April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. So I ask you, can you imagine a world without rape and sexual assault? Can you imagine a year, a month, a week, a day without a sexual assault on someone? These days it’s hard to consider such a vision. According to the CDC, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.
New Hope has worked with survivors of sexual assault for 40 years and unfortunately many of the issues survivors faced in those early years still remain. Survivors still fear coming forward because they are not believed. Victim-blaming still occurs. The justice system still can re-traumatize a survivor who has the courage to seek redress through the courts. Even when a person is convicted of assault, they rarely serve prison time.
Recent documentaries such as “Surviving R. Kelly and Leaving Neverland,” alleging sexual abuse via R. Kelly and Michael Jackson are just the latest examples of industries where such behaviors are woven into the culture. We continue to learn of sexual assault allegations in the Catholic Church, the military, the entertainment industry, political institutions, schools and universities, athletic programs, where the organizations still prioritize themselves and their reputations over survivors who suffer untold traumas. Locally, the news that Robert Kraft frequented a place where immigrant women were victims of commercial sex trafficking is extremely disappointing, particularly as New Hope received funds from the NE Patriots Foundation in 2015. Regrettably this became more of a story about Robert Kraft and much less about the women who are being exploited. At New Hope we see victims of trafficking and yes it is happening in our communities to persons of any race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
In April New Hope is asking you: #what’snext? How are you going to help bring about a world without sexual violence? First, think about how you contribute to the creation of environments where victims feel empowered to come forward to speak their truth. What systems do you interact with and how can you lend our voice to ensure that abusers and institutions are not protected? Each and every one of us needs to hold people accountable for their behaviors because such abuse does not happen in a vacuum. Yes, it can happen in your faith community, your workplace, your school, etc. People who abuse are masters at creating a persona that not only grooms the victim, but also the system. Such grooming leads to comments such as, “I just can’t believe it, he’s such a nice person,” when abuse is uncovered.
You also can help lend your voice to support the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA provides needed resources for prevention education and expands access to services, particularly for those from underserved populations. Contact your Congressman and Senators Warren and Markey, and ask them to this effort.
Together we can bring about a world free from sexual assault, for a day, a week, a month, a year. Let’s do it.
Marcia Szymanski CEO, New Hope
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