Trigger warning: this article consists of content concerning sexual assault and rape.
According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), someone in America is sexually assaulted every 68 seconds.
Out of all of these victims, about 54% will be someone between the ages of 18 and 34 (classified as college-aged people) and 80% of these college-aged people will not report an assault after it happens.
Sometimes, these numbers mean something to people. They are a percentage that they remember with their SAT percentile, or from that one time they were 10 and the doctor explained what a BMI was.
In this 80% of unreported incidents against college-aged people, oftentimes a selection of your peers becomes the judge, jury and executioner. It matters not how long campus police take to conduct an investigation, but rather how fast it is possible to inform others of what they have done in hopes it doesn’t happen to anyone else.
Sometimes, those numbers turn into Instagram mutuals, Facebook friends or LinkedIn connections. They end up as bridges better off burned before anyone has a chance to cross them.
Though the “Me Too” movement has allowed more people to come forward with their stories of abuse, there is still a stigma around speaking out.
A story fresh in my mind is that of the singer Rex Orange County, also known as Alexander O’Connor, who had been charged with six counts of sexual assault against a woman in the United Kingdom last year.
At first, the Internet rallied around the cancellation of O’Connor, but after the charges were dropped – many were quick to call the victim a liar, saying that they knew he was innocent, and that they never believed the allegations in the first place.
While the details of that case are neither here nor there, it is worth noting that false accusations make up about two percent of allegations according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center – or out of every 1,000 assaults only 25 offenders will face any jail time according to RAINN.
If someone trusts you enough to tell you that someone has assaulted them, whether it be someone you know or not, believe them. Even if you “can’t believe that so-and-so would ever do something like that,” consider first that someone has trusted you enough to tell you about this vulnerable moment in their life. If that’s not enough for you, consider that believing the victim is a much better alternative than believing a potential assaulter.
You may be asking, “what if it’s a family member, or a really good friend or even a significant other?” While there is no right answer to this question, it may be beneficial to re-examine how you interact with this person. This may be much easier said than done, but in the greater scheme of things, you have the easy job – believing a victim and actively being a good ally to them.
Another question you may have is “how do I appropriately react to a situation like this?” Again, there is no scientific method to being there for someone, but the easiest thing you can do is listen. No one is obligated to tell you exactly what happened to them, but if they do choose to open up to you, give them a shoulder to lean on, listen and be vigilant of potential triggers, as well as integrating trauma-informed language into your regular conversations.
Though it is horrific to confront, it is statistically impossible that someone in your life has not been a victim of sexual assault at least once in their lifetime.
So be kind, be respectful of trauma you may or may not know about and listen if someone is trying to tell you their story.