It is Women's History month and as a nation we can not lose sight of the global ways in which women and girls are under attack. One of the tools of oppression is sexual assault. As a psychologist who counsels rape survivors and their families, I was heartened by the words and works of Obama and Biden. I was encouraged to hear Obama speak about the fact that people close to him have been affected by sexual assault and that he cares deeply about the issue. I was also glad to hear about his work in promoting sexual assault awareness and preventative education for our children. As a sexual assault researcher and educator, I know that elementary school is not too young to learn about sexual abuse (“good touch” and “bad touch”). Unfortunately there are children in our classrooms who know far too well the experiences we are afraid to mention. I was particularly inspired by Obama and Biden’s dedication to the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
As we move forward as a nation to bring about change we can believe in, I hope that sexual assault does not get lost in other important agenda items such as the economy and security. For too many Americans, economic advancement has been nearly impossible as they confront the profound security breach of their bodies. Sexual assault occurs across demographic lines and often leaves shame, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, and suicide in its aftermath. Whether we are speaking of sexual assault victims on college campuses or military bases, in marital bedrooms or in alleyways, on prison yards or on first dates, the nation’s silence has been deafening. We as a nation choose to see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil and our collective silence supports the continued rape of our sisters and brothers. It is easier for us to pretend these violations do not exist. It is easier to assume that people are lying to get attention or that they somehow wanted the assault. If we can believe these myths we are safe. If we can believe these myths we can continue to do nothing.
When the Obama/Biden campaign and supporters scream out, “Yes, we can,” I for one am working and organizing so that this is an inclusive “yes, we can.” Yes we can make rape unacceptable in our society. Yes we can end the silent shaming of victims, regardless of background, ethnicity, or socio-economic status. Yes we can create a just and safe society, starting with just and safe homes, schools, and communities. Yes we can empower the nearly 80% of victims of who never report the violations they experience. Yes we can demand respect for the sacred body of all community members. Yes we can protect and advocate for the modern day victims of human trafficking and sexual slavery. Yes we can end the widespread molestation of our children. Yes we can have justice that does not re-victimize rape survivors. Obama and Biden, we need you to follow your past words and deeds regarding sexual violence as we try to carve out a nation that stands firmly against sexual assault.
As the Obama campaign and transition team have noted, real change is not only about leadership but about people. As a nation, we have to condemn the rape supportive aspects of our society and culture. The commonplace sexualization of children and objectification of women in the media from cartoons to commercials to feature films has to end. We also have to transform distorted thinking that says using violence, threats, manipulation, power, and drugs to obtain sexual contact is a normal part of sexual intimacy. Sexual contact by coercion or physical force is not sexual intimacy, it is a violent crime. So, yes we can and yes we must end the false arguments that blame the violated for being victimized. Yes we can hold rapists, pedophiles, and traffickers accountable and responsible. Yes we can promote physical and mental health by using our votes, actions, policies, and words to end rape. Yes we can and yes we must.