By Ashley Eovaldi
Sexual assault is something that is sadly very prevalent in our society today. As a student at Wayne State University I have met all different types of people each having their own unique story and experiences. Unfortunately, many of the people who I have met in my life are survivors of sexual assault.
Although this is a hard topic to talk about, there are three women who have shared their stories with me. Even more importantly, they share the steps they are taking to overcome the challenges they are faced with and different things they do to help make themselves feel better.
Over a year ago I was sexually assaulted at a New Year’s party. I was surrounded by a few friends but mainly strangers and I was, unfortunately, assaulted by someone who I was trying to be friendly with, through a mutual friend. Even though it has been over a year since it occurred, I can remember the moment clearly as if it had happened a minute ago. There are things that are hard to explain about the trauma, some of its so subtle that I probably don’t notice it on a day to day basis. Things that I was already cautious and fearful about, like walking home alone or meeting new men for the first time, are now more stress inducing and scary. Not to mention the mental gymnastics the trauma puts me through on certain nights when I relive the night of my assault. On the days where I’m able to fight off these feelings, there are a few things that help, but first it is important to realize that everyone heals and copes with sexual assault differently, and even more important to realize that you are not alone in this. Going on line and seeing other women sharing their stories, particularly recently with the #MeToo movement taking place, is one thing that gives me hope that if others have overcome this, I can as well. I’ve seen so many pieces of artwork, so many poems, so many songs that encompass how I feel and the struggles that I face that it helps show me that I am not the only one who has ever felt like this or experienced assault.
I have come to the accept and respect the fact that I am allowed to be angry.
I am allowed to come out of my trauma being a little scarped up and tattered. Healing isn’t always easy or filled with support and happiness. I am allowed to come out of this being, well, a different person, but the sexual assault does not define me as a person.
My assault happened about six years ago and sadly it was caused by someone who I knew and was close with, my boyfriend at that time. When this event took place I was fifteen years old and I did not fully understand and comprehend what had happened to me. I was fighting thoughts of confusion for about a week because I was attacked by someone who said they loved me and cared about me. I was very uneducated at the time and I didn’t know if it would even be considered assault because we were dating. After the relationship ended I did not trust anyone; meeting new people was a challenge and would cause me to become very anxious. I would never walk or go anywhere by myself, I constantly had the thought, “if someone who said they love me and was close to me could do it, what was stopping other people.”
There were so many things about me that had changed and the way I went about my day and all the different thoughts that constantly went through my head. I would wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares reliving what had happened and every time I would see him or someone who resembled him I would immediately run away and hide, or even the way certain people would touch me, even very close friends would cause me to remember what happened. Some of the changes were very subtle while others were not, it was something that affected me every day until the day I decided to do something about it.
It was difficult in the beginning to overcome what had happened and accept it. One of the first steps I had taken was meeting new friends when I started college. I started sitting next to people instead of in the back of the class or a few seats away from people. When I started doing this I was more likely to talk to people and make friends with them, and I ended up making a few friends. Once I started with this small step, it became easier for me to talk to people. I was not as scared anymore because the guy friends that I started to befriend made me realize that there are so many good people in the world. I had been so focused on the fact that one person hurt me I assumed that everyone was going to. After getting through my first year of college, I was excited to start my sophomore year and that was the year I decided to go to a program at Wayne State University called Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). This was one of the hardest things I had ever done because it was very difficult to talk about what happened and I had never talked about it before with anyone. Although it was one of the hardest things I had ever done, it was one of the best things for me.
I am not alone in this and I am so much more than what I have experienced.
Going to therapy and talking to someone I realized that what happened was not my fault and that I had to stop blaming myself for what happened. When I came to that realization it changed the way I looked at everything and helped me overcome may of the struggles I was still having. I also accepted what happened to me, for a long time I lived in denial and did everything I could to push it away and fight it. Once I stopped fighting it, it made talking about it easier and resolved any internal conflicts that I had. Although I have accepted what happened to me and went to therapy for it, I still notice myself being more careful when I’m walking around campus by myself and I am very aware of my surroundings. What happened is something that I am always going to live with and it has become a part of me, I am not going to forget it but that doesn’t mean I can’t use my experience in a positive way. The experience changed me as a person, it made me stronger, wiser, braver, and so much more. It has allowed me to connect to others who have experienced assault.
About a year ago I was dealing with a pretty intense breakup. Me and him were on decent terms and we agreed that we should keep some distance between us. That however turned into him showing up on my campus every day. I seemed like he was always in my face like he was stalking me or something. One night my friend had a hotel party and since we are all mutual friends he was there as well. The night progressed and we had a few drinks. Everyone was dancing and laughing and having a good time. The next thing that I remember, I was pushing and kicking him off me in front of everybody. I felt violated. I felt disrespected by him and everybody else. It probably took me about a year to get over what happened, gain closure, and regain my peace. I gained closure and regained my peace through writing.
Writing helped me understand the way I was feeling and that what happened was not my fault.
Although what happened to these survivors is awful, they found different ways to work through what has happened to them. Each survivor utilized a different method from therapy, to writing to reading others stories and looking at artwork. Everyone handles trauma differently and sometimes it may take a few years before someone decides to take action and that is okay. There is no clock that says you have to be ready to overcome your trauma, it is something you have to do on your own time. Although sexual assault is sadly very prevalent in our society today, there are different ways that survivors are working to overcome the trauma they have endured. As knowledge and treatment of sexual assault becomes more common, survivors gain more and more tools to recover, cope with, and move on from their trauma.
Teaching Men That Their Voices Are Important Too
By: Michael Nesbitt
It’s unfortunate to know that the women in my life, and many other women around the world, live in a society where they have to constantly worry about what they are wearing, what they are doing, who they spend time with, how late they stay out, how much makeup they wear and how nice they can be to boys and/or men in order to avoid violence or sexual assault. As Kathryn Stamoulis points out, as a society we are constantly teaching girls methods to avoid getting raped while failing to also teach boys not to rape. Violence against women is an important issue that needs to be focused on and an issue that stems from disrespect for women. Mary Stathopoulos explains that a strong belief in gender stereotypes and a weak belief in gender equality are key determinants in the perpetuation of violence and sexual assault. She explains that rather than trying to reduce sexual assault, we should focus on creating gender equality and correct men on their hostile attitudes toward women.
One reason some men hold these hostile attitudes toward women is that men are socialized and taught that a man has to exhibit specific behaviors to be viewed by society as a “real man”. Our society has strong gender stereotypes that puts men and women in two separate categories. Men are supposed to be strong, dominant, independent, emotionless, the breadwinner, and the decision maker. This is a strong disadvantage for men. Being taught to act like a “real man” not only forces men to follow behaviors and attitudes that they may not agree with or reflects their true beliefs, but they also avoid talking about and understanding the truth behind gender-based violence or gender inequality because they may feel that being conscious of the issue somehow takes away from their status as a man. On the other hand, women are socialized to be submissive, dependent, the caretaker, the cook, the cleaner and the people pleaser. In sum, these traits are viewed as weaker traits, characteristics that are opposite of the socially constructed definition of masculinity. Men need to understand and be comfortable with the fact that gender inequality is an important issue and has an effect on other men perpetuating violence and/or sexual assault towards women.
It is vital that we start teaching our young boys and men about respecting women and educate them about sexual assault prevention. We need to have open and honest dialogue about sexism, male privilege, and violence against women so they can recognize their role in its perpetuation and take steps to make change. Men need to provide young boys with healthy definitions of masculinity and teach them they can still be masculine while also displaying respect and sensitivity. This is especially important since many children understand their roles in society through media. In songs, music videos, television shows, magazines and even video games, women are constantly disrespected and if they aren’t being taught differently, they will perpetuate what they see. It’s also important that they realize that their voices can be used to teach others not to perpetuate violence or sexual assault. Kathryn Stamoulis explains a study where researchers observed the behaviors of bystanders when they witnessed a man belittle and mistreat a woman in their presence. They observed that most of the bystanders did not speak up and 80% of them felt uncomfortable seeing the woman being mistreated. They individually felt that they were the only one uncomfortable and, therefore, were too scared to say anything. Being an example and speaking out against violence towards women can help other men see and understand that they can use their voices too and that there’s nothing wrong with doing so.
Christine Rudolph listed 7 ways that men can join the #MeToo movement and use their voices to shed light on sexual assault and violence against women. There are five out of the seven that I feel are very important.
- Men should be aware of the society we live in. She explains that there is apparent gender bias and gender inequality in our society and that’s something that men should be aware of.
- Men need to hold other men accountable for their behavior. If a man sees disrespect or harassment towards women, they need to know that it’s okay to use their voices and say things like “that’s not okay” or “don’t do that”.
- Men should read pieces from feminist writers. This is important because it allows men to gain an understanding of the world from the perspective of a woman.
- Men should boost women’s voices. That means to tell people about articles, speeches and books by women and “spread the word”.
- Men need to treat women as people. This means that it’s important for men to treat women as their equal and for them not to use language or behaviors that demean or belittle women.
In conclusion, men are vital components to the eradication of sexual and other forms of violence against women. Without the active participation of men, the movement will continue to be viewed as having little impact on others not affected directly by violence, as a “woman’s issue.” It’s time for men to speak out and stand up for survivors everywhere!
Why are Sexual Assaults on College Campuses Treated Differently?
By: Gina Telega
With strong feminist positions taking a forefront and activism like the #MeToo movement, the topic of sexual assault is getting more attention than it has in previous decades. Even with these steps in the right direction, information regarding sexual assault is still being swept under the rug. According to the NSVRC (National Sexual Violence Resource Center), one in five women and one in seventy-one men will be raped at some point in their lives. Additionally, NSVRC also states that 20-25% of college women and 15% of college men are victims of forced sex during their time in college(NSVRC). Although these numbers are close when comparing students to non-students, the discrepancy comes in regard to the number of these crimes being reported. Overall, 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police, being the most underreported crime (NSVRC). Shifting specifically to women in college, only 20% of female student victims aged 18-24 report incidents to law enforcement (RAINN). (When including men, this statistic jumps to 90%) (NSVRC). This shows a clear 17-27% difference in the amount of reported sexual assaults between students and non-students.
This begs the question of why campus sexual assaults are responded to differently than non-campus ones.
Some will turn to the environment of college as an explanation. College campuses encapsulate hazardous settings for potential sexual victimization – students are exposed to intensified peer pressure, partying, heavy drug and alcohol use leading to impairment, increased opportunity for social interactions with strangers and acquaintances, concentrated housing, and even a difference is acceptable norms (Garland, 2016). These circumstances are certainly true, but as mentioned earlier, the amount of rape and sexual assault among the general population in comparison to college students is actually around the same. The issue arises when it comes to reporting these crimes. For the one out of five female students who do report the crimes, most never see a courtroom or prosecution. The cases end at campus safety reports and never make it to the criminal justice system. However, there are two compelling reasons for why it should be turned over to the criminal justice system rather than campus authorities (Cohen, 2015). First, enforcers of criminal law are more susceptible to pressure for advocacy, rather than college administrators who are divided between doing the right thing and protecting their University’s reputation. Secondly, it has been demonstrated that colleges are simply not equipped or competent to adjudicate and prevent sexual violence (Cohen, 2015).
So, what is being done about this discourse between safety and public reputation? In 2000, the Campus Sex Crimes Prevention Act required that any registered sex offender involved with the campus must disclose that information to the University. Additionally, it also specifies that academic institutions are obligated to produce a statement to inform the campus community – how to retrieve information concerning sex offenders (Campbell, 2006). While this Act is great in theory, it is much less useful in practice. First, with the system failing to hold perpetrators accountable for fear of “ruining their lives”, they are not registered on the list.. Secondly, many universities prioritize the reputation of the institution over the safety of students. This translates to encouraging survivors, whether it be subtly or overtly, not to report or make the details of the case public. As I entered my fifth and final year at the University of Michigan – Dearborn, I was unaware this information was at my disposal. But, this information is also not entirely useful. When looking for such information, a University will direct you to the State list of registered sex offenders. This is not any new information, the general public has access to this, and this information does nothing to inform a student about the fellow classmates around them.
Believe it or not, we are moving in the right direction. In May of 2014, 55 colleges were under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for their mishandling of sexual violence cases (Board, 2017). Three years later, as of July of 2017, there were 343 such cases under investigation (Board, 2017).
It is hard to not feel helpless when these issues are so much bigger than the individual, but there are things that can be done. When it comes to who is committing these crimes, students need to understand that it is likely to be a classmate or peer. Classmates committed 44% of attempted rapes, 42% of attempted sexual contacts with force, 37% of threats of penetration without force, and 36% of completed rapes (Garland, 2016). However, in the same study, students who were surveyed felt that it was more important to be notified about instructors and professors who are sex offenders than any other type of person.
Students should also be more informed about this topic, starting with having access to a statewide list of perpetrators. I was never informed in a way that brought this information to my attention. The results of the Garland study also shows that notification through a university website was viewed with greater importance than any other method. I have to disagree with this, given my University took this route and I was unaware it existed. I would recommend at least a campus-wide email to bring attention to the fact that the information is there. Students of the Garland study also indicated that they were most favorable about gaining access to the offense type committed and a picture of the offender. Depending on the person, this information may or may not be listed on the Statewide list. Most importantly, higher education institutions should work alongside the criminal justice system when it comes to these reported crimes. Of course this system also has its fair share of flaws, but that is no justification to believe campus authorities are more equipped for the problem. Instead, create a set of rules to work with the criminal justice system (Cohen, 2015) and provide support and advice to survivors about reporting crimes to the police and medical personnel. Also, suspend students who are charged with violent crimes, and possibly expel upon a conviction. Lastly, provide or recommend counseling to the survivors afterwards. Only about one in six college-aged female survivors receive assistance from a victim services agency (RAINN). This is where Wayne County SAFE can help tremendously – providing those affected by sexual assault with immediate and ongoing comprehensive services, at no cost that encourage survivor healing and empowerment, promotes public awareness, and leads to social change. Wayne County SAFE also provides a safe, quiet, confidential environment with specially trained Forensic Examiners in order to provide medical examinations and forensic evidence collection for rape surviviors. You are not alone, and you have a voice that deserves to be heard.
Board, E. (2017, July 16). Campus rape? Call the police. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-edit-campus-devos-sexual-assault-0716-jm-20170714-story.html
Campbell, E. (2006, April 07). Disclosure of Education Records Concerning Registered Sex Offenders. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/hottopics/ht10-24-02.html
Garland, B., Calfano, B., & Wodahl, E. (2016). College Student Perceptions of Notification About Sex Offenders on Campus. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 29(3), 240-257. doi:10.1177/0887403416651670
About Gina Telega
Hello! My name is Gina Telega, and I am a senior at the University of Michigan—Dearborn. I am currently an intern with Wayne County SAFE and I will graduate with my Bachelor of Arts with a double major of Criminal Justice and Behavioral Sciences April 2019. I want to use my degree to help change the narrative in all aspects of the Criminal Justice System. With WC SAFE, I hope to have a part in helping those who are survivors of sexual assault by giving them better means to recover. Later, I want to create a resource for people who are being released from prison to give them a better chance to be a productive member of society, to hopefully reduce the recidivism rate and the overall mass incarceration rate.
Welcome to Hollywood – Shedding the Casting Couch Culture
By: April Slusser
Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen, Roger Ailes, Casey Affleck, Roman Polanski, Charlie Sheen, Mike Tyson, Alfred Hitchcock, Sean Penn, Marlon Brando, Sean Connery, Bill Murray.
The general population may not be aware of what this group of men have in common: collectively, they’ve all been accused of sexual assault and/or harassment, and surprisingly most of them have come out of it relatively unscathed.
If you were to ask any random man on the street what his thoughts were regarding sexual assault and sexual harassment were, chances are he’d vocalize his disdain for it. Or at least you may like to think that’s the reaction. In a study done in 2015 by the University of North Dakota, out of a group of 73 straight male students, one in three reported that they would force a woman to have sex if they knew they could get away with it. According to the report, 31 percent of the men surveyed said they would force a woman to have sex “if nobody would ever know and there wouldn’t be any consequences.”
Now, 73 subjects is hardly indicative of the entire population of men, however we can’t ignore the 31% of the respondents who stated they would rape someone if they had the opportunity and if they knew they could get away with it. The study stated,
“Specifically, when survey items describe behaviors (i.e., ‘‘Have you ever coerced somebody to intercourse by holding them down?’’) instead of simply label them (i.e., ‘‘Have you ever raped somebody?’’), more men will admit to sexually coercive behaviors in the past and more women will self-report past victimization (Koss 1998). Given that rape is defined as intercourse by use of force or threat of force against a victim’s wishes, this discrepancy suggests that at least some men who rape do not seem to classify their behaviors as such.”
Layman’s terms? A majority of males surveyed not only fail to understand what constitutes sexual assault, but would commit it if guaranteed impunity. Failing to realize their own ignorance perpetrates the violence and misunderstanding of sexual assault as a whole.
In a Master’s thesis presented to the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga in 2009, Courtney Crittenden referred to the idea that survivors of sexual violence and harassment are commonly blamed for the harm they supposedly cause to a perpetrator’s career by the implication that claims are easy to file but difficult to defend. Beliefs that sexual harassment claims can mean the end of the alleged harasser’s career while having no impact on the alleged victim are harmful because they indicate that sexual harassment is potentially more traumatic for the offender than the victim and greatly minimize the harm and trauma felt by the victim. These ideas are harmful because they negate the difficulty and resistance most women face when filing claims of sexual harassment.
Regarding current events, most notably the news regarding Harvey Weinstein’s multiple and horrifying transgressions against at least dozens of women, various communities treat sexual assault not only as something unpleasant but also as wholly unavoidable. The phrase, “Welcome to Hollywood” comes to mind. This evokes images of the stereotypical “Casting Couch” culture that Hollywood perpetuates, young women falling victim to studioheads, directors, agents who abuse their power in an attempt to exchange auditions, roles, and notoriety for sexual favors. Harvey Weinstein in particular and his apparent intimidation tactics, coercion, and in some cases even rape of actresses and employees is just the latest perpetrator in a long history of women in the industry being abused, bullied and exploited by powerful men.
The Washington Post quoted Ben Affleck in a recent article regarding Weinstein’s behavior, with Affleck having this to say,
“This is completely unacceptable, and I find myself asking what I can do to make sure this doesn’t happen to others, we need to do better at protecting our sisters, friends, co-workers and daughters. We must support those who come forward, condemn this type of behavior when we see it and help ensure there are more women in positions of power.”
The same Washington Post article quoted three women who have been assaulted or harassed by the actor, including actress Hilarie Burton, Annamarie Tendler, wife of comedian John Mulaney, and entertainment news anchor Anne-Marie Losique.
I bring up Ben Affleck because while he may speak out against the abuse and exploitation of women publicly, him and longtime friend and business partner Matt Damon have been accused several times over of overlooking Weinstein’s behavior, as well as tolerating the abuse, they’ve been known to make jokes about it and understate how severe the problem actually was. It seems as though while the majority of men are quick to denounce the actions of others, quite a few of these men may perpetuate and tolerate the same behavior they condemn; whether it be intentional or not.
As of now, there are 47 women on record stating that they experienced Weinstein’s unwanted advances and toxic behavior firsthand, and of those 47, Rose McGowan has become the most outspoken. Just a few short weeks ago, The New York Times reported that McGowan had received a $100,000 payment from Weinstein in 1997; the settlement included a confidentiality agreement prohibiting her from discussing the incident, which allegedly occurred in a hotel room at the Sundance Film Festival. McGowan posted a series of tweets confronting the hypocrisy of other male power players in the film industry and addressing the other instances of various sexual abuse making and emphasizing the point that Weinstein is not the only abuser, that sexual abuse is rampant in Hollywood and that men need to hold each other accountable. She has since been subjected to a temporary Twitter ban,Twitter alleging she violated community and privacy standards which prompted a #womenboycotttwitter movement when it was felt by McGowan and her followers that Twitter was attempting to silence victims.
This prompted another online movement, the trending topic of “#metoo” on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, among other outlets. USA Today reported that actress Alyssa Milano helped #MeToo go viral with a tweet asking women who have been harassed or assaulted to reply or tweet “me too” to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” However, the #metoo movement didn’t start out as a response to the Harvey Weinstein. It originally started about 10 years ago by activist Tarana Burke, specifically to help young women of color from low wealth communities who have been sexually abused, assaulted, exploited or harassed.
In response, the men of Twitter decided to use the hashtag, “How I Will Change” as an effort to identify and recognize the harmful behavior that men unknowingly tolerate and perpetuate. One tweet in particular, posted by Benjamin Law (@mrbenjaminlaw) struck me. The tweet stated, “#HowIWillChange: Recognise I don’t need to be a perpetrator to be a bad guy. Questioning harassment, not doing anything about it—all as bad.”
Briefly browsing the topic on Twitter does a lot to restore some of my faith in humanity as well as men. It proves that men are complicit in the exploitation and subjugation of women sometimes without even realizing it; and identifying what behaviors perpetuate this culture will go a long way in improving the climate for survivors to come forward but also opening up a dialogue criticizing and rectifying seemingly passive sexist behavior. The issue faced by many survivors is the consistent underestimation of the severity of their traumas and disregard for their need for recovery, and societies response to that as a whole is to call into question the survivors integrity, whereas the survivor is a liar until proven honest.
Society as a whole may denounce sexual assault generally, but it also often underscores how truly traumatizing it can be for the survivor, as well as failing to truly establish a safe place for survivors after an attack has occurred. It’s viewed as and argued by some that the possibility of a false accusation is somehow more detrimental than the harasser facing severe consequences for his actions.
About April Slusser
April Slusser is currently a Communications Major at University of Michigan-Dearborn. She’s been with WC SAFE since January of 2017 and is passionate about social activism and justice.
Intimate Partner Violence
In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness month, WCSAFE wants to acknowledge the lives and experiences of those survivors who have been victimized at the hands of an intimate partner.
It takes strength to endure. Survive.
We want you to know that it is not your fault.
We believe you. We support you.
You are not alone.
We are here to help.
Intimate Partner Sexual Violence, or otherwise known as IPSV, can be defined as any unwanted sexual contact or activity by an intimate partner with the purpose of controlling an individual through fear, threats or violence. IPSV is the most common type of sexual violence and a common component of domestic violence, yet it is rarely discussed. In fact, most cases go unreported and service provider responses often ignore survivor’s experiences of sexual violence and/or are otherwise inadequate.
Did you Know?
- More than half (51.1%) of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner.
- Approximately 2/3 of domestic violence victims have also been sexually assaulted by their abuser.
Sexual violence is often coupled with other abusive behaviors that a batterer uses to exert power and gain control over their partner. The power and control wheel, originated in Duluth, Minnesota, is one of the most powerful tools used by advocates to illustrate this and how the threat/use of both physical and sexual violence (see outer rim of wheel) can reinforce the other tactics (inner spokes of the wheel) used by the perpetrator to achieve their goal (center of wheel).
Like other forms of sexual violence, it’s difficult to know the extent of IPSV. As with all forms of sexual violence, survivors are often reluctant to disclose experiences or may otherwise not recognize their experiences as sexual assault, and may not identify as victims. While sexual violence frequently occurs in abusive relationships, sexual violence within the context of an intimate relationship carries a unique impact because it rests at the intersection of both forms of violence. It’s necessary to understand intimate partner rape as a problem distinct from domestic abuse because, for many survivors who are battered and raped, the sexual violence itself is particularly devastating and is often unaddressed by service providers.
One survivor, Linda illustrates her experience with intimate partner violence this way:
“And they say marital rape is not as bad as stranger rape. I don’t know. I have never been raped by a stranger. But I think being raped by your husband in your own home must be worse in some ways. At least if you’re attacked by a perfect stranger it is not so personal. Your husband is the person whom you should be able to turn to for comfort, who should protect you. ”
Linda is not alone. Below are just some of the issues common to IPSV victims/survivors:
- Longer-lasting trauma: There’s a common notion that IPSV doesn’t have as bad an impact as sexual assault by a stranger. In fact, research reveals that the trauma can be longer lasting. Significant reasons for this are lack of recognition and ability to share the pain.
- Higher levels of physical injury: If we accept that generally, most rapes are not physically violent, those that do involve injury are likely to be partner rapes.
- The incidence of multiple rape: Although IPSV can be one-off, survivors of IPSV suffer the highest frequency of multiple rape.
- Higher levels of anal and oral rape: Partner perpetrators commonly use these forms of assault to humiliate, punish and take ‘full’ ownership of their partners.
- Advice to “put up with” rape: Marital rape victims are a group singularly prone to being advised by church, family or friends that they should be grateful that the rapist is a good father, and that it’s their duty to submit.
- Financial dependency on the rapist: Survivors with children who are permitted no money or employment of their own may feel that there is no escape.
- Safety issues: The IPSV survivor may need a place of refuge, court-orders and assistance with legal/custody matters.
- Difficulty defining the act/s as sexual assault: Survivors are socialized to see rape as involving non-consensual sex between two strangers. Additionally, there may be reluctance to define a partner she loves as a “rapist.”
- Psychological Effects: Survivors experiencing IPSV often carry a variety of psychological effects including depression, suicide, PTSD, anxiety, fear, self-blame, low self-esteem, and guilt. Additionally, survivors of IPSV may experience intense self-blame, shame, and confusion. Survivors of IPSV may experience confusion that is rooted in their inability to trust their own judgment, the sense of betrayal they feel at their partner, or societal beliefs that repeatedly deny her experience as one of sexual violence.
Intimate partner sexual violence (or IPSV) must also be considered from a cultural lens. Survivors from minority and underserved communities may experience more complex issues as intersections of race, class, and gender all influence the survivors experiences with the violence, which includes their engagement with systems, service providers and most importantly, their individual healing process.
In order to remove the stigma around IPSV and create opportunities for survivors to heal, we must continue acknowledging the impact sexual violence has on the lives of survivors and create opportunities for survivors to share their experiences while working to remove the stigma, shame, and seclusion that perpetuates their silence.
If you or someone you know is a survivor of IPSV, contact the advocates at WCSAFE for assistance and information on available services.
Considering the Differences: Intimate Partner Sexual Violence in Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Discourse. Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, Connections Spring/Summer Edition, 2008.
Real Rape, Real Pain: Help for Women Sexually Assaulted by Male Partners. Hybrid, Melbourne, 2006.
License to Rape: Sexual Abuse of Wives, The Free Press, New York, 1985.
Sexual Assault Among Intimates: Frequency, Consequence, and Treatments, NIJ, 2005.
“Hello? Can You Help Me?”: Creating Safe Spaces for Male Survivors of Sexual Assault
It was 2011, shortly after I became an advocate for WC SAFE. I came into the office one morning, anticipating a full day. As I turned on my computer, logged into my email and began to pull up the day’s calendar, the phone rings. It’s 9:02 am. “Hello, thank you for calling Wayne County SAFE, this is Amy. How can I help you?” “Hello?”- A firm, but inquisitive voice responds. “I’m not sure if you can help me or not. I was given your name by my substance abuse counselor, Mr. Martin. He wasn’t sure if you could help, but he told me to call anyway. Um, I’m looking for someone to help me. I went through something with my family member a while back and never got help for it. I ended up using drugs and went out on the streets and well, that’s how I got here. I don’t know what else to say. I’ve never make a call like this before. I feel kinda dumb for asking. Is there someone there who can help me?”
His name was Tony (name protected for anonymity). I can still hear the inflection in his voice. I can only describe it as a commanding confidence wrapped in uncertainty. He went on to explain that after being homeless and on the streets for the past 10 years, at 51 years old, he made a decision to get help and entered into a local facility for substance abuse treatment. Throughout his treatment stay, Tony uncovered some deep emotional scars. For the first time in almost 40 years, he felt trusting enough to disclose to his counselor that much of his pain and substance use/dependence was influenced by the unaddressed sexual abuse he experienced as an adolescent and young adult. Like many adolescent sexual assault survivors, Tony’s mother and father did not believe him when he first told. In fact, he was punished for his disclosure and later sent to live with a distant relative, where more abuse took place. The lack of support from his mother and father after his disclosure haunted him. It caused him to question everything he knew to be true of his experience. “Maybe it really didn’t happen. Maybe it wasn’t that bad. I didn’t fight him off. Maybe it was my fault. Maybe I DID like it.” Tony wrestled with his thoughts, feelings, and reactions. He didn’t have anyone in his life to tell him these were normal, common responses. At a very young age, as he had learned to do with so many other things, Tony learned to bury this part of his life, resolving that he would NEVER speak of his experience again.
Throughout my phone call with Tony, he described many instances where he felt isolated and alone. He never sought help for the abuse out of fear that (1) he wouldn’t be believed, (2) he would be labeled and judged, AND/OR (3) he would be turned away. The prompt for him calling today was the fact that in one week, he would successfully complete his 6-month treatment program. But before he could transition into independent living, he would have to stay with his abuser temporarily, until his home was ready. Although Tony had begun to face his abuse in therapy, he had no idea how to face his abuser in real life. He had nowhere else to go and no one else to turn to. He described feeling like a little boy again – stripped of his power, choices and his former defenses.
Call it coincidence or call it an alignment of the universe, but in the months immediately following Tony’s call, I met three additional adult male sexual assault survivors. Each of them had different experiences, but a common occurrence: there were no safe spaces for men to disclose and get help.
At this time, I had been an advocate for survivors of domestic and sexual violence for almost 9 years. It’s safe to say that within those 9 years, I had a fairly extensive background of working with survivors from a wide range of experiences. In my 9 years as a sexual abuse counselor, however, I can count the number of men I served on one hand. Four male survivors to be exact. FOUR. By this time in my career, I had served HUNDREDS (if not THOUSANDS) of survivors and only four of them were male? How can that be? I had 4 male survivors (that I know of) in my immediate family!
I began seeing each of these survivors for individual counseling. Although I didn’t know the right thing to do at the time, I knew that I believed them. I knew that I could also listen and validate their experiences. I will always deeply honor and admire the transparency of Tony and his fellow survivors. In their sessions, they disclosed generations of abuse and silence; concerns about sexuality, masculinity, and pride; regrets about not being able to defend themselves against their abusers; and shame around how their bodies responded to unwanted touch.
My phone call with Tony and subsequent counselor/client relationship with him and other male clients served as the catalyst for our commitment to improving services and outreach to men and boys. We began exploring local, state and national resources for male survivors. We located experienced clinicians who had worked with male survivors and arranged for internal training for not only myself but our staff and volunteers as well. We’ve organized Sexual Assault Awareness month activities with male survivors as our focus and are one of the only stand-alone sexual assault programs in the state that have hired both a male SANE nurse and male Sexual Assault Advocate.
Our hope and intention is to shift the culture from one that stigmatizes men and boys who seek help to one that normalizes and honors them for it. On a systems level, that’s an ambitious goal, but on an individual level (personal, local, organizational), it is achievable. While we still have much work ahead of us, WC SAFE is committed to creating safe spaces for men in our community. It starts with us. One phone call at a time. One survivor at a time.
For every male survivor who wonders “Can you help me?” WC SAFE’s response is “Yes. Yes, we can.” Every time.
Resources for Men:
WCSAFE.org (Wayne County SAFE Advocacy and Counseling Services)
About Author, Amy Dowd
Amy Dowd is a licensed MSW and currently, the Director of Advocacy Services for Wayne County SAFE (Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner) Program in Detroit. Amy has over 15 years of experience as an advocate for both domestic violence and sexual assault survivors. In addition to her direct service and leadership experience, Amy has a passion for education and outreach. Amy has collaborated with several local colleges and universities including University of Michigan, Wayne State University, and Eastern Michigan University in an effort to increase awareness and student engagement on campus. Amy has been invited as a guest lecturer with Eastern Michigan University and University of Michigan’s volunteer program lecturing on topics related to gender based violence, in addition to women and substance abuse issues. Amy has been an advising member to several ground breaking projects in the city of Detroit, including the National Institute of Justice Rape Kit Action Research Project and the Wayne County Sexual Assault Kit Task Force. She is a trainer for the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards in the area of non-stranger sexual assault investigations and has presented both locally and nationally on issues related to sexual assault, trauma, and best practices.
Amy Dowd is a graduate of Eastern Michigan University where she obtained both a Bachelor’s of Science degree and a Master’s degree in Social Work with concentrations in mental health and chemical dependency. She has been a licensed practitioner in the State of Michigan for 6 years.
WC SAFE ED Kimberly Hurst discussing resources for sexual assault survivors on the Fatima Salman show on 910 am Superstation.