Lately there's been quite a bit of outrage over the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which passed the House on Thursday and is now on its way to the Senate. The proposed plan is particularly troubling because it would allow insurance companies to discriminate against sexual assault survivors, effectively silencing millions of women from seeking treatment or reporting abuse. But even if the bill doesn't pass, there are still many troubling ways that sexual assault is dismissed every day in America. In order for us to ensure that survivors are believed, supported, and empowered, we have to start challenging these narratives.
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), sexual assault occurs in America every 98 seconds, and every one in six women will be the victim of an attempted sexual assault in her lifetime. Tragically, RAINN also reports that perpetrators of sexual assault are far less likely to be punished by the justice system than perpetrators of other crimes. In fact, out of every 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free. This, combined with a culture of victim-blaming and inadequate protections for survivors, leads to as much as 80 percent of sexual assaults to go unreported.
There are various reasons that survivors don't report assault, from the fact that attackers are often not held accountable to the misconception that survivors were somehow "asking for it" because of their attire or alcohol consumption. In order to change these issues, we have to start talking about them. Here are some everyday ways that sexual assault is currently dismissed in our society.
1. By Claiming That Boys Will Be Boys
This excuse is too often used to justify the inappropriate behavior of men. Most recently, Donald Trump used this excuse when referring to his past statement that he could "grab women by the pu**y" without their consent as "locker room talk," as though it is perfectly acceptable for boys to make degrading comments about women behind closed doors. This type of thinking not only delegitimizes serious criminal offenses by viewing them as nothing more than childhood mistakes, but it also normalizes dangerous behavior and makes young men think that sexual assault is acceptable.
2. By Giving Offenders Slaps On The Wrist
Perpetrators are far too often given extremely lenient sentences — if they're sentenced at all — even if they are found guilty of assault. One of the highest-profile examples of this is Brock Turner, who assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and only spent three months in jail. And last year, a high school athlete who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting two teens was only sentenced to two years' probation by a Massachusetts judge. Such minuscule punishment is nothing compared to the lifelong trauma and psychological torment that survivors must endure, and many wonder whether it is even worth it to endure the emotional torment of taking attackers to court when they are not likely to find justice.
3. By Perpetuating Falsehoods About The Female Body
It's unfortunate enough that politicians constantly attempt to create laws regulating women's bodies, but it's even more troubling when they delegitimize rape by completely making up lies about the female body in order to advance their own agenda. One politician infamously stated that if a rape is "legitimate," the female body has ways to "shut down" pregnancy. Drawing the distinction between legitimate and not-legitimate rape suggests that some women are lying about abuse, and suggesting that women who are pregnant as a result of rape were not actually raped is beyond dangerous.
4. By Blaming Survivors For Not Stopping Their Attackers
Far too often, survivors of sexual assault are questioned about why they didn't do more to stop the attack from occurring. In September 2016, a Canadian judge asked a rape victim why she didn't "skew her pelvis" or "keep [her] knees together" to avoid her attacker. That same month, a school official in Georgia asked a teen who was forced to perform oral sex why she didn't "bite his penis and squeeze his balls" to fight back. It is never the victim's responsibility to stop an assault from happening, and blaming women for not doing more will only increase the shame and guilt that they may already feel — even though the assault is 100 percent the perpetrator's fault, not the victim's.
5. By Saying That Men Can't be Raped
According to RAINN, one out of every 10 rape victims are male. But unfortunately, our society generally believes that it's impossible for men to be raped by women, although the statistics of these crimes have been growing in recent years. It is entirely possible for men to experience sexual violence, just as women do, and until we begin an honest discussion of this, it will continue to be difficult for male survivors to come forward and seek resources.
6. By Failing Survivors In The Health Care System
According to a recent study in the American Journal of Public Health, rape survivors can pay as much as $1,000 in medical bills after reporting the attack to authorities. These bills can fund everything from post-traumatic stress disorder therapy to preventative anti-HIV medication. Unfortunately, survivors often must cover many of these costs themselves because some insurance companies don't cover the additional medical bills associated with assault. The financial burden of assault can potentially keep women from seeking treatment.
7. By Calling Assault Survivors Liars
Far too often, the trauma that sexual assault survivors experience is compounded by the treatment they receive from society as a result of their coming forward. Survivors are often called liars and accused of "just wanting attention," especially when their allegations are against high-profile figures. The social tendency to denounce women as liars when they report their assault can lead to depression, anxiety, and social isolation — and that's in addition to the difficulties they already endure after surviving an assault.
There are many social, financial, and political barriers that survivors face in seeking treatment, finding acceptance, and moving forward following sexual assault. Until we start discussing them and challenging many of the negative ways survivors are treated in society, we will never be able to ensure that sexual assault decreases. Hopefully, this list has inspired you to stand up for sexual assault survivors or speak out about your own abuse, and work towards creating a society that empowers rather than silences victims of assault.