Silenced Until Now

An Exploration of Sexual Assault and Harassment in the United States 800-656-HOPE

Claire Capelli and Laura Smith

Every ninety-eight seconds, a female American is sexually assaulted. In recent months, this has never been more apparent. With countless survivors from Hollywood to Capitol Hill speaking up, the media is finally shining  a light on this epidemic. However, there is a vast pool of victims who have yet to be heard. The majority of survivors are women like us, young and susceptible. Women from ages twelve to thirty-four have the highest risk of rape and sexual assault. Because of this, high school and college culture are hunting grounds for predators.

For Nerinx women, knowing the many facets of this vast issue is imperative not only for our own safety, but also for the safety of our fellow women. We, as Loretto women, are part of a long tradition of social justice. Though politicians may try to paint sexual assault as a partisan issue, it is an issue affecting everyone. Therefore, all Loretto women must refrain from allowing our nation’s polarizing political atmosphere to divide us.

As ladies in high school and looking toward college, we must be mindful of our safety. Females ages sixteen to nineteen are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. To prevent becoming part of this startling statistic, many women carry weapons for protection. Mace, self-defense keychain tools, tasers, and even taking self-defense classes are common practices for prevention. Women should have some way to protect themselves; it is vital to prevent and defend against sexual harassment or assault. Other prevention systems include color-changing nail polishes to test drinks for date-rape drugs, the classic buddy system, and the rule of never drinking out of a cup that has been set down. Alcohol and drug use play major roles in date-rape culture. Without proper discussion of alcohol use during high school and college, alcohol will continue to lead to sexual aggression in males and vulnerability of females or vice versa. Because alcohol lowers awareness of risky situations, impairs judgment, and affects one’s ability to resist assault of any kind, it’s important for us to be responsible with alcohol; this can help us avoid consequences caused by impaired judgment or lack of awareness. While rowdy party culture will not end, it can be modified with awareness of  these risks.

Though people may think a victim can move on after an assault occurs, the truth is much scarier. Ninety-four percent of women who are raped experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder during the two weeks following the rape, and thirty percent of those same women have that stress carry on for the following nine months. The pain for these women never stops, and if their assault goes unreported, the likelihood of seeing their rapist in person again grows along with the chance of the assault being repeated. Seven out of ten survivors know their rapist. With these thoughts on their mind and the shame they carry within themselves, thirty-three percent of women who are raped contemplate suicide, and thirteen percent of women who are raped attempt suicide.

Education from universities and high schools, while important, are not the only opportunities to bring awareness to rape culture. Some may even argue social media has been more effective in alerting younger generations of this issue. Started by Tarana Burke and publicized by Alyssa Milano amidst the Harvey Weinstein allegations surfacing, the #MeToo campaign created an uproar on Twitter. Her initiative gave women – and some men – the opportunity to vocalize their experiences with sexual harassment or assault, taking down many notable Hollywood “heroes” and politicians from both sides of the aisle. Ironically, the “The Silence Breakers,” or those who came forward during this movement, were named Time’s “Person of the Year,” after Donald Trump, who has had nineteen sexual misconduct allegations against him, claimed that he had declined the offer; Time has denied this claim. Though social media may be the most realistic way for us to get involved, protesting unfit legislation by contacting local representatives is another way to ensure everyone is heard. Standing up for one’s beliefs can take fewer than ninety-eight seconds.

Once you have finished reading this article, it has been over ninety-eight seconds. Once we have finished writing this article, it will have been over two hours. In that time period alone, almost seventy-five sexual assaults against women will have occurred in the United States. Sexual assault awareness is important and needs to be recognized on a global stage. No matter your political affiliation, sexual assault is happening, and it can happen to anyone. From our senators, representatives, and even our current president: it’s happening. While our society has made it a political issue, it is a human issue. It is everyone’s issue. If you or anyone you know has been assaulted, call attention, tell your story, and do not stop fighting.