The Be Your Own Kind blog is about taking bold moves towards stepping outside of the box. However, it is impossible for a person to focus on their desired path if their body and space have been violated. Although people have survived such attacks, the healing period takes time and heavy support to allow the victims to breathe again. No one has the right to touch you in ways that make you feel uncomfortable. There is no excuse.
For this subject, I have reached out to a great friend of mine, Brittany Stevenson, that is well versed on different facets of sexual assault. My goal of post is to strengthen sexual assault awareness and to help those you have victimized gain the confidence to speak out.
Q: Thanks for being a part of the Be Your Own Kind Campaign. Can you provide a brief introduction of yourself?
A: Hi guys and gals! I’m ecstatic to be here talking about such an important topic! Plus, April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month so you are right on time! Thanks for featuring me today, Renita! I’m Brittany Stevenson, an LCPC (Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor), who has been working in the field now about 6 years. I work with a wide range of clients (low-functioning individuals who suffer from severe mental illness, high-functioning adults, couples, children, and men and women who are perpetrators of domestic violence and are court ordered to come in and see me) and love every second of it. My main source of sexual assault information is from presenting to my male abusers. I do a three-week course during their 28 weeks with me in order to bring home how important it is to be knowledgeable about the topic, how to help others that might be in troubling situations, and I give them insight to a woman’s point of view when it comes to sexual assault. I myself have been a victim of sexual assault three times in my life. I share my experiences with others on a regular basis because it really can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere. I consider myself lucky, as I have never been a victim of rape, but that’s honestly the most ridiculous consideration ever, and a perfect example of rape culture, which we will define later in this interview.
Q + A
Q: While researching this subject I learned that sexual assault comprises many categories and is not just limited to rape. Because these terms can be easily indecipherable, can you please define sexual assault?
A: Sexual assault is pretty much the umbrella definition that encompasses any type of sexual contact or behavior that is not consensual. This includes rape (which is the penetration of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim) or attempted rape, child molestation, incest, or fondling.
Q: From this definition, what would be the next step the individual should take if in fact they realize they have been sexually abused?
A: Well, sexual abuse should never be followed with another forced situation, so it is completely up to the survivor on how they want to respond. The best way to get the perpetrator caught would be to go straight to a hospital or doctor and get a physical exam, unshowered, report the situation to law enforcement, and call a local therapist so that you can start the recovery process. However, all of this sounds like a neat little package that comes tied with a bow. Usually this is not how things work. A survivor has his/her own journey to travel down and everything may not work out perfectly. He/She may be in a daze and go home and take a shower. The victim might want to be with her/his family or could spend days lying in bed. NONE OF THESE THINGS ARE WRONG. How a victim responds to sexual assault is up to the victim. Although, I would suggest following my “best way to get the perpetrator caught,” I would never create an atmosphere of shame or should-haves for a victim. We all handle things in our own way and forcing someone to do something a certain way after they have just been forced into a boundary busting, traumatic situation would be illogical.
Side note: If a victim decides not to report, the statute of limitations in Illinois (meaning the time that the victim still has to report) is 3 years for a report to be filed and 10 years to take action if the victim was over the age of 18. If the victim was under the age of 18, he/she has 20 years after the child turns 18 to report.
Q: Because we are living in a technological world sexual harassment has permeated to social media and personal and group text messages. This type of sexual assault is mainly amongst teenagers and college students and is not only a detriment to their safety but also their reputation.Do you think this issue is not being extremely highlighted because it is labeled more as cyber bullying than sexual assault?
A: First, I would like to correct you here for a minute. This type of sexual assault is not only targeting teenagers and college students; it is targeting many women everywhere. If we are going to use the word “mainly” I would say mainly women. Men receive sexual harassment online as well, but women tend to be the most prominent audience in this area. So, good news! Some technological based assault is being recognized in court. Especially in our state! California, Illinois, and Massachusetts allow victims to press criminal charges against online stalkers or harassers. I know this because two years ago I finally had a client who was put into a domestic violence class for refusing to delete nude photos of his ex-girlfriend and blackmailing her with them. He spent time in jail (only a day or two) and was court ordered to attend my 28-week Partner Abuse Intervention Program. Cyber stalking can include threats, spreading lies, posting sensitive information online (whether it’s nude photos or identifying personal information), and technological attacks (like hacking someone’s Facebook). When this happens, there are two different outlets someone can take; criminal court or civil court. In civil court, someone can sue the harasser through tort law, but it can get incredibly pricey and take loads of time. Plus, this doesn’t usually work. Most of the time, the victim ends up spending the money for court and the perpetrator gets off scot free. The best way to sue in civil court, if it’s in regards to a nude photo, is to sue the website using the photo for copyright infringement. The person who took the photo is the owner of the photo, so the website would be ordered to take it down. Criminally, our state is much better about handling these situations, but it can get kind of confusing on how to go about getting into court so below I’ve outlined some first steps.
This is what I would suggest:
- Contact authorities. This may not end up doing much, and sometimes the police are less helpful than they should be, but it’s nice to have something on record. Be clear with your report. Let them know that the harassment is consistent and unwanted.
- Stop responding to the harasser and do not delete the evidence. Make sure to screenshot messages if it isn’t on a platform that you control, just in case the harasser decides to delete his/her comments.
- File complaints with the social media platform, or the email company. Report the messages. Block the person.
Hopefully, soon, there will be easier ways to take care of this problem, nationwide, but at this point, we are in a good state and we are heading in the right direction!
Q: Of course I have to bring up the stereotypical reasons women were targets of sexual abuse like “she was asking for it by wearing that skirt” or “she did not scream so she wanted it”. Due to these ideals a lot of people do not speak out as they are afraid of being labeled. Do you find it interesting in this day and age that women are still being blamed when experiencing any type of sexual assault?
A: I’m going to answer this question with a resounding YES! It is amazing (in a terrible way) to me that we can even fathom the idea of being blamed for something like this. And on top of it, welcome it! What I mean by this is the ways that we put up with and contribute to rape culture. Rape culture may be a new term for some of you, as it was for me a few years ago, so I’m going to define it. Rape culture is the environment we live in where social attitudes normalize or trivialize sexual assault and abuse. Some great examples of rape culture are a journalist interchanging the word rape for sex in an article about a rape, asking a woman if she was drunk when she reports a rape, teaching young girls how to help prevent rape, but leaving out consent talks for boys. For me, asking a woman what she was wearing or how she contributed to her rape is the same scenario as someone kicking an infant in the face and then blaming the infant for being in the way of the person’s foot. It really makes no logical sense at all.
Q: What do you think can be done to eliminate this stereotype to help individuals come forward?
A: Honestly, the best thing we can all do is stop the blame and talk about this topic as much as possible. Point out when someone is perpetuating rape culture, because rape culture is one of the reasons victims don’t come forward. For example, if you hear a man talking about how hot a woman is at a bar, so hot he would drug her and drag her home, CALL HIM OUT. I know he’s probably kidding, but the creepy guy in the corner who doesn’t know he’s kidding might get some terrible ideas. And don’t think you have to make yourself look “uncool” and pull out a rape pamphlet to do this. My suggestion to put him in an uncomfortable spot without committing social suicide is to make a joke at his expense. For example, “Haha, you would be the only guy in the room who needed drugs to get laid.” You look hilarious, he looks like an asshole, everyone realizes how uncool rape is, case closed. Additionally, one of the markets that is saturated with women is retail. We can refuse to shop places that perpetuate rape culture. If you see a commercial with a woman bound on top of a car while a man feeds her a cheeseburger, don’t get your cheeseburgers there. Change the way we think about women. A woman who stands up for what she believes in is not a “bitch,” she’s empowered. Teaching our girls to be polite and smile while slipping away quietly if someone is being inappropriate or doing an uncomfortable laugh when someone is making a rape joke is not ok. It needs to stop. We need to take a stand and not allow our little girls to grow up thinking this will continue to be tolerated. If you are a mom, teach your girls how to say no (and I’m not talking sexually). Women tend to have a lot of trouble with that word. Here are some easy ways to say it:
-I can’t give you an answer right now, will you check back with me?
-I’m not able to commit to that right now.
-I really appreciate you asking me, but I can’t do it.
-I understand you really need my help, but I’m just not able to say yes to that.
-I’m going to say no for now. I’ll let you know if something changes.
-I’m honored you would think of me, but my answer is no.
-No, I can’t do that, but here’s what I can do.
-I don’t have that to give right now.
-Under different circumstances, I’d love to, but right now I can’t.
Assertive communication is so important. Being direct and honest can really make a world of a difference. Obviously, teach your daughters how to say no to sex as well, but starting with teaching them how to say no in general is a really great idea.
Q: Another stereotype is men are incapable of being raped. According to RAINN.org statistics 10% out of 2.27 million American men surveyed has reported being sexually assaulted whereas 90% of 17.7 million American women had reported sexual assault. Although I should not argue with the survey a part of me feel like there may be a higher percentage of men that are not admitting victimization. Do you agree or disagree?
A: I agree and disagree. I agree that there are probably more men than 10% due to not admitting victimization, but I’m going to go ahead and say that goes the same for women too. Shame is a factor in sexual assault no matter what sex so unfortunately I believe those statistics are probably lower than they should be on both ends.
Q: What do you think can be done to help men feel safer to speak out?
A: In order to help men, speak out more, we need to follow the same rules listed above for women with a twist. I still suggest talking about this at every opportunity possible. Making coming out about sexual assault less taboo will help no matter what, but we also need to quit jamming machismo down our boy’s throats. We tend to make them feel less of a man if they are ever out-shined, defeated, weak, and/or emotional. This is not helping. Men are human too and they are not invincible. There is always going to be someone bigger and stronger than you. Teaching boys that if something happens to them, that they couldn’t help they are “pussies” or “gay” is really the biggest challenge. Victim blaming is everywhere and it is absolutely terrible.
Q: Do you think the LGBTQ community is reflected when speaking of sexual assault or is this another avenue that is being buried under the label cyber bullying?
A: I think the LGBT community is reflected. I don’t think cyber bullying and sexual assault are mixed easily. Sexual harassment and cyber bullying may be interchanged, but sexual assault is an in-person act and the LGBT community, although harmed sometimes for different reasons (hate-crimes) should still feel just as entitled to report as any other victim.
Q: According to RAINN.org “every 98 seconds, another person experiences sexual assault”. Personally I find this statistic alarming as practically it means anyone can become a victim. And although this statistic indicates sexual assault is unavoidable, what pointers would you share with others to lessen vulnerability to becoming sexually violated?
A: Lessening rape means lessening rapists. We have to work with possible perpetrators instead of putting so much pressure on women to avoid rape. With that being said, there are still plenty of things you can do in order to put yourself in a better position to be out of harm’s way. Disclaimer: In no way are any of these things stated to make anyone feel bad who couldn’t do them. I understand that our natural responses are fight, flight, and freeze. Sometimes we are incapable of doing what we think so many times over we would do if someone was to try to assault us.
- Practice assertive communication. Saying no should be part of your vocabulary and it should become easy to be direct.
- Do not be afraid to cross the street. Even if it makes you look impolite, sexist, racist, etc. Do it. It could save your life.
- If someone is approaching you, raise your hands in front of you and yell STOP. You may look like an idiot to the person who wanted directions to the closest gas station. Do it. It could save your life.
- Wear gym shoes when you can. Wear your hair in a bun when you can. Easier to run, no pony tail to be yanked.
- Carry pepper spray or some other sort of on person weapon.
- Know your surroundings. Get your face out of your phone and look around you.
- Walk with other people. And if you don’t feel safe and you are alone, walk near the closest mother with children. TIP: This is also something you can teach your kids. If they are lost and can’t find a police officer, find the nearest mother with children, normally this is their next safest bet.
Q: In your opinion, do you think sex offenders are punished enough when prosecuted?
A: No. If it were up to me, I believe we should have a three strike rule. Rape someone three times and castration shall commence. And I think that’s being lenient. Many rapists do not even spend one night in jail. And drug-dealers (with consensual clients) spend way more time incarcerated than rapists. I think this is another great example of rape culture and often times makes me feel like a second-class citizen. If someone violating my body is not wrong enough to even spend a day in jail what does that say about my value? The justice system’s punishments for rape are sad.
Q: Due to the women who cry rape, rape complaints among athletes tend to be more relaxed than non-famous sex offenders, do you believe this hinders actual sufferers from coming forward?
A: The whole “woman cry rape” thing happens less than grand theft auto. In my opinion, rape complaints are more relaxed under athletes because the athletes have money to pay the women for silence. It’s absolutely terrible, but money runs the world. I do believe this hinders sufferers from coming forward, however, I believe the athletes are raping girls too and I would consider those women “actual sufferers” just like women who get raped by Joe Schmoe. It’s just Mr. Schmoe doesn’t get to throw 8 million dollars at the victim in exchange for her zipped mouth.
Q: What do you think should be done as a whole to encourage people to speak out against their famous predators?
A: The NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA need to stop allowing it!!!
Realistically, as a society, we need to stop sticking up for these men, just because they are great at sports. I’m so sick of other attributes outweighing rape. Nothing should outweigh rape. I don’t care how much money you have, how good of a swimmer you are, how well you served our country, you should not be allowed to rape people. Period.
Q. Because children are often sexually abused by someone they know, they are less likely to speak up. Are there signs or behaviors parents should look for to assess their child have been potentially abused? What avenues can parents take to help their child feel comfortable to share their experience?
A: First and foremost, talk to your kids about inappropriate touching. Include yourself and your spouse. I hate to say it, but parents sexually abuse their own children, so if you include you and your spouse you can at least help your child come forward if your spouse is doing something you can’t even imagine to your child. I know you think you know your spouse. Safety is safety. Do it anyways. Avoid the stranger danger talk and talk to your kids about bad people in general. Strangers are less likely to harm your child than your brother, your neighbor, their teacher, etc. Another horrifying comment. I hate typing these tidbits. Teach kids how to stay away from people who are asking to help them, asking to keep secrets from their parents, complimenting them continuously, buying them gifts, or asking about their penis or vagina. Teach kids what is OK touch for others and what is not. Teach kids that if someone ever tells them to keep something a secret from their parents that they need to tell you immediately, even if keeping the secret means getting a reward. Reassure them that if they tell you they will get an even bigger and better reward no matter what the cost. Their life and innocence is the best reward you can give them. Be open with your kids. Don’t punish them for being honest with you about anything ever. This does not build trust and will hurt your relationship with your child. And last, but not least, don’t make what they tell you into a big deal. I know this sounds very difficult considering this is every parent’s nightmare, but you want to get as much information out of them as possible, so if you start to cry or go into hysterics you might scare them into telling you less than they know. Encourage them to speak up and continue talking. Tell them they are doing a good job telling mommy or daddy everything that happened. Oh, and know who they are with, always. Watch your children. Notice if an adult is “grooming” them. Many pedophiles are extremely charming, manipulative, and patient. Usually they are someone close to you and your family. They do not just groom your child for abuse, they groom you too. They are overly generous, the favorite, giving, etc. Don’t be naive. If you do allow your child to stay with someone new, come back earlier than you said you would many times. Check on them and what they are doing with your kids. Do not be too trusting, ever.
TIP: When talking to your kids about their genitals always use the proper name to describe their body part. Penis and Vagina. That way, if your son or daughter comes home and begins to use a different word for it i.e. cupcake, pee-pee, whoo-haa, peter, you know someone besides you and your partner have been discussing that area with your child. Ask your son or daughter about it right away. Do not make them feel like they are in trouble
Q: What would you like to say to that individual that is reading this post that may have been sexually violated and is afraid to come forth?
A: It’s not your fault. Plain and simple. Do not wear the shame for your perpetrator. He or she has done enough and they deserve the shame that you are holding onto for them. Give it back. Set yourself free. Do what feels comfortable to you. Get help. Start somewhere. Love yourself. You did nothing wrong. Absolutely nothing.
Q: Are there any comments you would like to add?
A: Yes. The National Sexual Assault is available by phone 1-800-656-HOPE and online at online.rainn.org. Talk with someone that is trained to help anytime 24/7.