Letter: Sexual violence victims need public support, not criticism

News of the rape of a young Baton Rouge woman initiated by a relationship on the online dating platform Tinder has opened a heated dialogue in our community about blaming victims for assaults committed against them. While people may have the best of intentions in talking about the circumstances surrounding a rape in an effort to help prevent future acts of violence, victim shaming helps no one and harms the people affected by sexual violence. It also perpetuates epidemic levels of sexual violence and trauma in our community.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped in their lifetime. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that almost two-thirds of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. Thirty-eight percent of perpetrators are a friend of or acquaintance to the victim, while 23 percent of perpetrators are an intimate partner. Nearly six out of every 10 sexual assaults reported by victims occurred in their own home or at the home of a friend, relative or neighbor. Considering these facts, it is important to recognize that our “common-sense” strategies for preventing rape are not applicable in most cases.

When a person is raped, an incredible amount of courage is required to report it to law enforcement, and the process of following through on criminal charges is often scary and overwhelming. There are countless questions that force the survivor to relive the assault, numerous police inquiries and court proceedings and the potential for public exposure of a survivor’s personal and sexual history. In addition, there is also the public’s reaction, which tends to overwhelmingly shame victims rather than focusing on the violent behaviors of the offender. For these reasons and many others, most survivors do not report, and many decide to withdraw their complaints out of fear, intimidation and the additional trauma they experience from that process.

As long as we collectively continue to perpetuate a culture in which survivors do not feel safe to report, offenders will go free and continue committing rape and other forms of sexual violence against more victims. Based on this fact, members of the public who criticize the victim’s actions in discussions about instances of rape are not preventing rape, despite their best intentions. They are actively perpetuating rape. When we fail to support survivors and instead hold them responsible for the nonviolent behaviors they engage in (i.e., allowing someone into their home, drinking alcohol, etc.), we tell offenders that their violent, antisocial behavior (i.e., raping another human) is acceptable in those instances.

As a community, we must stand up and say that how an individual comes to be in a position in which he or she was raped does not matter. It is irrelevant. To truly make ourselves and our loved ones safe from sexual violence, we must support all survivors and hold offenders accountable for their violent actions.

Visit www.brstar.org or call (225) 383-RAPE for support and information.

Racheal Hebert

executive director of Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response

Baton Rouge