Since 2001, our country has observed Sexual Assault Awareness Month every April. Just as every cause, movement and epidemic has designated colors, ribbons, slogans and walks, so does sexual violence. The stark difference between sexual violence and all of the other worthy causes is that so many of the survivors of sexual abuse, rape, molestation, incest, stalking and sex trafficking live a lifetime of shame and silence. And most of their perpetrators are never held accountable.
The theme of this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month is “I Ask.” It is meant to spark a conversation around consent - how we ask for it, what it is, and how to get comfortable with the language in the new era of “hook up” culture and the #MeToo movement.
But, “I ask” when will we finally lift the stigma surrounding sexual violence? When will our ability to talk about it become “normal” so we don’t need a special month or designated ribbons, so there is no shame in living through these experiences and survivors can come out of hiding? As we share stories, education and awareness we create a safer place for future generations. Yet despite enormous progress, in many communities and walks of life sexual abuse and rape are topics that we rather pretend doesn’t exist, perpetuating the guilt and shame.
One in four women and one in six men will be a victim of sexual violence in their lifetime. It is hard to believe such staggering statistics. As the founder of a nonprofit dedicated to survivors of rape, sexual abuse and sex trafficking, I know first-hand just how on point these statistics are. At every community event we attend, someone opens up about their story, often for the very first time.
There are survivors in our churches, schools, workplaces. They are in our clubs, live next door and in our families. So, this April, I ask – isn’t time we start talking about sexual violence without shame once and for all?
Mindi Fetterman in the Founder and Executive Director of The Inner Truth Project, a nonprofit dedicated to providing therapeutic services to survivors of sexual trauma on the Treasure Coast.