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Monday, March 8, 2021

Opinion

Fighting sexual assault, searching for strength in numbers


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Sexual assault is a crime that happens more often than most people realize. In order to prevent and fight sexual assault, awareness needs to be spread that it can happen to anyone. | Photo illustration by Jimmy Moreland and Alex Tomic/The Cougar

What would you do if you were sexually assaulted?

When students were asked, there wasn’t a universal reaction. Responses ranged from uncomfortable and awestruck to self-assured and likely unrealistic.

“I would tell the authorities, of course,” one said, while others declined to respond.

Many sexual assault victims struggle with feelings of guilt and an inability to assign blame. It’s easy to place the blame on the assailant when it is a stranger, but if this is not the case, who to blame may not be clear to the victim.

National statistics show that 90 percent of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, while off-campus assaults bring the number down to 70 percent, according to Jyl Shaffer, equal opportunities specialist at UH.

“The idea of the stranger rape that we see on TV shows is very rare nationally, and is especially rare on college campuses,” Shaffer said.

Moreover, sexual assault is marginalized as an issue that only affects women. However, any person — regardless of age, gender, race or sexual orientation — can be sexually assaulted.

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Infographic by Jose Cruz

Biology sophomore Kimberly Chairez said she was not aware that men could be sexually assaulted.

“I know for sure that (sexual assault) does happen in the community, but I would say that, typically, I always thought that it only happened to women,” Chairez said. “It wasn’t until recently that I found out it could happen to guys, too. And I really didn’t know that because I’m like, ‘How does that occur?’”

The importance needs to be placed on how to help all victims. Sexual assault is a physically, psychologically and emotionally scarring experience for all victims.

Physics senior Tristan Walker said he believes that it’s possible to care for everyone and not get caught up in the battle of the genders.

“Every lesson that we learn about female victims, we can apply to male victims and vice versa,” Walker said. “Hearing men’s rights’ (activists) talk about, ‘Women rape men more frequently than men rape women’ … it’s not a contest, guys. Nobody is happy when this happens to them; nobody wants this.”

Additionally, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network reported that straight male survivors may blame themselves and believe that they were not “strong enough” to fight off their attacker.

Like many interviewees, Walker was understandably hesitant to respond when asked how he would react to being sexually assaulted.

“I would probably not say anything,” Walker said after a lengthy pause. “I would go into my bedroom and hide and never talk about it again.”

This reaction is proven common, as RAINN reported that there are about 237,868 sexual assault victims every year; of those, 60 percent are not reported to the police. LGBT Resource Center Director Lorraine Shroeder said she believes that men are even less likely to report an assault than women are.

“If they were assaulted by a woman, people sometime respond with the attitude that they liked it — this is true even if they are very young, (such as) 11 to 12 years old,” Shroeder said.

Walker said he feels the established social order for sexuality paints homosexuality as inferior, and that it would be worse if he was sexually assaulted by a man.

“We’ve made great strides, thankfully, but it’s not something that society is accepting of on a certain level,” Walker said.

Sexual assault is an under-reported crime from the start. Americans have been raised in a society where talking about sex, even consensual sex, is taboo. Make this sexual act a violent one, and conversation becomes scarce.

“The person (from a sexual assault resource agency) could say derogatory remarks to the LGBT person (by) telling them they are a sinner, saying ‘we don’t serve your kind,’ implying they asked for it or deserved it, or just showing a general discomfort or nervousness when speaking to them,” Shroeder said about why some LGBT victims feel unsafe sharing that they have been sexually assaulted.

This feeling can be expanded for someone who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. A feeling of isolation can overcome a sexual assault victim, as LGBT victims are often treated poorly by the agencies that are supposed to assist them, Shroeder said.

“The person (from a sexual assault resource agency) could say derogatory remarks to the LGBT person (by) telling them they are a sinner, saying ‘we don’t serve your kind,’ implying they asked for it or deserved it, or just showing a general discomfort or nervousness when speaking to them,” Shroeder said. “As people become educated about LGBT people, this is happening less and less. But, unfortunately, it does still happen.”

Mathematical biology and computer science sophomore Lester Moreira-Cruz said he believes society may treat sexual assault for a heterosexual man differently than it would for a homosexual man.

“I feel like if (sexual assault happened to) a gay man, it would pretty much fall under similar parameters as women simply because society doesn’t see homosexual men as ‘real men,’” Cruz said. “It would even almost be to the point that people may defend the assaulter and kind of question, ‘Well, what were you doing?’ and ‘You were asking for it’ and ‘Oh, you provoked him by staring at him too long and gave him the wrong signals.’”

In order to help raise awareness, colleges around the United States are consistently suggesting new initiatives that they hope will prevent sexual assault, as well as help provide solace for the victims who have been assaulted — whether that be by filing a report or by offering someone they can speak to.

UH has many places where survivors can go to seek help. Programs like Take Back the Night, the LGBT Resource Center, Counseling and Psychological Services and the Women’s Resource Center are a few of the places that the University offers.

These resources made available to college students are extremely important, especially since 80 percent of sexual assault victims are under 30 years of age.

“Research shows that the age of a traditional college student, 18 to 25 years old, is a high-risk age period for sexual violence,” Shaffer said. “College campuses can easily create an environment where (sexual violence) can be heightened.”

There is no definitive reaction to sexual violence. Searching for a concrete answer is pointless because there is currently no concrete way to prevent sexual assault.

One thing is certain: no matter the reaction to sexual assault, sex needs to be talked about. There is great strength in numbers, and there is power in vulnerability. In order to gain numbers, we need to gain awareness.

Opinion editor Kelly Schafler is a print journalism junior and may be reached at [email protected] 

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