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If you aren’t a victim, you can still bear witness!

April 8, 2010
I was never moved when I saw those old Sally Struthers ads telling me I should support a kid in Africa. First, I was pretty young at the time, and second, it all seemed so far away. These were kids like me struggling in another country and I just didn’t see much of a connection.

Of course, I am a lot older and a bit more socially conscious now. I, like most adults, recognize that you don’t have to suffer the way others do – or even have direct experience with tragedy or trauma – to make a difference. That’s why we should all, victims or not, actively participate in Sexual Assault Awareness month this April.

We hear so much about sexual assaults and violence that we’re desensitized to it. Americans are all too aware of the rate of sexual assault in this country without even being reminded of the statistics. The question is what, especially during this month, can anyone do about it?

Just as is the case with child labor, racism and spousal abuse, no one out there is in favor of sexual assault. Most people, however, believe that it is good enough if you’re not directly contributing to violence perpetuated upon another person. Given that one in five young women in this country are victims of sexual assault at some point in their lives, and one in eight men, simply not engaging in violence doesn’t mean you can’t take an active role this month. Those of us who aren’t abusers and haven’t been abused ourselves often miss out on one of the critical roles that we can play in saving and rescuing the lives of those who have been victimized in the most unspeakable fashion: Bearing witness.

Only about one in 10 victims of sexual abuse ever report their assault to anyone, and the average age for reporting sexual violence is 9 years old. The more troubling statistic, however, is that the average victim of sexual violence tells at least three people before they are advised or taken to a health or legal authority.

All too many times, we become confidants to those who have suffered and help them keep their secrets, attempting to counsel them on our own rather than take the tough choice and suggest, cajole and sometimes take it upon ourselves to tell family, authorities or the police. If you don’t bear witness to their pain and do all that you can to help them get help, you’re essentially helping to protect whatever monster attacked them in the first place. A harsh claim I know, but ultimately when we fail to help those in need all we’re really doing is protecting the man or woman who assaulted them. You in your complacency become as much their protector as anyone.

Let April be the month where you become a strong witness and a support network for someone you know has been a victim of a sexual crime. Become a part of someone’s healing process. Expose a family secret, take a friend to a therapist or pastor, or better yet, slip them this column as a way to open up doors of communication.

This April can be the beginning of a healing process for millions of men, women, boys and girls across this nation who have been victims of an unspeakable crime. We can all make sure that it never again takes three tries for the voice of a victim to be heard

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