April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and it brings to light a topic which is often uncomfortable to speak about. Those who have been hurt by sexual assault should never be afraid to seek help.
Sexual violence is a very private issue, mostly due to the great amount of stigma that surrounds it. Victims of sexual assault will often feel guilty, despite the fact that it is through no fault of their own. Survivors are too often left isolated and afraid, and these feelings are only perpetuated by silence. While seldom discussed, this trend is anything but uncommon. Lady Gaga recently released a single, “‘Til It Happens to You,” promoting awareness of sexual assault on college campuses, where studies show that one in five women and one in 16 men will be sexually assaulted — chances are high that someone you know has experienced sexual assault.
This nation faces an epidemic of silence on the issue of sexual assault. There are very few clear-cut lines about when to speak up or what to say, even if we believe that an individual has been hurt. We engineer myriad excuses to maintain this silence — the topic is too awkward, it might come off as rude to ask if someone is OK, the victim probably doesn’t want to talk about it — but these excuses are myths.
We must ask ourselves which is worse: not talking about sexual assault or allowing room for more victimization and suffering? Survivors of sexual assault were once held in silence by their perpetrators, but this destructive silence should never happen again. The only way to allow survivors to heal and for future assaults to be prevented is to talk.
But there is an important role to be played by survivors and allies alike. Many sexual assault survivors never speak out about their assault. They are conditioned to lie by omission, hidden in shame and embarrassment. But by ignoring the issue and staying trapped in silence, no progress can be made. This ignorance creates a true lose-lose situation: survivors will not be able to heal, while perpetrators will continue to victimize. Binghamton University has taken many measures to advocate for survivors; the Interpersonal Violence Program is hosting a series of events this April.
Last semester, BU held a Red Flag Campaign across campus that raised awareness for survivors. However, more action needs to be taken. Sexual assault still occurs and many students do not know about the support systems put in place by the University. We, as a community, need to tackle the issue of sexual assault and end the stigma by letting survivors know that they are not alone. Sexual assault is a crime with one of the lowest rates of reporting, with 63 percent of sexual assaults never being reported — that figure jumps to 90 percent on college campuses. It is time to change these numbers. It’s time to start a conversation.