This week I’ve been seeing a tremendous amount of gut-wrenching posts on Facebook titled “me too”. For those of you that don’t know, this trend stems from an effort to raise awareness for sexual assault/harassment. The numbers are nothing short of astounding. To put it simply, more than 2/3 of my friends list has posted a status like this.
There are so many things I want to say, but nothing seems to do this horrific topic justice. I’ve been struggling to find the right words and I cannot promise that my opinion will be popular, but here it is.
As much as I wish these issues were not so close at hand, the fact of the matter is, they are very real.
This issue is depressing and despicable but above all, it is completely unacceptable.
Be better humans. As an advertising student, my classes devoted endless hours to deconstructing the sexism and the sexual nature of most ads. As a rule of thumb, we were encouraged to be smarter (better) than that and challenged to create content that doesn’t perpetuate rape culture. I’m not here to sit before you and say that the industry itself does not add to the issues at hand. I am, however, here to tell you that the issue goes far beyond just the ads you see. I’ve said it many times, and I will say it again: we need to be better humans. I’m not here to tell you my life story or compare scars, I’m here to bring light to a very serious problem.
Let’s talk statistics. This isn’t a scary movie, and these numbers are truly horrifying. Every 98 seconds someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted, meaning more than 570 people experience sexual violence each day. If that doesn’t turn your stomach, then we (as a country) need a serious wake up call. As if that wasn’t despicable enough, it is estimated that only 310 out of 1,000 rapes are reported. For those of you that didn’t love math in high school, that is 31%. The average number of sexual assault/rape victims per year in the U.S. is approximately 321,500. To break it down, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 10 men, experience sexual assault. In addition, 21% of TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming) college students have been sexually assaulted according to RAINN. This is an increase from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s Report from 2015 stating, “Approximately one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives”.
You aren’t owed a story. Can you imagine living some of the most painful parts of your life over and over again? I should hope not, because you shouldn’t have to. PTSD affects approximately 24.4 million Americans and 94% of women experience it up to two weeks after the assault. To add some perspective, these numbers only reflect individuals included in the National Crime and Victim Study, which excludes children under 12, meaning the numbers are potentially much larger. As I stated above, only 310 of 1,000 rapes are reported. Per those 1,000 cases reported, 57 will lead to arrest and 6 will lead to incarceration (this is less than the rate of incarceration for robbery). This also means that there are are 690 stories for every 1,000 that we are missing. This does not make those stories any less real. Someone lived and suffered through those other 69% of stories that never saw public record.
I have seen so many arguments for why victims should speak out and tell their stories. But here’s the thing, they don’t have to. Those victims don’t owe you a story, and they certainly don’t owe you an explanation either. Choosing not to tell your story does not devalue it. What we do owe one another is the effort to create a culture of compassion. Change begins when we start to see others as equal humans.
Every situation is different. It is not always dark alleys or drunken college parties. It certainly isn’t just blind dates gone wrong or dosed drinks. While there are statistics that show certain demographics are at higher risk, I can honestly say that the cases I have seen were not limited to any particular gender, race, ethnicity or religious preference. People that I would have never guessed have posted “me too”. To those of you that posted, I applaud your courage. To those of you that did not, I applaud yours as well and I am so thankful that all of you are still here.
You have the right to heal and process in your own way. This is important. I am by no means, a doctor or a psychiatrist. But I will tell you that regardless of who you are, you are a worthwhile human and you have the right to process things in your own way. I am not here to tell you to “get over it” or “let it go”. People cope in their own ways. Whether or not your particular coping mechanism is “healthy” or not, I’m not here to judge you. Every person is different. I am here to tell you that you are important and you are not alone.
An apology. To be blunt, it makes me sick that so many of you have experienced this type of trauma. No one should ever feel unsafe. Unfortunately, this is not the reality of the world we live in. While there are so many good people out there, there are others who actively choose not to be. To all of the victims out there, I am truly sorry for your experience and your pain. I know this is a drop in the bucket, but I sympathize all the same. To my friends who have been questioned or called a liar, your pain is justified. To those who have hidden in fear or shame, you are worth so much more than you feel. To those who feel alone, I promise you are not.
As I said earlier, this issue isn’t just horrifying, it is unacceptable. These numbers are astounding but they also show that regardless of your situation, you are not alone. To all of my friends who have suffered or are suffering, I stand with you. Change begins with education and action. This is reality, not a scenario in a college class or a scene in a movie. This is real issue that affects real people. It is up to us to start treating each other with respect and compassion.
So, what can I do? It seems, too often that we wonder what we can do to help. It starts with being conscious and compassionate. Think about your actions and how they might affect others. Everyone has a different level of comfort and preferences, and those need to be acknowledged and respected. It takes seconds to ask permission before touching another person and minimal effort to be mindful of our body language and words.
Self-awareness is incredibly important and should be instilled from a young age. In my boyfriend’s preschool class, he reminds the children that they need to ask before hugging their classmates and that their hands belong on their own bodies. This is instrumental in teaching not only self-awareness, but also respectful and mindful interaction among peers. This all goes back to the golden rule: treat others how you want to be treated (with mutual respect). If my boyfriend’s preschool class can manage these things, so can we. Remember that perception is reality (even despite good intentions) and no always means no.
Stay excellent, my friends and let’s be better humans together.