My passion has always been centered around addressing the root cause of sexual violence. Whether I’m advocating for someone who has experienced a sexual assault by an intimate partner, molestation by a family member or family acquaintance, or someone who’s been trafficked, I recognize the root cause of that violence is the same – a culture with deeply embedded beliefs and blind acceptance of violence against women.
I came to this conclusion after years of searching for the answer to the age old question, why do bad things happen to good people? I looked around me at all of these wonderful and intelligent people in my corner. These people wanted great things to happen in my life, yet even some of them said things which hurt me and caused me to blame myself for what happened to me.
Why is the act of supporting victims of sexual violence still so hard for people? The obvious answer I find many people gravitate to is that people simply don’t care, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I haven’t spoken with anyone who has supported the idea that certain individuals have a right to rape another being. In actuality, the issue of supporting victims stems from lack of knowledge and understanding of the problem.
For most people our understanding of sexual violence is incredibly narrow. This is exactly how [rape] culture needs it to be. Let’s be frank, no one can solve a problem if they don’t see one exists in the first place.
When I give talks on sexual violence in schools and communities I typically start by assuring we are all on the same page. Not only does this mean I give a brief overview of where the talk is going to go, but I want to make sure no one is getting lost in their own minds, with their own definitions and their own experiences.
So let’s start there; When I say “Last night, Jamie was raped” what comes to your mind? Who is Jamie? What gender is Jamie? How old is Jamie? What exactly happened to Jamie? Who did this to Jamie? What is the relationship between Jamie and whoever did this to Jamie? If you want to go even further, what race is Jamie and the person/people who did this?
For most people, Jamie is a young woman who was physically and violently attacked by a man she barely knew. I say most because we all have our own experiences and our own level of understanding when it comes to sexual violence, but that’s exactly the point. In the above scenario Jamie can be anyone, and the offender can be anyone. So it begs the question, why do most people conclude completely different scenarios?
More importantly, how does the way we fill in the blanks impact our ability to respond in a supportive, authentic and helpful manner to victims of sexual violence?
What I have learned is that in order to eradicate human trafficking, sexual assault, pornography, molestation, child abuse, etc. we have to first have the realization that these issues are mingled together. One cannot end human trafficking without also ending the attitudes that allow sexual assault to happen.
What is the difference in attitudes one has when buying a person for sexual gratification v. sexually assaulting someone without giving money to do so?
The other day I was talking with someone about this and they said, “but… human trafficking is different than sexual violence. isn’t it?” of course this happened after my first read through of the first draft of this post which made me rethink writing it, ha! I asked them to really think about the attitudes that one has when they buy a human verses when they sexually violate them without transferring money.
The answer is, nothing. The attitude stems from a place of selfishness and a belief that one has a right to another person’s body. The vessel that attitude takes to get to where it wants may look differently, but inherently it stems from the same place.
The impact of trauma is the only thing that truly differs in our response to the various forms of sexual violence. Meaning, the victim/survivor of violence gets to tell us as advocates what they need. We [advocates] recognize that different forms of sexual violence have the potential to impact people in different ways, but it isn’t just the form of sexual violence that matters.
For instance, you may meet a victim/survivor of sex trafficking who appears to be handling the situation very well and “moving on” with their life quickly – and perhaps they truly are. Whereas you may meet a victim/survivor of a one time sexual assault by a family member who is continuously seeking mental health therapy and struggling severely.
Our goal as advocates is to meet each victim/survivor where they are and recognize that the trauma definition doesn’t map out the road to healing.
Human trafficking/sex trafficking is a form of sexual violence. It requires a different response than many other forms, but is very similar to the way we help victim/survivors of stalking. With that in mind, I think this truly opens up our capacity as advocates and freedom fighters to really see an end to this travesty.
So tell me, who is your Jamie?
Until next time,