Sexual violence is defined as an undesired sexual act. The perpetrator can be a stranger, family member, or intimate partner. Although, victims can be male or female, a significantly higher number of cases involve women. It is extremely important to understand that consummation does not have to take place to be considered a violation. Whether victimized by exposure, touch, or forcible sexual act, these crimes have devastating consequences that severely impact overall well-being of the abused.
Babies are born into the world without judgment or understanding of malicious intent. A child’s natural instinct is to trust those closest to them. Children are raised to respect their elders, the expectation is to “Do as they say.” As young children, we are conditioned to confide in the authority figures in our lives. But, what do you do when someone in the circle of trust abuses their power?
Our ears bleed from ongoing stories of sexual violence at varying degrees. Siblings, friends, public figures are breaking silence by sharing personal experiences of sexual abuse. More and more, women are using various platforms to tell their story. The revelations are encouraging others to also, speak out against sexual violence.
In a recent episode of Red Table Talk: The Estefans, Gloria Estefan shared her story of abuse by a distant relative. He was a music teacher who used her parent’s trust to prey on the young girl. The abuse started at the age of 9, deadly threats kept the child from taking things public. The situation escalated, impacting her mental and physical health. The damage became apparent when anxiety and stress led to hair loss. Ultimately, she told her mother, who contacted authorities. The police discouraged pressing charges with the explanation that trauma from testifying in front of a jury would be much worse for the child. The regret from not taking action made Gloria feel badly, as she was certain there were others. Later on, she learned that an aunt in Cuba had been abused by the same man, years earlier. During the same episode, former bachelorette, Clare Crawley disclosed details of her sexual abuse at the hands of a Catholic Priest at the age of 5.
Oprah has openly talked about her molestation from the age of 10 to 14, and rape at 9-years old. Tarana Burke’s memoir, Unbound: My Story of Liberation and Birth of the MeToo Movement includes the story of her sexual assault at the age of 7. The victims go on, Lady Gaga, Gabrielle Union, Lena Dunham, and Viola Davis, who admitted that she was a victim, so was her mother, sisters, and childhood friend. The women all experienced some form of sexual violence.
In 2018, the world heard about a gymnastic doctor who was accused of sexual abuse by 265 women. During his trial, more than 150 girls and women provided an account of their exploitation. Gymnasts Simon Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols, and others came forward in solidarity. Teammates openly shared their own experience of abuse at the hands of the predator. The former doctor, Larry Nassar pleaded guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct, his jail sentence will keep him imprisoned until his last breath. In 2021, the women told their stories, again, to the Senate Judiciary Committee in an effort to get accountability from the FBI Agents that poorly mishandled the case. These brave victims are demanding to be seen like never before but will they ever be completely free of the horrors lived at a young age? Victims do not necessarily forget, they learn to live with what happens to them and hopefully, understand the crime was not a result of something they did.
There is also an unknown number of untold stories. Children taken advantage of in households, schools, and places of worship around the world. Victims with average lives but in devastating situations. The faces and names remain anonymous but we know they’re out there suffering without anyone to protect them or believe their stories.
It is estimated that 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are victims of sexual abuse or assault. It may not come as a surprise that 82% are females under the age of 18-years old. The shocking truths related to sexual violence do not end there, more than 90% of crimes are committed by a person known to the victim, often family members or a trusted person.
A large number of these deplorable acts are being committed against children who do not have the developmental maturity to comprehend what is happening or the capacity to consent to these acts. Oftentimes, offenders manipulate situations and create an environment where the child may feel complicit in the abuse. Young victims are defenseless against those abusing power and trust.
Sexual violence involving children is a global issue, whether we open our eyes to it or not. These crimes are quietly taking place in plenty of communities without regard to race, religion, culture, or economic status. In some cases, the abuse can last years. Kids are powerless and ashamed with no clue of what to do after being victimized. Countless questions can arise for the victims, as they give in to fear and confusion. Will anyone believe them? Did they play a role in what took place? What will happen if they tell the truth? Can the abuser punish them for talking about the incident? Will their parents act on the abuse? Children become prisoners of this overwhelming burden and internal turmoil.
In order to break generational cycles being perpetuated, we must support victims speak out against their abuser. It is critical to show sufferers, they’re safe from retaliation, judgment, or blame. Compassion should come from a place, where there is no space for culpability. Knowing that what happens to them matters is extremely important, as well. Recognizing the incident can help victims feel less guilty, tainted, or disgraced. The handling of the situation is key to help avoid additional trauma and move forward with the healing process.
Change cannot take place if offenders continue to move in stealth mode through society, preying on the innocent. As parents and caretakers, there are some things we can do to protect our children. Encouraging them to speak freely and openly about anything, remaining involved in their lives are essential to stay connected. Paying attention to behavior, as well as, learning the warning signs for abuse can too, strengthen awareness.
The unfortunate truth is that sexual violence can take place anytime, anywhere. It happened to me during a time when resources and help were not available for myself or my parents. The past cannot be changed but there is still time to make the future better and safer for the next generation of children.
If you are a victim or survivor in need of help, call (800) 656-HOPE or reach out to RAINN.org.
Photo Credit: Alysia Marotta
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