10 Things Sexual Assault Victims Want You to Know

What if the church were the first place an abuse victim knew to go to for help and healing?

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a good time to honor the many brave souls who shared their experiences with me. These are brothers and sisters in Christ who have suffered. By attending to their stories, listening to them and believing them, we honor them.

As a professor, I like to use Facebook as an extension of my classroom, a place where I can offer interesting articles and challenging discussions. Because the Facebook Live rape case and other events have put sexual assault and predatory behavior all over the news lately, I recently posted this question:

“What do you wish people knew/understood about experiencing sexual assault?”

Given the private nature of the question and the public nature of the medium, I anticipated only a handful of responses. I was astonished that dozens and dozens of people responded, whether directly on the thread or in private messages. (I should also note that I know most of the respondents in real life, including many who have been my students.) Their comments altogether filled up 60 pages.

I was surprised—and yet not surprised. A few years ago, I conducted a similar informal survey on Twitter by sharing the story of being stalked by my high school teacher and using the hashtag #howoldwereyou. It generated an equally tremendous response. In my research for a related essay, I learned the sobering statistics about childhood sexual abuse: 7 percent of girls in grades 5–8 and 12 percent of girls in grades 9–12 report having been sexually abused, along with 3 percent of boys grades 5–8 and 5 percent of boys in grades 9–12. The numbers for sexual assault are only worse for adults, and college students are particularly vulnerable. The University of Texas at Austin recently released a report indicating that 15 percent of its female undergraduate students have been raped.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a good time to honor the many brave souls who shared their experiences with me. These are brothers and sisters in Christ who have suffered. By attending to their stories, listening to them and believing them, we honor them. Here’s what they wanted us to know:

1. Sexual assault can happen within families.

  • “Our little secret” began when I was eight and my dad started by touching. It escalated and lasted for four horrendous years. My mom was aware something was going on and asked me straight out when it first began. … I ended up telling her and she asked where and how, etc. I was relieved.… A few days later, it began again, and she never asked me anything.
  • I was 12 when I became pregnant by my 20-year-old brother. The pregnancy, which ended in miscarriage at 14 weeks, was painful, hard on my twiggy body, and emotional beyond description.
  • Growing up, sexual sin was all around me. I was experiencing physical and verbal abuse as well. So when a family member began inappropriately touching and acting out against me when I was five, I honestly didn’t know at the time that it was wrong. I knew that I didn’t like it, but I never thought to tell anyone.
  • I was sexually assaulted by a relative when I was 13. … I wish people understood the grooming process so that they would know how cut off the victim feels from any person who could help them; there is a fog that doesn’t lift until some time after the relationship is escaped.

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