What Sexual Violence Really Looks Like
By Albie Nicol
Sexual violence is a term that people probably only associate with physical abuse in intimate situations, or rape. But the truth of the matter is that sexual violence is a rather broad spectrum of abuse. Sexual violence described by RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is: “is an all-encompassing, non-legal term that refers to crimes like sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse.” This includes situations such as incest, child sexual abuse, drug-facilitated sexual assault, intimate partner sexual violence, sexual assault of men and boys, among others.
Society is alarmingly blind to much sexual violence occurs around us. Millions of women in the United States have been raped, and ⅙ of American women have been the victim of a completed or attempted rape in their lifetime, according to RAINN. Sadly, in today’s society and political climate, we’re not surprised when our campus or city announces another sexual violence incident- how is it that we know so little about what it looks like?
For instance, why do people fail to realize that gender doesn’t matter, at all, in cases of sexual violence? According to RAINN, 1 out of every 10 rape victims are male. A step further, our transgender siblings are at an intense risk: 21% of TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming) college students have been sexually assaulted, compared to 18% of non-TGQN females, and 4% of non-TGQN males (RAINN). Sexual violence looks like every gender- all genders affected, and sadly, all gender perpetrators.
In the media, in classrooms, in everyday situations, sexual violence lacks the educational attention it needs. Even when there is representation of sexual violence, it is more than likely skewed: A pale, medium built white woman being raped or sexually assaulted by a stranger on the subway, or a mysterious figure in an abandoned house. But that’s just not the reality majority of the time. According to RAINN American Indians ages 12 and older experience 5,900 sexual assaults per year on average. Also, American Indians are twice as likely to experience a rape/sexual assault compared to all races. We can combat this through advertising American Indians in videos about consent, portraying individuals of color in workshops about sexual education, and elevating voices of American Indian and people of color who are survivors.
In addition, it’s important to discuss exactly what sexual violence really looks like because often, it can’t be explicitly seen. The effects of sexual violence aren’t always physical, sometimes it’s an assault on your mental wellbeing as well. Many survivors of sexual violence experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and graphic flashbacks to the assault. This makes it hard to reach those who are hurting, because these experiences are mostly invisible to the naked eye, making it hard to identify survivors and current victims of sexual assault just by looking at them.
It’s saddening and scary to think that anyone you know could be a victim of sexual violence, but when we look at the facts, it’s more than likely that someone you know has been affected. So go through the world with compassion. Lead with a heart that is willing to comfort, and then call to action. Keep an eye on your friends for any sudden constant changes in mood, shying away from their typical behaviors, and withdrawing from people and activities they love. It takes five minutes to call a friend you’re worried about and check in. Sexual violence isn’t always visible, but your support and compassion for survivors should be.