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Day 9 of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence

AWC Berlin is participating in 2020’s “16 Days” campaign by posting stories on gender-based violence to inform and inspire action. Follow the series on our blog and social media and let us know what actions you’re taking

Content Warning: Sexual Violence

Editor’s Note: The following story is an updated version of Carolyn’s post in 2016’s “16 Days” series. 

Every 73 Seconds

by Carolyn Stransky

Every seventy-three seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. Meanwhile, only five out of every one thousand perpetrators will end up in prison.

These are the statistics that the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN) has been battling for over  twenty-five years. RAINN is the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the United States, and its mission is 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, DC. 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 to 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 trivialization of these serious crimes, like stalking, should have no place in the entertainment industry.”

RAINN recognizes that survivors can be an invaluable resource of knowledge, strength, and support to other survivors. So as a student and survivor myself, my primary focus was on collegiate outreach.

Looking at the statistics, it’s clear that sexual violence on university campuses in the US is pervasive. According to RAINN, 13 percent of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. College-aged women are at particularly high risk with over 26 percent of undergraduate women experiencing rape or sexual assault during their time on campus. Additionally, nearly 6 percent of students have experienced stalking since entering college. Even with these climbing numbers, only about 20–30 percent of students will report what happened to them.

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, Addressing Sexual Assault and Interpersonal Violence, I interviewed the athletic directors from each college in the DC 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. 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. Throughout the semester, I experienced recurring nightmares 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.

Recently, COVID-19 has complicated how survivors can receive support. Organizations like RAINN are relying more heavily on virtual tools, like the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline, and enhanced coordination with first-responders. While college sexual assault has likely fallen due to a lack of students physically on campus, many other forms of sexual violence have risen. By the end of March 2020, RAINN’s hotline was receiving 22 percent more monthly calls from people younger than 18, and half of all incoming calls were from minors. The United Nations also reported that 243 million women globally have been subjected to sexual and/or physical violence by an intimate partner—and this number is likely to increase as the pandemic stretches on.

So 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.

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