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Why Don’t Women Speak Out About Their Sexual Assault?

In recent years the social media hashtags #metoo and #believewomen have been picking up steam. As they pick up influence many cases spanning more than ten years ago have emerged. Many questions have emerged surrounding the cases. One main question has arisen time and time again that I seek to answer—why have these women waited so long to talk about their experiences?

In 2006, the civil activist Tarana Burke originally founded the “Me Too” movement. Eleven years later famous actress Alyssa Milano tweeted Burke’s “me too” phrase and helped ignite the largest discussion of sexual assault of this era. Due to much celebrity support, their own confessions of dealing with sexual assault and vast media coverage, the movement has gained so much attention and controversy. The controversy lies, for some, on whether or not these women are telling the truth. There is a new war apparently—a war on men. The antagonists in this war are women who are falsely accusing men of sexual assault on purpose to ruin their lives. This war has been seen by worried mothers tweeting “Him Too”, paranoid men and our very own president Donald Trump. President Trump told reporters that it’s a “very scary time for young men in America”; this is a time where you are “guilty until proven innocent.” In retaliation a new movement has been created to go along with “Me too,” and is gaining popularity today, known as “Believe Women.”

Fear is a main contributor to why women don’t speak up: fear of punishment, fear of the justice system/ lack of evidence and fear of not being believed. The fear of punishment takes the form of victim blaming. There is even a science to victim blaming. It occurs because a large majority of society thinks that your actions lead you to your consequence. Blaming the victim happens in large also due to “binding values” that put importance on chastity and purity making an unsympathetic attitude towards victims. A situation that demonstrates this is as follows: Ariana Grande is groped at the funeral of Aretha Franklin and people decide to focus on how inappropriate her dress is to wear to a funeral.

Related: Ariana Grande's Funeral Dress Isn't the Problem

The justice system has failed women repeatedly throughout the years leading to a fear of bringing up the case at all. With cases such as Brock Turner and Austin James Wilkinson, where their sentences were too light, it's not too hard to see where the mistrust can come from. It is feared by women that those with light sentences would seek revenge upon completing it, if any time was actually served. Not all cases make it to the criminal court, in fact, out of every 100 less than half are reported and only 12 lead to arrest. The fact that victims must provide their own evidence against their assailant in the situation so that their case doesn't make it to the criminal court is another issue. The fear of not being believed is an old one. In sexual assault cases often times it is a he said-she said situation, with men being often believed. This trails back to the war on men. People will often ignore the fact that only two to eight percent of accusations are false.

The widely accepted image of what sexual assault is and who it can happen to will often also have victims not speak up about theirs. There is a wide range of what is considered to be sexual assault, not just rape. Any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the recipient is assault; this can be groping, kissing or anything you feel uncomfortable with and do not consent to. Men and boys can also be sexually assaulted, and will not speak on it to avoid being ridiculed. If a person did not fight against the perpetrator it is still assault, victims may freeze or feel as if they have to do it.

A final component that may have people hesitant to report their experience is shame. The sense of shame wll often cause victims to shift the blame to themselves. The shame comes from a sense of humiliation that will often times cause a victim to want to hide and feel isolated. Shame can lead to denial and minimization of the event where a person will make excuses or lie to themselves about the seriousness of the event.

Oct. 15, 2018 officially marks one year since Milano started the Me Too hashtag. So much has happened since then, and we have so far to go. Sexual assault occurs globally. There is nothing to be ashamed of if you want to speak out, but let it be on your terms. If you feel uncomfortable reporting to an official, it's okay to go at your own pace. If you are ready for the first step start with calling the national sexual assault hotline at 800-656-HOPE.

Attending freshman at the University of Georgia. Majoring in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
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