When you imagine a victim of sexual violence, who do you see?
Chances are, most Americans imagine that same victim. Our conceptualization of this person is shaped by cultural narratives that are perpetuated by media, politics, stereotypes, and people in positions of power and authority. By attributing certain sets of qualities and behaviors to sexual assault victims, we attempt to create a blueprint for keeping ourselves safe. We condemn those who stray from our prescribed path, blaming victims for putting themselves at risk. But no map, no set of instructions, can guarantee our safe passage. Perpetrators of sexual violence do not follow our carefully constructed rules.
Most of us imagine victims of sexual assault to be female. And this assumption is actually accurate: according to RAINN, an organization dedicated to the prevention of sexual violence, 90% of sexual assault victims are female, and among minors, 82% of victims are female. When women are victims of sexual violence, we almost reflexively ask how they were dressed when the assault occurred. Huffington Post contributor Alanna Vagianos describes an art exhibit called “What Were You Wearing?” that displays the range of clothes – from jeans and t-shirts to bathing suits – that victims wore at the time of their assaults. The diversity of these ensembles highlights the irrelevancy of clothing in the causality of sexual violence. Women’s sexual history, their choice of companions and environments, and even their reactions to the assault are held up for scrutiny. It is no coincidence that myths of victimization intersect with mainstream Western society’s expectations of females. We consistently fail to recognize that women’s choices have nothing to do with their assault.
Sexual crimes have everything to do with power and control and nothing to do with passion. People who have restricted access to resources, who face discrimination, and who live outside the margins of the status quo are more likely to be victimized in sexual crimes. In an article for Quartz, a news website, Leah Fessler reports that sexual assault victims are overrepresented by the poorest Americans. The Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence offers the following statistics on the race and ethnicity of female victims: “Of women who are raped in their lifetime: 17.9% are Caucasian, 11.9% are Latina, 18.8% are African-American, 34.1% are American Indian or Alaskan Native, and 6.8% are Asian or Pacific Islander. 24.4% are mixed race.” A report of sexual assault statistics, compiled by Alanna Vagianos for huffingtonpost.com, notes that people with disabilities are twice as likely to be victims of sexual violence than people without disabilities. Transgender college students, according to RAINN, are more likely to experience sexual violence than their gender-conforming peers. Marginalized people, who cannot consistently depend on social, economic or justice systems to protect them, often conclude that it’s too risky to report their abuse. Those that do come forward may find that they are not believed. Perpetrators target these populations, exploiting their victims’ vulnerability so that they may get away with their crimes.
While some populations are more vulnerable to sexual assault, nobody is immune from sexual violence. Men, for example, can be victims; according to RAINN, one in every ten rape victims is male. College students, military service members, executives, prisoners, children, blue collar workers, entertainers – people occupying every demographic imaginable have been and continue to be victims of sexual violence. Sexual assault knows no boundaries. It’s time we rewrite the story of sexual violence by believing and supporting victims. Our experienced attorneys use civil law to hold systems that support perpetrators accountable for their offenses. If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual violence, please contact us for a free consultation.
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