give the victim control. Control was taken away during the assault. Empower the victim to make decisions about what steps to take next, and try to avoid telling them what to do.
  4. Be available for the victim to express a range of feelings: crying, screaming, being silent, etc. Remember, the victim is angry with the person who assaulted them and the situation, not with you. Just be there to listen.
  5. Assure the victim of your support. They need to know that regardless of what happened, your relationship will remain intact.
  6. Avoid making threats against the suspect. Threats of harm may only cause the victim to worry about your safety and risk of arrest.
  7. Maintain confidentiality. Let the victim decide who to tell about the assault.
  8. Encourage counseling. Give the victim the hotline number for the nearest rape crisis center, but let the victim decide whether or not to call.
  9. Ask before offering physical support. Asking “Can I give you a hug?” can re-establish the victim’s sense of security, safety, and control.
  10. Say what you can guarantee. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, such as saying the victim will never be hurt again, or that the offender will be put in jail.
  11. Allow the proper authorities to deal with the assault. Confronting the person who committed the sexual assault may be harmful or dangerous. Attempting to investigate or question others who may know about the assault may hamper a legal investigation. Leave this to the proper authorities.
  12. Be patient and recognize that healing can take years with advances and setbacks.
  13. Take care of yourself. If you need support for yourself, please contact your local rape crisis center for a confidential place to discuss your feelings.

As a member of a largely LDS community, I would encourage everyone to remember that the proper authorities to report sexual violence to is law enforcement, not LDS Bishops. A member may choose to disclose to a trusted church leader for support, but that ecclesiastical leader should never discourage a member from reporting their assault to law enforcement, and most importantly, call them to repentance for a crime perpetrated against them.

We need to teach our members the meaning of the word consent. And not just the “no means no” variety. I like to teach my kids about enthusiastic consent, or that “yes means yes!” And this for every aspect of their bodily autonomy – whether that’s hugging a relative, holding hands, or yes, sex. When it comes to consent, just remember your FRIES.

Consent should always be:

Freely given
Reversible
Informed
Enthusiastic, and
Specific.

And finally I want to speak to those of us who are reading these words who have been impacted by sexual violence — It’s not your fault. There is no choice you could ever make that would justify the punishment being a crime perpetrated against you. It doesn’t matter what you were wearing, if you were drinking, if you were breaking a rule, or if you chose to engage in some sexual contact with your perpetrator.

It’s not your fault.


In the United States, if you, or someone you know, has been sexually assaulted you can contact the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) at 1-800-656-4673 or www.rainn.org.

Risa

Risa has a Masters and Bachelors degree in Social Work. She is a Mental Health Therapist who has worked in child abuse prevention, adoption, domestic violence and sexual assault trauma recovery. She is a mother of 4 and in her spare time she is a voracious reader, snarker, and subversive cross-stitcher.

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3 Responses

  1. Beth Young says:

    I recently heard that Yes means, “Hell Yes! with a high five.” I loved that. Our youth would do well to learn and understand that.

  2. nicolesbitani says:

    Thank you for this important post. I especially love your emphasis on allowing survivors agency in how they want to respond and whether they want to report.

  3. Ziff says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Risa. It’s awful that so few people who commit these assaults end up facing legal punishment. And it’s extra sad that in what is often such an intentionally sex-naive culture as the Church is, people think they’re safe from it when they’re not. Anyway, thanks for sharing all these guidelines for how to be a good support to a person who has been assaulted.

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