As the 2016 election thankfully nears an end, I hope one of the positive things to come out of this national nightmare is that the dialogue about sexual assault perseveres. While the context is unfortunate, the conversation has finally been initiated, which constitutes the first step towards changing a mindset deeply rooted in wrongs. We could easily table the discussion as our attention inevitably drifts, but I sincerely hope this is the beginning of a truly impactful movement which ultimately changes perspectives and is not limited simply to a weeklong trending hashtag.
As a nation, we’re facing a number of seemingly insurmountable issues, but, as we head into 2017, we need to unite to create space for the conversation about sexual assault to continue, to agree we’re not going to tolerate this kind of behavior, to learn to shift the blame from the victim, to teach law enforcement to ask the right questions, to educate the youth about consent, and to hold people accountable. The hope is we can progress as a country so, at some point, we can accept as a universal truth that sexual harassment and assault are, to use Kelly Oxford’s words, “not okay.” That we begin to hold people to the same standards regardless of their position in society. That people receive just punishment for their crimes. That we solve the problem instead of perpetuating it.
Clearly, this past week has shown we must first understand what sexual assault is. According to the Department of Justice, “Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.” Words like those on the video featuring the individual who has somehow been nominated as the Republican Party’s Presidential candidate propagate rape culture and serve as an example of sexual assault. This culture has been reinforced for centuries, ingrained as just a part of life.
We make the mistake of thinking sexual assault is solely a gender issue when it’s actually a human one. At the most basic and simplistic level, sexual assault hurts people. To state the obvious, and what so many fail to understand, we have a responsibility as humans to help, not harm, each other. At its core, the issue is also a matter of respect. Women have long been something men feel entitled to stare at, objectify, label, laugh at, demean, take advantage of, and abuse. Let’s stop this behavior by not accepting it, by saying something, and by taking action. Be offended and outraged. In silence, we remain complicit.
Sexual assault is also an issue centered around physicality, power, control, and fear. Women, let’s control the conversation to lessen the fear and take the power back. Keep your stories coming so you don’t have to suffer alone, to shed light on the prevalence, and so the guilt can shift to the perpetrator. Men, read and listen to these stories, so you can gain a deeper understanding of the direct effect aggressive comments and actions have on others. Share so, one day, there aren’t any more sexual assault stories to tell.