In our opinion: Breaking the silence

Attacks on the Provo River Trail over the past few years have been a jarring awakening for many that Happy Valley isn’t always as safe as stereotypes portray.

These attacks, while brutal and shocking, overshadow the daily issue of sexual assault in our community.

Despite the media attention inherent with such violent attacks, most victims are not attacked by men hiding in bushes along river trails. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately 2/3 of rape victims know their attackers.  Thirty-eight percent of perpetrators are a friend or acquaintance, and 28 percent are the victim’s intimate partner.

Last year, the Center for Women and Children in Crisis served 573 primary victims and 279 secondary victims, such as children, in Utah, Juab and Watsach counties.

On average, 1 in 6 women in the United States is the victim of attempted or completed rape. This figure does not include the many other women who are the victims of sexual assault but not raped.

The man-in-the-bush legend exists, in part, because they represent the larger part of rapes actually reported to police — more than half of all rapes are never reported to the police. Instead the victim remains silent because of shame, because she knows the perpetrator or because she fears no one will believe her, among other reasons.

As April is sexual assault awareness month, now is the time to shed light on the misconceptions to help some avoid or heal from the pain and scars left behind by sexual assault.

Females are not the only victims of sexual violence. Male victims account for 1 in 10 rape victims.

False reports are not as prevalent as people generally assume. According to a study published in the December 2010 Violence Against Women journal, only 5.9 percent of rapes reported were false allegations.

The most common misconception is the victim was asking for it. There is an overwhelming tendency to blame victims even in the most dramatic circumstances. They shouldn’t have been walking there after dark. Shouldn’t have worn that outfit. Should have said something sooner. Should be man enough to stand up to the abuser. While these statements may be an honest attempt to offer future safety advice, in light of the circumstance, it comes across much more as “they were asking for it” or “it was your fault.”

They are never asking for it. It doesn’t matter what anyone was wearing. It doesn’t matter if they were flirting. No one ever deserves to be the victim of sexual violence.

Victims already blame themselves. They have already seen all the should haves, could haves and would haves. They don’t need you to point them out to them.

The emphasis should not be the victim’s lack of protest, but rather the perpetrator’s lack of respect for the victim’s boundaries. It doesn’t matter if it’s your date, boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse — no one ever has the right to touch your body without your consent.

If you have been a victim of sexual violence, know this is not your fault. Know that you can be whole again. In 2008, Elder Richard G. Scott spoke to victims of abuse saying, “Satan uses your abuse to undermine your self-confidence, destroy trust in authority, create fear, and generate feelings of despair. … You must have faith that all of these negative consequences can be resolved; otherwise they will keep you from full recovery. While these outcomes have powerful influence in your life, they do not define the real you.”

Christ knows all our suffering, for each of us on an individual level. Chieko N. Okazaki, former first counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency, said, “We don’t experience pain in generalities. We experience it individually. … He knows all that. … He’s not embarrassed by us, angry at us or shocked.”

Know there are people who can listen to and help you. RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, provides a variety of resources for victims. Locally, the Center for Women and Children in Crisis offers a 24-hour sexual assault hotline at 801-356-2511 and weekly support meeting on Tuesdays. More information can be found at www.cwcic.org.

This viewpoint represents opinion of The Daily Universe editorial board and not necessarily those of BYU, its administration or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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