by Carolyn Stransky, AWC Berlin member
Every 109 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. Meanwhile, only six out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison.
These are the statistics that the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN) has been battling for over 20 years. RAINN is the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the United States with a mission to help survivors, educate the public, improve public policy, and support institutions.
In the fall of 2014, I was working as an intern in RAINN’s communication department. This was a significant time for RAINN, especially at their headquarters in Washington D.C. Congress had just passed the Debbie Smith Act* and the White House was launching the It’s On Us campaign. The surge of national media attention on the issue of sexual assault was stronger than ever, fueled by the controversies surrounding Rolling Stone’s “A Rape on Campus” and the rape allegations against Bill Cosby. I was also in the office when RAINN made headlines worldwide for releasing a statement against Maroon 5’s Animals music video which read, in part: “No one should ever confuse the criminal act of stalking with romance. The trivialisation of these serious crimes, like stalking, should have no place in the entertainment industry.”
As a student and survivor myself, my primary focus was on collegiate outreach. Because of my own experiences with this issue, I was invited to be part of peer mentoring and education. RAINN recognizes that survivors can be an invaluable resource of knowledge, strength and support to other survivors.
By now, most of us know that sexual violence on university campuses in the U.S. is far more prevalent than at first assumed. Each year, 11.2% of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation. College-age women are at a particularly high risk with over 23% of undergraduate women experiencing rape or sexual assault during their time on campus. And overall, women ages 18-24 who are enrolled in college are three times more likely to experience sexual violence than those who are not.
The work I did centered around building awareness and supporting communities. I helped student groups prepare for RAINN Day, RAINN’s annual day of action in September. This varied from distributing printed materials at a booth hosted by George Washington University to coordinating with the survivors from RAINN’s Speakers Bureau who were speaking at American University’s Take Back the Night event. When the NCAA published their plan for Addressing Sexual Assault and Interpersonal Violence, I interviewed the athletic directors from each college in the D.C. area to see what specific actions were being taken.
Because RAINN is the largest provider of sexual assault services in the nation, our team held a large number of formal workshops on bystander intervention and what consent looks like on nearly every campus. These educational programs were all in addition to the recovery and counseling programs already in place for victims and survivors. RAINN also conducts sexual assault prevention and response program assessments to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a college’s existing program and how it complies with state and federal law.
This work wasn’t all reward. I often had to excuse and collect myself during events because the graphic details of another survivor’s story would trigger memories of my experience and overwhelm me. There were nights when I was riddled with pain and anxiety because I wasn’t always able to leave work in the office. At the same time, by dealing with the intricacies of this vastly underreported issue, I learned a critical lesson: Your actions matter.
Whether it’s reaching out to a member of Congress, helping someone you care about who has been affected by sexual violence, or teaching your children early on about consent – we can all play a role in changing the way people think about and approach the issue of rape and sexual assault.
DAY 8 – CALL TO ACTION:
- Share this post
- Sign RAINN’s petition calling on the next president and 115th Congress to end sexual violence https://www.rainn.org/my-name-our-voice
- #ActWithRAINN by learning about the laws in your state and reaching out to a member of Congress directly https://www.rainn.org/public-policy-action
- Watch The Hunting Ground documentary on Netflix or Audrie and Daisy the documentary of sexual assault on 2 teens and the harassment, humiliation, and isolation they experienced in its aftermath
- Read Lucky by Alice Sebold (memoir) – about a college student’s rape. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucky_(memoir)
- Donate to RAINN. 93 cents of every dollar goes to helping survivors and preventing sexual violence. https://donate.rainn.org/
Survivors everywhere can get help 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE and online.rainn.org. Available in both English and Spanish.
*The Debbie Smith Act of 2004 (42 U.S.C. 13701) provides United States federal government grants to eligible states and units of local government to conduct DNA analyses of backlogged DNA samples collected from victims of crimes and criminal offenders. (source: Wikipedia).
The AWC Berlin participates in the 16-Day-Campaign against Gender-Based-Violence. Each day, we highlight an aspect of GBV to raise awareness and call on our membership to take one small action to fight against violence against women.