Viewpoints

In cases of sexual violence, please start by believing the victims

I was also 15 at the time of my rape. There are also many important factors that I do not remember. And I also did not tell anyone for over a decade.

The parallels between my own experience and that of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford were many. For that reason, the impact of her testimony and the nation’s response to it felt extremely personal. And I’m not the only one. Close friends. Colleagues. Family members. RISE clients calling the crisis line at 4 a.m.

In the wake of Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, the sentencing of Bill Cosby and further details about the abuses in the Catholic Church, survivors across the nation are being retraumatized.

With the onset of the #MeToo movement, more survivors are coming forward to share their stories, emboldened by their friends, peers and colleagues of all ages, genders, ethnicities and socio-economic statuses. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony is perhaps the most public and detailed recounting of an assault in recent memory. And her story is resonating with hundreds of thousands of survivors across the nation and in our community. In fact, RISE has seen a 220 percent increase in crisis line calls from sexual assault survivors in the past nine months.

While sexual violence in America has fallen by 63 percent since 1993, 1 in 6 women, 1 in 33 men, 1 in 9 girls, 1 in 53 boys, and 1 in 2 trans persons will experience sexual assault/abuse in their lifetime.

The vast majority of these crimes are never reported to law enforcement for fear of not being believed; shame and guilt; or fear of retaliation.

Some have likened the impact of the recent confirmation hearings on the judge’s reputation to the impact of a sexual assault on the victim. We’d like to set the record straight: Victims of sexual violence are likely to experience post-traumatic stress, suicidal ideation, anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, high blood pressure, stroke, headaches, poor job and scholastic performance ... the list goes on.

Sadly, believing victims has become a politicized act, dividing our nation along party lines. False sexual assault and abuse reports are rare: approximately 2 percent to 4 percent: the same as false reports of other crimes. Believing victims is essential to preventing sexual violence and to reducing the dramatic public health and economic impacts on survivors and society as a whole.

Research shows that if a victim tells someone about their assault, they tell a trusted confidant. But only 31 percent of survivors will report to law enforcement. Further, if that trusted person responds with disbelief, victims will likely never tell anyone again; they will not seek services or receive support, impeding their healing journey.

Now, more than ever, we have an opportunity to create positive, lasting change by simply believing survivors. Many people feel helpless, unsure of what to do. It’s actually quite simple. When someone tells you they have been raped or sexually assaulted, please, start by believing.

Jennifer Adams is executive director of RISE, San Luis Obispo County. RISE is a non-profit organization whose mission is to transform the lives of sexual and intimate partner violence survivors, their families and the community through services and education that promote safety, healing, and empowerment. For more information, visit www.riseslo.org. For more information about the Start By Believing campaign, visit www.startbybelieving.org.

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