We Need to Listen

The past few weeks brought the pressing issue of sexual assault from behind the curtain  and into the spotlight. From the #MeToo campaign to sexual misconduct allegations against numerous celebrities and other high-profile individuals, several survivors are coming forward in solidarity and in protest. The news has been inundated with harrowing stories of sexual misconduct within various contexts, most notably within the entertainment industry and in Washington. For many, however, these stories are not “new” news. 

One out of every six women in the U.S. has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape. Sexual abuse also disproportionately affects those in the LGBTQ+ community to a very large extent. For every one of those survivors, these past few weeks meant reliving a painful reality. Meanwhile, the vast majority of perpetrators will walk free, and the amount of individuals incarcerated for sexual crimes does not reflect the gravity of the situation. 

For too long, victims’ stories have been hushed, ignored, and brushed under the rug. This is often a result of the power imbalance that facilitates assault: perpetrators commit crimes against those who have less power in both fighting back and seeking justice. Coming forward and discussing trauma is difficult, and many victims fear stigma and shame in a society that decided that it was okay for a man who boasts about taking advantage of women to be president. Their silence, however, does not by any means indicate that this problem is nonexistent — as the recent news demonstrated, this is far from the truth.

If there is anything to be learned of the horrific recent headlines, it’s that we need to stop approaching allegations through the frame of skepticism. Rather, we need to listen to what those who have experienced sexual violence are saying. We need to stop looking at incidents as exceptions and excusing perpetrators. With the onslaught of survivors coming forward— whether it’s through a hashtag or through legal action— we need to make sure that these individuals have the support they need. 

Simply listening, without judgement, and letting survivors know that they are not at fault is crucial. Additional support could include seeking out professional or medical resources, on-campus services or groups, and legal action. Through every step of the way, victims need to feel the validation that their voice will not be silenced.

It’s also important to remember that not everyone is going to come forward with their experience, and absolutely no one should be forced to, nor should those coming forward feel pressured to share further details of their assault. However, we need to ensure those who do share have an understanding platform from which to do so. With the wave of allegations in the media, it can be a very overwhelming time for survivors; self-care and checking in with those affected are important and necessary. In a criminal justice system that works against victims, it is vital that those close to them provide reassurance. 

We also need to consider the role power imbalances play in sexual crimes. The victims of Roy Moore’s crimes were minors. Women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community are underrepresented across industries. Currently, the U.S. Congress is pushing for mandatory sexual harassment training, which has not existed prior. Through empowerment, we can flip the script on sexual harassment and begin to discard the narrative of shame. 

Sexual assault should never be a part of anyone’s reality, nor should it be accepted as “just the way things are.” We need to listen to and support those who come forward, protect those who are unable to, and address the problems in our society leading to these crimes. 

*For those concerned or in need: The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline