May is sexual violence awareness month. This week we’re talking about female survivors of sexual violence. The vast majority of sexual assault victims are women: nearly 4 in 10 Canadian women have experienced sexual assault since the age of 16. Indigenous women & women with disabilities are at even higher risk. The most extensive study of child sexual abuse in Canada found that 53% of women encountered sexual abuse as a child.
“Victims are often too ashamed to come forward. Sexual assault is a very humiliating and dehumanizing act against someone. Attached to that shame is a lot of self-blame. Victims of sexual assault almost always blame themselves, and we can understand why, because in our culture, we tend to blame victims in general. We say things like, ‘She shouldn’t have been wearing that kind of outfit, she shouldn’t have drank so much, why did she go to that party?’ We find some reason to blame the victim”[Beverly Engel, psychotherapist]. It is not surprising that many women choose not to report or may disclose a long time after an incident occurs. The fears of not being believed, of being blamed, or being shamed for being a ‘slut’ or having been complicit, is quite strong. And in some cultures, girls & women are always to blame when it comes to sexual violence perpetrated upon them.
There are many dangerous myths that exist when it comes to female victims of sexual violence. We would like to try & dispel some of them here.
MYTH #1: Only young, attractive women are sexually assaulted.
Nobody is immune to sexual assault. Women and men, children and seniors, the disabled – people who have been sexually assaulted or sexually abused are found in every Alberta City and hamlet, in every cultural and demographic segment of our society. The vast majority of sexual assault victims are women: nearly four in 10 Canadian women have experienced sexual assault since the age of 16.
MYTH #2: It wasn’t sexual violence because she didn’t fight back and there are no bruises or any type of visible injury.
Sexual assault is a violent crime whether or not physical resistance or injury occurs. Many sexual assault victims are shocked by what’s happening and simply “freeze.” Many women are too intimidated or terrified to try defending themselves. They may decide that the overwhelming power or size of the attacker makes it very dangerous to resist. 84% of reported sexual assault cases involve an offender who is known to the victim: an intimate partner, an acquaintance, co-worker, friend or relative. These offenders may be more likely to use tricks, verbal pressure, threats or “mild” force rather than extreme violence. Only yes means yes & consent is much more than just she wasn’t able to stop you.
MYTH #3: If women would dress less provocatively; if they didn’t drink; if they didn’t go out alone at night; if women wouldn’t ‘put themselves at risk’, they wouldn’t get raped.
Efforts to stop sexual assault have generally been focused on getting girls & women to change the way they conduct their daily lives in order to reduce risk: not walking alone, avoiding isolated areas, watching how they dress – even carrying pepper spray. But we know that these defensive tactics don’t prevent sexual assault. Sexual violence happens as a result of an abuser’s failure to develop & maintain healthy adult sexual relationships, and their willingness to commit sexual violence upon someone who they can overpower and/or control. We need to stop blaming the victims & focus on the perpetrators’ problematic behaviours, degrading jokes about & towards women, & the casual sexual harassment of women & girls including things like catcalling, groping, & stalking. It’s not a girl’s or woman’s fault she was raped.
The best thing we can do when girls & women come forward with their own stories of sexual violence is to:
Believe Them. Support Them. Accept Their Story.
There are some great resources online if you’ve been sexually assaulted or experienced sexual violence in some way. If you’re a female survivor of sexual violence, please reach out to someone you feel safe with or to a sexual assault centre local to you.
Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services Alberta 1 Line (9 am to 9 pm)
call or text: 1-866-403-8000 or visit their website: IBelieveYou.info
Kids Help Phone 24/7 Talk, Text, or Live Chat
call: 1-800-668-6868 or visit their website: kidshelpphone.ca