It may seem as if every time you hear or read the news, there is something about sexual assault. But what you are hearing in the news is not even the tip of the iceberg.
Sexual violence happens every day in our community. It happens more times than it is reported. It happens in the bedrooms and alleys of our community. It happens at the hands of someone we thought we could trust.
It is easier to believe that rape is committed by strangers. We want to believe that if we are not out late at night or drinking, rape cannot happen to us. The reality is that about 10 to 15 percent of rapes and other acts of sexual violence are committed by strangers. That leaves us with a staggering 85 to 90 percent of rapes and other acts of sexual violence that are committed by dates, husbands or other family members, or others we thought we could trust.
When that trust is betrayed, it becomes difficult to report to law enforcement or tell a friend. Victims may doubt themselves and wonder if anyone will believe them.
Survivors suffer in silence and live with the guilt. Worse, they often question what they did wrong.
Because we want to distance ourselves from the crime, community members may condemn or blame the victim with comments such as, "She should have known better." Or they may ask, "What was she thinking?"
Why are we not asking the abuser what he was thinking? What are we all thinking? Do we believe that if we do not have to think about rape, it will go away?
We all have to be accountable for our approach to sexual violence. Accountability includes speaking up when you hear "jokes" about rape. We need to be accountable in talking to our children and teens. We need to be accountable to our friends and family members when one of them says, "It happened to me."
When we witness controlling and abusive behavior, we cannot turn our heads and continue to think of it as "just a relationship problem." We have to hold abusers accountable.
Every time we do not listen to survivors, or we blame victims for what happened to them, we are not holding abusers accountable. Every time the phrase "she was asking for it" is used when talking about a rape victim, we are victimizing the survivor again and driving this crime underground.
Each of us must work to end sexual violence. It will require small actions to create big change. Actions include educating yourself and others, listening to survivors, challenging people who blame survivors, speaking out, holding offenders accountable, becoming an advocate and not accepting comments such as "boys will be boys."
Until we quit making excuses and we take action, sexual violence will be present in our community, even when we do not hear it on the news.