I believe you. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and I want you to know that I believe your stories, I see how prevalent you are in my community, and I honor your experiences.
Whether you are boldly proclaiming #MeToo, or suffering in silence, I know you are in every Federal Way school, as students, and as faculty; as athletes, scholars, coaches and advisors.
I am aware that you are in every place of business, as owners, employees and customers.
You work for the City of Federal Way, for department stores, movie theaters, restaurants, service providers, libraries, medical facilities and more.
I know you attend churches in Federal Way every Sunday, and mosques and temples other days of the week — sometimes at the same place of worship as your abuser or assaulter.
I understand that you represent every gender and every sexual orientation. You are single, married, in a relationship and dating. You represent every ethnic group in our community.
I know you are our leaders, our mentors, our hope for the future.
And I know you are strong because you’ve survived. You’ve survived demeaning comments, injuries to your bodies and wounds to your souls. You’ve survived being blamed for what happened to you, self-doubt, rage and depression. Many of you are actively surviving these things each and every day.
Sexual assault is horrific and inexcusable. Yet, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 57 percent of women and 42 percent of men experience some type of sexual abuse by the time they reach age 17. And for all the press it gets, it’s important to know that research shows that only between 2 percent and 10 percent of all reports are false.
With numbers like these, we all own this problem. We all have responsibility to change how we talk about sexuality in our homes, our schools, our workplaces, our places of worship.
It’s up to each of us to know and teach all our young people that verbal harassment is harassment. It’s not OK.
It’s up to each of us to know and to teach about consent — full, ongoing, enthusiastic consent — and to start with young children regarding how they play and touch each other. We cannot afford to wait until the teen years or college to teach about this crucial topic.
It’s up to each of us to stop shaming and stigmatizing survivors, and to start recognizing the resilience, strength and healing of those among us.
It’s up to each of us to model healthy relationships, communication, and affection for the children in our lives.
It’s up to us to continually improve how we address these issues, so that we are not blaming those who are assaulted, and so that we are educating people about how not to unintentionally become a perpetrator. So, while we’re doing the work that needs to be done to make this a better community, a safer community, a more compassionate and educated community — I want you to know. I believe you, and I believe in you.
Amy Johnson, MSW, is a trainer and educator in the Pacific Northwest. She is co-author of three books and facilitates classes and workshops in the Puget Sound area. Amy specializes in sexuality education and in promoting safe and healthy sexuality culture in faith communities. All opinions are her own. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.