What To Say To People Who Don't Think Sexual Assault Awareness Month Is Necessary

by Mia Mercado
Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images News/Getty Images

It’s no secret that sexual violence is a problem in the United States. The necessity for declaring April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month becomes even more clear when you look at just some of the statistics on sexual assault. Perhaps the greatest evidence for why Sexual Assault Awareness Month is necessary comes from the person who declared it as such this year.

President Donald J. Trump formally declared April as National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month on Friday, March 31, following a precedent set by former President Obama, who became the first president to do so in 2009. Trump has also been accused by multiple women of alleged sexual misconduct; he has repeatedly denied these allegations. And he began this month by coming to the defense of Bill O'Reilly in light of a New York Times report that settlements were paid to five women after they accused O'Reilly of alleged harassment. O'Reilly has denied the allegations, writing in a statement on his website, "Just like other prominent and controversial people, I'm vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want me to pay them to avoid negative publicity."

Whether or not Trump's defense comes as a surprise to you, it is undeniably jarring to hear him defend someone accused of alleged sexual harassment just days after proclaiming the need to support the victims of such crimes. But I would argue that the election of Donald Trump is just one by-product of the way our culture perceives this kind of assault.

Sexual violence is an epidemic, one we need to be taking more seriously as a society. Acknowledging and understanding the reality of sexual assault is the first step in working toward ending it, which is why this month is significant. Wondering what to say to people who don't think Sexual Assault Awareness Month is necessary? Here are 18 statistics that show exactly why we need it.

1. One in three men don’t think sex where a partner is pressured to give consent is sexual assault.

There is significant gender disparity when it comes to identifying what is not consent. A recent study conducted by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) found that cultural perceptions of assault varied based on gender and age. For example, coerced sex was seen as assault by 79 percent of women and just 67 percent of men.

2. Someone is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds in the United States.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that each year, an estimated 321,500 people 12 and older are sexually assaulted or raped.

3. One out of five women in America has been a victim of rape.

RAINN estimates more than 17,700,000 women have been raped in the past 19 years.

4. Women are almost 15 times more likely than men to be raped.

According to the NSVRC, one out of 71 men are raped at some point in their life, as opposed to one in five women. This isn't to diminish the experiences of men who have been raped or assaulted; all victims' experiences are valid and should be heard. It is, however, notable that women suffer disproportionately from it.

5. 21 percent of transgender, genderqueer, and gender nonconforming (TGQN) college students have been sexually assaulted.

RAINN reports more than one in five TGQN students are sexually assaulted during their time in college. TGQN students are the most likely population of college students to be sexually assaulted using physical force or incapacitation while enrolled in college.

6. Trans people of color are 1.8 times more likely to experience sexual violence than the general population.

Cisexism, racism, and trans- and homophobia compound to make trans women of color one of the more targeted groups of sexual assault.

7. 64 percent of trans people will experience sexual assault in their life.

This report from the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force shows how people who are transgender disproportionately face discrimination, including sexual violence.

8. The majority of rapists will never be incarcerated for their crimes.

Out of every 1,000 rapes, 996 rapists will walk free, according to RAINN. Rape and sexual assault still goes widely unreported. Even of those cases that are reported, cultural perception and insufficient legal protections for victims make sexual assault convictions rare.

9. It’s estimated that more than 90 percent of sexual assaults go unreported.

Currently, rape is the most under-reported crime, according to the NSVRC. Given misconceptions about false reporting and the fear of retribution from the accused assailant, many people don't report their assault.

10. 80 percent of rape victims know their assailant.

The idea of rapists being strangers to their victims is a false narrative: Eight out of 10 rapes are committed by people the victim knew beforehand, according to the NSVRC.

11. 55 percent of sexual assaults happen at or near the victim’s home.

The idea that rapes exclusively occur in dark alleys is also a harmful false narrative. A report from RAINN notes that the majority of sexual assaults are committed by people the victim knows and in a place the victim is familiar.

12. From 2009 to 2014, over 40 percent of universities didn’t investigate any assault allegations.

This is according to a national survey released by Sen. Claire McCaskill in 2014. Sexual assault is especially a problem on college campuses. College women are significantly more likely to be victims of rape than of any other crime.

13. 91 percent of assault victims are female.

Sexual violence can happen to anyone regardless of gender. However, it disproportionately happens to women, according to the NSVRC. This is in no small part perpetuated by the way our society talks about sexual assault. Rape culture is real and enforces toxic ideas about things like gender and consent. It is especially seen in the way society treats victims of sexual assault, often reluctant to believe them when they do come forward.

14. 18 percent of college students think someone has consented as long as they don't say "no".

A poll from The Washington Post on college sexual assault found male students were more likely than female students to think that as long as someone doesn’t say “no,” they’ve gotten consent.

15. In more than 66 percent of university policies on reporting rape, a victim’s attire and past sexual history can be discussed during the disciplinary proceedings.

In a study by SAFER on campus sexual assault, only one in three university policies prohibited clothing and sexual history from being discussed. Less than one in five policies included amnesty for underage victims who were drugged or intoxicated at the time of their assault.

16. 32 percent of college men said they would have “intentions to force a woman to sexual intercourse” if ‘‘nobody would ever know and there wouldn’t be any consequences’’.

According to the same survey, less than 14 percent admit to having “any intentions to rape a woman” under the same circumstances. There is a dangerous lack of understanding about what “rape” is, both semantically and legally.

17. The rape kit backlog is estimated to contain hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits.

Full Frontal recently did a piece on the rape kit backlog and how congresspeople are working to fix it. It’s well worth seven minutes of your day.

18. 33 percent of women who are raped contemplate suicide. 13 percent attempt suicide.

There are long lasting effects of sexual violence. In addition to the affecting survivors socially, occupationally, victims of sexual violence are more like to experience depression and suicidal thoughts.

If we want to work to end sexual violence, we need to start by facing the reality of it. These numbers are overwhelming, but we can work toward a future where sexual assault is not the norm. From examining the way we talk about sexual assault to electing officials working to support victims, we can help take steps to ending sexual violence.