Guest Post by Nkenge Burkhead, Prevention Education Specialist, HAVEN
When you are a woman much of your day is dedicated to minimizing your risk of being sexually assaulted. Sometimes we do this wholly unaware of the lengths we go through to minimize risk. We don’t move about saying, “I’m going to go to the gas station while there’s daylight, to minimize my risk of being attacked by a rapist.” We simply run our errands while the sun is up; ask our partners to escort us to our cars; text our friends “made it home safe”; wear shoes we can run in, remember that anything in our hands (keys, ballpoint pen, fingernails), may need to transform itself into a weapon of defense. I think back to high school where the girls were taken to a safety assembly and instructed to yell “FIRE!” instead of rape if someone was attempting to assault us. Research shows that the general public is more likely to respond to fire than a sexual assault.
By the time a young woman begins middle school she has already started to practice her “stranger danger” rape avoidance rituals. Sadly, even if these rituals protect her from strangers lurking in dark alleys, we know that 4 of 5 sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows and often trusts.
While most men don’t practice any safety measures to prevent being sexually assaulted, in fact, many men don’t think about sexual assault at all. Women, on the contrary, began to carry out these protection practices unconsciously, as if it is our responsibility not to get assaulted, or believe that sexual assault is a natural consequence of an action or inaction. We’ve accepted that this is, just the way it is.
We can avoid a conversation altogether, or accept the ‘responsibility’ of protecting ourselves until we (personally), or someone we know and love, is victimized. We do not have to wait for a crisis to bring awareness or support survivors. We do not have to wait for the perfect moment, situation, or day!
If you are looking for a starting point, April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). The first step we must take in eliminating sexual assault is remaining aware and refusing to accept its existence quietly. Awareness is the ability to perceive, feel, or be conscious of events, objects, emotions, or sensory patterns. Awareness is being mindful. We must use this month to remind ourselves that our protection rituals are in response to the countless attacks survivors have endured. When we ask our husbands, sons, and friends, to walk us to our cars, we must engage in an honest conversation with them about why you feel this is necessary. Collectively we can practice mindfulness, acknowledge survivors, and help create a survivor supportive culture.
We can do this during SAAM by:
- Reaching out to a loved one who is a survivor (remind them it is not their fault, or simply spend time with them)
- Write your legislators concerning sexual assault laws
- Write your legislators about mandating an affirmative consent standard
- Volunteer at a rape crisis hotline or women’s shelter
- Donate money or necessities to organizations that work with survivors (most have a wish list on their website or call the organization)
- Attend one of the many local Take Back The Night (TBTN) rallies and marches
HAVEN’s annual TBTN will be on April 30th from 1 to 4:30 at Five15 in Royal Oak. For more information contact the Prevention Education Department.
If you or someone you know is a victim of intimate partner violence or experiencing power and control dynamic in their relationship that feels abusive or unsafe HAVEN is here to help. Our crisis and support line is always open for you 877-922-1274.