It is with heavy hearts that we correspond with you all today. This past weekend in Charlottesville, VA, our entire country was impacted by the violence. As a supporter of freedom of speech, I think it is important to distinguish when one person’s rights violates another person’s or group of people’s rights. What happened this weekend is a culmination of violence and privilege which continues to perpetuate a culture of racism and rape. In order to end a culture of rape we must also address all forms of oppression.
I hope as leaders in this movement, we will continue to hold our country in our hearts and lovingly hold ourselves accountable. There is much work to be done, and as consumers of media we too are triggered, and all of our bodies hold trauma. In the midst of all that is happening in our country, I want to continue to work alongside of each of you, so please take care of yourselves. We must take care of ourselves in order to continue to fight for the rights of ALL.
The Center maintains a commitment to providing excellent and culturally competent services to survivors of all genders, including support for survivors with complex trauma histories that include racialized violence.
Myth: If a woman is raped, she probably asked for it in some way.
Fact: Only the perpetrator is responsible for the decision to violate someone.
This myth restricts women’s behavior and places blame on survivors rather than perpetrators. Women and those who identify as female are often expected to dress or behave in certain ways and to follow strict but contradictory rules to protect themselves from harm. This myth perpetuates the double standard that reinforces an expectation of male aggressiveness and the perceived responsibility of women to avoid any behavior that could be seen as provocative.
This myth also helps distance non-survivors from survivors. By insisting that a survivor played some role, others can alleviate their own fear of assault by assuming that certain behaviors will protect them from a similar circumstance. For example, if you believe women are partially responsible for being assaulted if they were drinking, then you can take comfort in the idea that you are not at risk if you don’t drink too much. Or if you believe women are partially responsible for being assaulted if they were dressed provocatively, then you can take comfort in the idea that you are not at risk if you dress more modestly.
But offenders select their victims not based on the way they dress, but rather on their perceived vulnerability. Rapists target people who seem vulnerable to assault and who seem less likely to report them.
Asking potential victims to be responsible for protecting themselves from victimization is a form of oppression. Only perpetrators are responsible for their behavior, and they should be held accountable. Even if you believe that women should adhere to certain behavioral standards – how they dress, how much they drink, who they spend time with, etc. – the consequences of not meeting these standards should never be rape. No one “asks” to be raped, and no one deserves to be raped. There is never an excuse, an invitation, or a justification for sexual violence. Bottom line.
This myth serves to blame the survivor. It increases suspicion and hostility toward people who come forward. Although there are isolated incidents where people have lied about being raped, these are the exception rather than the norm.
One major reason that Americans believe that rape is often falsely reported is that the media sensationalizes false reporting stories, while it minimizes or fails to cover the hundreds of thousands of true stories that happen every year.
Another major reason this myth is so commonly accepted is the misconception that rape is “easy to claim and hard to dispute.” But this is far from the truth—many survivors describe their experience of pressing charges or reporting their assault to law enforcement as a “second rape.” Reporting a rape or assault is a difficult and lengthy process. The survivor must share very personal details with complete strangers, undergo a traumatic evidence collection process, and will likely be subjected to a great deal of scrutiny or suspicion. Most survivors experience negative impacts, such as trauma from re-living/re-telling violence committed against them, victim-blaming comments that compound self-blame, and a general lack of support. It is unlikely that someone would go through this long and painful process if their story was not true. In fact, the reality is that rape is extremely underreported — most survivors never report their experience, especially on college campuses.
To start, I am a man — a white heterosexual man to be exact. I am probably not the first image that comes to mind when talking about an advocate at a rape crisis center. But here I am, volunteering with the Orange County Rape Crisis Center as a Companion for survivors of sexual violence. In sharing my story of how I got here, I hope that other men will read this and consider getting involved, either within our community or by taking a firm stand against sexual violence.
When I was finishing my final year of my undergraduate career, I began to take an interest in women’s issues. To this day I cannot pinpoint what started it, but I do remember reading more blog posts and articles through Facebook about women who had been sexually harassed or assaulted, as well as more generic commentary about the everyday discrimination women encounter. By the time I was in graduate school, my awareness of the frequency of sexual assault, particularly on college campuses, led me to change my academic focus toward women’s rights and gender equality. Although my studies focus on the global stage, my conviction that women’s issues needed to be addressed only grew.
I volunteered as a Companion to learn more about sexual violence and how to combat it from a third party perspective. Reading about instances of rape left me feeling angry that such actions occurred with stunning regularity, and frustrated that people could either brush it off or treat it as “just the way things are.” While I am grateful for the training provided by the Center and have enjoyed my experience so far, I cannot deny that it has been emotionally trying. Exposing myself to a subject that I could not personally relate to was difficult. I certainly cared about what happened, but I understood very quickly that I could never fully comprehend the harassment, the violence, or the subtle discrimination because I was born a man. Continue reading “Why I Decided to Become a Companion”
Over the last thirty years, our Safe Touch program for children and our Start Strong program for teens have helped prevent child sexual abuse by teaching children and adolescents to identify inappropriate behavior, to develop an understanding of consent and healthy relationships, and to stand against sexual violence in their schools and communities. These programs are designed for continuous learning, which means that students in every public school in Orange County will receive Safe Touch (preK through 5th grade) or Start Strong (7th and 9th grade) programming year after year, so the skills and knowledge they gain are consistently reinforced and built upon. Conversations that start with learning your own bodily autonomy and boundaries eventually shift to how these ideas apply to treating and respecting others. Continue reading “Purple Ribbon of Excellence”
Parents, friends, and others who want to support survivors of sexual assault may not know exactly how to do so. These loved ones may feel helpless and worry about saying the wrong thing or pushing too hard when attempting to offer love and support. We share some of the best tips for supporting survivors so that you can help them feel empowered and start on the road toward healing.
Accept that you will not have all of the answers or be able to fix it.
It can be especially frustrating to help a loved one who survived sexual assault, because you may feel overwhelmed and struggle with not knowing exactly how to help, even though you wish you could make things better immediately. It is important to keep in mind that just being there for the survivor can make all of the difference in the world. Your loved one does not expect you to have all of the answers, and they know that you cannot repair the damage.
Help them feel empowered and regain control over their life.
One of the worst effects of sexual assault is the sense of helplessness that it instills in the victim. They lose power during the assault, so it is critical for you to support their decisions and choices to help them regain a sense of control over their life. Avoid telling them what to do, but offer suggestions and options to help them make decisions that are right for them. Share resources with them for other support systems, such as counselors, sexual assault support groups, and others.
You also could suggest that they ease back into a routine that does not involve a great deal of stress by finding a job that serves a therapeutic purpose. There are many options for working at home or working with their hands that would empower them by allowing them to work as much or as little as they’d like. For example, they could set her own hours and rates by becoming a dog walker. Studies show that petting and playing with dogs reduces stress and alleviates depression and anxiety.
Sexual violence affects all communities, even ours. Recent events and conversations about sexual assault at East Chapel Hill High School remind us of this.
The increased attention on campus sexual assault in the past few years has been a crucial conversation for a university town like ours. Yet the story that has largely been missed is the enormous risk faced by high school teens.
Girls ages 16-19 face four times more risk of being sexually assaulted than the general population (RAINN.org). Boys, too, face an increased risk of sexual assault in childhood and adolescence.
When allegations of sexual assault involving teens surface in the news, it leaves parents, students and teachers scrambling for answers. How do we make sense of this? How can we respond? And what can be done to prevent this? Our community deserves an opportunity to come together for healing and learning. Continue reading “Sexual Assault and Teenagers”
If you missed Part 1 of this story, you can access it here.
In the last post, we covered what a rape kit is, and the scope of the rape kit backlog. In this post we will pick up with the progress and challenges of getting to the bottom of the backlog.
Successes so Far
Fifteen states and dozens of municipalities have made the pledge to get to the bottom of the backlog, with huge success: thousands of kits have been processed, identifying hundreds of serial rapists. After a 2011 call by the Ohio Attorney General to process old rape kits, over 8,000 kits were sent to Ohio’s state crime lab, and over 4,000 have been tested so far. These tests have resulted in 1,474 matches with the national DNA database—over 35% of kits that had been sitting in storage had a match. What is even more staggering is that at least 200 suspected serial rapists have been identified. Houston mayor, Annise Parker, prioritized the processing of rape kits, even though it cost $5.9 million. They turned up 894 DNA hits on the national database.
The State Crime Lab of North Carolina prides itself on processing rape kits sent to their lab immediately. However, even “immediately” still means survivors are waiting 18 months to 2 years for results. According to a recent report, the state crime labs are struggling with recruitment and retention of scientists, many of whom leave after only a short time for better paying jobs in the private sector. The state is taking steps to decrease turnaround time for DNA evidence by opening a new lab and hiring additional scientists, and the General Assembly is considering salary increases to improve retention. An unfortunate consequence of the delay is that after two years of waiting, it is harder to secure a conviction, and sometimes survivors just want to move on.
In Charlotte, where they have their own crime lab, a spokesperson for the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department stated that even though there is a backlog of 1,019 kits, this number should not be taken seriously, because over 600 of those were from cases that had been closed. But a major argument for the processing of kits in the backlog is to find hits even in closed cases. For example, a kit that was not processed due to lack of evidence could produce a match with DNA previously entered for a no-suspect rape case, or another rape case closed for lack of evidence—putting the pieces together can strengthen both cases and help get serial rapists off the streets. Continue reading “The Untested Rape Kit Backlog – Part 2”
Crime shows on TV make it look so easy. You see investigators talking with the weeping victim, and then the scene cuts to someone walking in with coffee in one hand and a file folder in the other. The results came back from the lab and they’ve got a match. Unfortunately, in real life, evidence collection and processing after a sexual assault is often a traumatic, time-consuming procedure, fraught with prejudice, victim-blaming, and political pressures.
What is a Rape Kit?
A “rape kit” is shorthand for the process that a survivor can choose to undergo within 72 hours of a sexual assault to preserve evidence that may link the perpetrator to the crime. Essentially, the survivor’s body is the scene of the crime, and a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) collects samples of anything that might contain DNA or other physical evidence, such as swabs of the mouth and genitals, the survivor’s clothing, and brushings from the survivor’s body. The SANE nurse also takes pictures and documents any injuries. Samples of the survivor’s blood, saliva, and hair (both head hair and pubic hair) are taken to compare to any other evidence found. The survivor’s full medical history as well as an account of the assault is recorded. The rape kit collection usually takes four to six hours to complete, during which time the survivor is discouraged from eating, drinking, or using the bathroom. The evidence is then packed up in a box and handed over to law enforcement.
In North Carolina, if the survivor is not filing a police report right then, the box is put in storage for up to one year and can be retrieved if and when the survivor decides to press charges. If an investigation is opened, the DNA collected from the survivor’s body can be compared to the DNA of a suspect if there is one, or entered into the national DNA database to see if there is a match with anyone already known to law enforcement. DNA can confirm known suspects, identify unknown suspects, or eliminate suspects from the investigation. Continue reading “The Untested Rape Kit Backlog – Part 1”
This year, you can spread awareness during Sexual Assault Awareness Month without ever having to leave your keyboard. Ever since the word “hashtag” made its way into Merriam-Webster dictionary, it seems we can no longer ignore the power behind the little symbol, once known as the “pound sign.” Online activism is trending now and what better way to spread awareness about sexual violence than through the power of the internet. In a world where social media is so pervasive, we invite you to participate in SAAM and use your hashtags to advocate for the end of sexual violence.
Using the #SAAM or #SAAM2015 hashtags not only increases awareness to those who follow you, but also connects you with other activists in the movement. Take to Twitter to share the news and inspirational tweets of fellow advocates. See below for details on an Anti-Street Harassment Tweetathon on April 14, where you can be a part of a global event, 140 characters at a time.
Another way to stay involved is through our Facebook page. There you can find links to events, related articles, photos, and news from the Center during #SAAM2015. Invite your friends to like our page. Be sure to RSVP to the different events we’re hosting this month and invite your friends to those events as well.