June 16th, 2016 | Published in News
The real story about rape isn’t being told
Kristin Smith Shrimplin is the president and CEO of Women Helping Women, an agency that serves all survivors of sexual assault, stalking and domestic violence in Hamilton and Butler counties.
The story about a Stanford University student who committed sexual assault caught national and local attention. But this is not a new narrative. This is a story that is very worn out. As the leader of Women Helping Women, I am unapologetically angry at the repetitive nature of this story. It’s 2016, and our nation, our communities and our campuses remain besieged by rape culture. This is an epidemic, and it is time for radical change.
Let’s start by changing the narrative. Media: Please tell us the stories of all of the actions and the words of the male friends of Brock Turner who went to the party with him. Tell us about how they stepped in at every point that he and any other individual targeted a woman for domination and control. Tell us about what Stanford University taught Brock Turner and all of its students about consent culture during first-year orientation. Tell us what Brock Turner’s father told him as a young man going off to college about how to respect women’s autonomy. Tell us what the teachers taught Brock Turner in middle and high school on prevention of sexual violence. Tell us what Brock Turner’s swim coach taught him when he was 8 years old about character, integrity and being a true champion.
Tell us. We will listen. But no one can tell us those stories because no one can find those headlines. The headlines can’t be reported because that’s not what happened that night or at all the points in time before that night. This is what is happening:
- 98 percent of rapists never see a day in jail or prison.
- 1 out of 3 women are sexually assaulted or physically abused in their lifetime.
- 1 out of 4 girls experience sexual assault before the age of 18.
- A rapist’s father complains about his son’s sentence of 6 months of prison for “20 minutes of action,” and the woman raped must live with the impact of the trauma for the rest of her life.
- In 2015, WHW responded over 15,000 times to the hospitals, to the courts, to the hotline, to support groups, and to one-on-one crisis intervention to serve survivors in Hamilton and Butler counties alone.
- In the first quarter of 2016, WHW hit a record of responding over 4,000 times to survivors.
Let’s change the narrative by changing what we tell women and girls. Men: Be brave and talk to your sons, grandsons, nephews and friends about sexual assault, rape and consent culture. Promote prevention. Listen to the women and girls in your life. When women and girls tell you their stories, stand beside them with full support and model the Stanford survivor’s powerful words:
“… to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you… you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you…”
Let’s change the narrative and unite as a community to combat this violence. This public health epidemic demands attention as if it were toxic, lead-laden water in our public pipelines. Policymakers, institutions, universities, and community members: Let’s work together to dismantle immaterial language that describes a rapist. Individuals who commit sexual violence make a decision to commit a crime to victimize and violate another individual. It is immaterial that a rapist is an athlete with a promising swimming career who can no longer enjoy a steak because of the crime he committed. These irrelevant words serve as a manufactured smokescreen that takes us away from the real story.
The real story is that the rape culture violates our community’s ability to thrive. WHW trustees, advocates, prevention educators, volunteers and survivors call for a “forever cure” to this public health crisis. All leaders, supporters and major institutions must intensely use their influence and resources to shine a light on a crime that hides in the dark behind dumpsters. Humans are not trash.
We can no longer dismiss this issue as merely a “women’s issue.” This is a human rights issue in which humans are stripped of their autonomy and self-agency of their very own bodies. Sexual assault is a crime – a debilitating, soul-stripping crime. And now is the time to change it all: Change the media’s framing of the narrative. Change the judicial institutions’ response. Change patriarchy. Change oppression. Change apathy. Change the system.
WHW believes in the radical notion that all of our community members deserve to thrive in a culture of accountability, prevention and consent. Let’s all be “upstanders” and build that community together to support survivors and promote prevention.