September 19, 2018

Sexual Assault: A Community’s Responsibility

Mural of womanOnce at a high school track meet, a boy grabbed my butt. Before I could do anything, he scurried back to his group of male friends where they proceeded to point and laugh at me.

Later I told my mother what happened. She shared with me that a similar thing had happened to her when she was my age. It was comforting knowing that I was not alone. But it was frustrating knowing that my experience, like hers, would most likely not be addressed or taken seriously by any authority figure.

Does a woman’s survival of sexual assault put her children at greater risk of also being assaulted? That’s the wrong question.

The right question is, do we view certain people as “less than” others?

If so, then a transgenerational cycle of assault would occur but not because of the mother’s prior assault, but because we view the individuals of that family as “weak” or “undesirable.”

What I learned that day is that while sexual assault happens to an individual, it’s the community’s response that can exacerbate the impact of the trauma or help promote posttraumatic growth.

Yes, both men and women can be the victims of sexual assault. However, statistics show us that perpetrators most often attack women, women of color, and trans women – put another way, those who are perceived to have the least power in our society.

Sexual assault is often viewed as a gendered crime plagued by low reporting rates and even lower conviction rates.

It was not my mother’s prior assault that made it more likely that I would have something similar happen to me. It’s how our community, our society, views certain people as “less than.”

As a community, it’s our responsibility to show everyone, but especially survivors, that they have been heard and that they are safe.

As a community, we have to show survivors that their wellbeing is more important than a swimming career, political career, or acting career.

As a community, we have to show survivors that they matter.

Once we show survivors that they matter, we’ll see the growth that leads to increased safer homes for everyone regardless of race, sexual assault history, or gender identity.

From the desk of Eilene Ladson, LMFT

Eilene is the Trauma Specialist for Illinois Collaboration on Youth (ICOY). As a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist she has experience providing trauma-informed individual, couples, and family therapy to service members and veterans. She has also worked with youth and their biological families in the foster care system. To learn more about ICOY visit: www.ICOYouth.org.

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