Sexual assault awareness | Sex in the Suburbs

Amy Johnson. Contributed photo

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month — and here’s what you can do.

1. Believe survivors:

If someone comes to you and discloses sexual assault, believe them. Don’t ask what they were wearing. Don’t ask what they were thinking. Tell them you are sorry that it happened. Tell them it’s not their fault. And most of all, believe them.

Why?

Sexual assaults are dramatically under-reported in our society, for a variety of reasons. According to RAINN, a national anti-sexual violence organization, less than a third of sexual assaults are reported to police. One of the most prominent reasons is the concern that the survivor will not be believed. Consider the recent expose by the Salt Lake Tribune about BYU’s Honor Code, used against sexual assault survivors. More than two dozen survivors told the paper that they did not report crimes committed against them because they, the survivors, would get in trouble. Believing survivors is important.

2. Engage your voice:

Teens — lift your voice to counter any messages that any sexual assault is the survivor’s fault. Talk about consent with your friends and peers. Have speakers in to your school and other organizations to teach about consent. Don’t be silent.

Parents — talk with your teens about consent. Let them know that they can come to you safely if they are uncomfortable in a situation, even if they have broken a house rule. Think about it: Would you rather have a child who has had a few drinks call you for help and a ride, or would you rather have a child who didn’t want to get in trouble end up sexually assaulted?

Coaches — use your authority to counter cultural messages that pressuring people into sexual activity is OK. It isn’t. Make that clear with your teams and students, no matter what gender they are. Athletes are often leaders in their schools and popular. Help create an atmosphere that makes clear consent popular, too.

Fraternities and sororities — get educated and keep getting educated. Traditions can be wonderful, and they can be harmful. Make a commitment to work together in your organizations to create a healthier culture around consent, including caring for each other when alcohol is involved. Be smart. Engage your voices together.

Religious leaders — make a difference by shattering the silence so prevalent in our religious communities about talking about sex. Create healthy faith communities by having clear boundaries, smart supervision policies for children and youth, and engaging your voices in conversations around healthy relationships, communication and consent.

3. Get involved:

• Learn more by going to www.nsvrc.org to find ways to engage on social media, download posters for coloring, download postcards with healthy messages and more.

• Consider hosting a viewing and discussion of the movie “Spotlight.”

• Learn more about sexual assault, types of sexual violence, laws in Washington and the effects of sexual violence at www.rainn.org/about-sexual-assault.

Now is not the time to be silent. Engage your voice. Take action to become more aware of and to prevent sexual assault.

Amy Johnson, MSW, is a trainer and educator in the Pacific Northwest. She specializes in sexuality education and in promoting safe and healthy sexuality culture in faith communities. All opinions are her own. Amy can be reached at comments@diligentjoy.com.

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