America. November 8th, 2016. Election Day.
This election may have been the most divisive in our history; it certainly is the most polarizing one I’ve been alive for. The hotbed issues seemed to be EVERY issue: immigration reform, abortion, LGBT rights, corruption, racism, economic policy, women’s rights, terrorism, healthcare…and the list goes on. Friends and family were at each other’s throats both online and in real life. Some felt their civil rights were under attack; some felt their character was. Both felt passionately that they were right.
Now it’s over. We have a new President, like him or not. But one thing should not be over, should never be over: the public discussion surrounding sexual assault.
Until this year the topic of sexual assault was borderline taboo. It made people uncomfortable. If it was discussed at all, it was behind closed doors – in a therapist’s office. Sure, there were occasional news stories that brought it into the light for 15 minutes of fame (the Stubenville rape case, for instance). But never has sexual assault been as publically disseminated as it was these past 6 months.
Not all of it has been positive. Plenty of Americans dismissed potential victims’ stories, saying they were “clearly lying” despite having no basis except their own opinion. Plenty of Americans refused to acknowledge that one of the candidates is married to an accused rapist. Plenty of Americans made excuses after the other candidate openly bragged about sexual assault.
But plenty is not all. Many Americans learned the facts about sexual assault – how common it is, what types of forms it can take, and how our justice system handles it – and in doing so, became more empathetic. Many Americans felt empowered by the discussion to come forward with their own stories of assault. Many Americans took the opportunity to teach their children about respect and bodily autonomy, a lesson which may not have occurred to them otherwise.
I count all of these things as a win. The more we bring the pain and shame of sexual assault into the public eye, the more opportunity will arise to discuss it. You see, with discussion comes learning. With learning comes empathy. And with empathy comes change.
I beg each and every one of you to continue the discussion. When you hear a potential victim’s story, treat it with respect. When you hear people say disrespectful things, speak up. When you see inappropriate or predatory behavior, intervene. And never, ever be silenced.
In the wake of this election, lots of people are asking how they can help marginalized groups in their day-to-day life. If you’re looking for a way to support victims of rape and sexual abuse, consider joining our team.