You’ve probably been hearing a lot about sexual assault lately, and that’s actually a good thing. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). Formally designated by President Obama in 2009, SAAM builds on a long history of survivors who fought to make their stories visible and their voices heard. Because of their struggle, we’ve all learned more about what was previously in the shadows. Recently, Luckiest Girl Alive author Jessica Knoll courageously acknowledged that her protagonist’s truth was also her own. The fictional character crafted by the former Cosmopolitan editor endured a gang rape in high school. Like Ani, Knoll also found that the incident shaped her reputation and social life for years to come, testifying to the lasting, formative impact of sexual trauma.
Sexual assault touches all of our lives in a very profound and personal way, whether we realize it or not. Maybe you’re one of the people who have been personally impacted by an attack or sexual abuse, or maybe you’ve witnessed a friend or loved one’s struggle. Since one out of every six women (as well as 3 percent of men) are the victim of an attack, you can be sure that someone close to you is a survivor.
But perhaps you’re not aware of how — or even if — those close to you have been affected. Victims often suffer in silent shame, and might not even speak to anyone about what happened. They may be afraid of the harsh judgment that seems synonymous with speaking up, and unwilling to subject themselves to the personal scrutiny that inevitably follows.
Perhaps their attacker was a close friend or family member. According to statistics from RAINN the vast majority of survivors know their attacker, and in half the cases it was someone close to them. This can be a devastating betrayal on top of a terrible trauma. And, if the attacker is highly respected and well regarded in the community, the victim may be even more reluctant to bring an accusation. Many victims are young, 80 percent are under 30 years old, and they may not have established themselves socially or professionally. In such cases, an accusation can destroy the life of the victim if they are not believed.
Sexual assault does great harm to the victim, but also has a ripple effect across communities, creating uncertainty and fear for everyone. It’s the fear you have when your daughter is late coming back from a jog, when your partner is attending an evening event in an unknown city, or when you hear footsteps approaching from behind on a lonely stretch of street. It’s the terror that students live with on campuses when other students have been attacked or even killed, and the perpetrator hasn’t been apprehended.
There is more we can all do to acknowledge the prevalence of sexual abuse and assault in our communities, workplaces and institutions. We can educate ourselves and our friends. We can organize. Most importantly, however, we can act.
Working together, we can create a culture of zero tolerance for sexual assault. We can support education efforts aimed at reducing the likelihood that individuals will become either perpetrators or victims. The best intervention will change the culture that sexual assault and abuse thrives on. This is the long-term goal. And, once a crime does occur, we must do a better job in supporting and helping the victim, as well as stopping the perpetrator. Even beyond that, we can create a world where an individual will think twice before attacking someone, whether opportunistically or methodically. This is the theme of SAAM 2016. Prevention is possible.
We have the technology and infrastructure to put powerful tools into the hands of our mothers, daughters, sons and loved ones, tools that can protect them and assist if an attacker does cross their path. Jane Jacobs, urban activist and author, spoke famously of the need for “eyes on the street,” and advocated creating urban spaces where people could become watchers, where everyone worked together to create a safe place. While her eyes were buildings with windows that looked outward rather than turning away, we now have the technology to put this power in the palm of your hand.
Our EmergenSee Personal Safety App can help by providing a witness and call for help if trouble arises. Just tap the app, it pings your GPS location and starts a live video stream to your trusted circle of safety contacts any time you don’t feel safe. This tool is free and available now.
With our Professionally Monitored subscription level, the app connects you directly to our professionally trained security operators, with direct access to first responders. With full support from our Tier 4 Homeland Security Certified Facility, live streaming video and GPS location provide real-time data and recorded documentation — all date-stamped and admissible in court. Our security operators can even provide a precautionary escort if desired.
And, on an enterprise level, we offer our fully scalable Enterprise Grade Incident Management Security System, which integrates easily into your existing infrastructure. Universities and other institutions have been charged with creating safer and more transparent communities. The Cleary Act and Title IX have mandated this responsibility, but it is difficult to prevent, document and prosecute these crimes, and they can also be challenging to prove in court. Our security platform can help communities, universities and companies provide protection to their employees and dependents by giving them access to a 24/7 professional monitoring system that can be enabled across any devices or platform and is available to all visitors.
Prevention is possible. We can create a world where everyone feels safe. Accountability is just the first step.