April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. During this time, and all year, our attitudes toward sexual assault as a community are measured not by the compassionate or irate words of single individuals. They are measured by the respect we as a community extend and the services we provide to victims, potential victims, and their loved ones.
Our respect is measured by our understanding that no individuals regardless of age, gender, race, religion, regardless of manner of dress, past actions, marital status, level of intoxication, sexual experience or any other factor deserves or encourages sexual assault. Our understanding that all individuals can be victims. Victims created not by the circumstances of their own actions, but the criminal acts of individuals seeking power and control by inflicting violence and pain upon others.
This understanding is what allows us to rise above our society’s attitude of victim blame, and beyond long years of silent and ashamed survivors who believed that theirs was a burden to be carried alone. As a community we must life these individuals out of the darkness and support them as they step into the light of healing and hope for a brighter future.
As a community we must pledge to create a world free of sexual violence and removed from the social norms that support aggression and the abuse and oppression of victims. A world that teaches better, safer, more loving interactions between individuals. A world that encourages and expects its young people to treat one another with kindness, tolerance, and respect.
Imagine a world without rape. Imagine a world without sexual assault or abuse. What kind of world would that be? A world where no one is afraid to walk through parking lots alone, of being drugged when they go to a bar. Where no one is ever forced to do something against their will because they consented to a date, or drink, or were in a relationship with their abuser. A world where rape is never a weapon, or a punch line, or something that is ever ‘asked for.’
Imagine a world where heterosexual women, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals aren’t made targets by simply existing. Where male victims do not live in fear of reporting their assaults for fear of being judged or of perceived implications about their masculinity.
Imaging a world where being a ‘man’ doesn’t have to mean violent, tough, powerful and in ‘control.’ Where emotions are respected and aggression is not. A world where people are seen not as victims or potential victims, but as whole autonomous individuals with control over their own bodies and the power to give or withdraw consent. Consent which is not only listened to but respected and granted.
This is a world that we can help to create. It will not happen overnight but will come at the end of a long and exhausting journey. It will come with coordinated and cooperative response by medical professionals, law enforcement, prosecutors, and victims’ advocates. It will come with a community wide outcry that we must support victims and hold offenders responsible. That we must find consistent and effective ways to teach our children about violence, how to prevent it, how to choose different behaviors, and have positive and loving relationships. An outcry that we must become responsible for our own treatment or others. That we must stop forcing others into molds of masculine and feminine, aggressive and submissive, violent and timid, but be a society of self assured, unique individuals, who contribute to a peaceful world.
A world where there is no rape.