Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Awareness Week matters. It matters because rape isn't rare and most people seem to think it is. The World Health Organisation estimates that 1 in 3 women will be raped in their lifetime, worldwide - and does not include rape as a weapon of war in that number. In the UK, Rape Crisis asserts that 1 in 5 women experience rape or sexual assault; in the US, RAINN asserts that 1 in 6 women have been raped. The UK Office of National Statistics estimates there are 85,000 rapes of women in England & Wales every year - meaning that a woman is raped every 6 minutes. In the US, RAINN estimates it to be one every two minutes. 54% of female rape victims were younger than 18 when they first experienced rape or attempted rape. It's estimated that 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence, and two women a week are killed by their intimate partner in the UK. (Because rape is what I know, this piece focuses mostly on rape and not domestic violence).
Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Awareness week matters. It matters because society seems to think that rape is rare. In fact, only a decade ago, in an Amnesty International survey, only 4% of respondents thought that the number of rapes in the UK exceeded 10,000! This is hardly surprising, as it's not something we tend to go around shouting to the world about (if you're not me). 29% of rape victims tell no-one, not even friends or family. Only 15% will report and become part of the official statistics. Rape is not treated as a common occurence in the media, which only prints stories of famous people, or false allegations.
Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Awareness week matters. It matters there is a myth that rape only happens to people who put themselves in danger, that rape can therefore be avoided. This is simply false (as well as being rife with unfounded victim blaming). It doesn't matter if you're wearing a hijab or a bikini, joggers or a mini-skirt, you can still be raped. It doesn't matter if you're out at night, or at home, you can still be raped (in fact, with about 90% of rapists known to the victim, the likelihood is overwhelmingly that you will be at home).
Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Awareness week matters. It matters because to be raped is seen as shameful. How can something that happens to you, that you by definition have no control over, be shameful? How is it that to be accused of rape is seen as worse than to have been raped? Why is the overwhelming response to disbelieve the victim and to blame her for having behaved in a way that made her vulnerable to a man unable to control himself? He was merely a victim of his biology, she was a fool to put herself in harm's way. Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Awareness week matters.
The recent Fawcett Society Sounds Familiar report says everything you need to know about why we need to raise the awareness of the truth about sexual abuse and sexual violence in this country. The survey asked: "if a woman goes out late at night, wearing a short skirt, gets drunk and is then the victim of a sexual assault, is she totally or partly to blame?" The results show that 38% of all men and 34% of all women said that she is totally or partly to blame, that 41% of men aged 18-24 and 30% of women the same age agree and 14% of men aged 18-34 say she is "totally to blame". Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Awareness week matters.
For me, though, the biggest reason why Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Awareness week matters is because it says to the legion of survivors that they are not alone, they were not to blame, that what happened to them was wrong, It says that society cares enough to devote a week, not just a day, to tell you that you matter. It says to society, you should care about this too. Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Awareness week matters because it shines a light on a subject usually seen as taboo and it brings it kicking and screaming out into the open. Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Awareness week matters and I'm grateful that it exists.