In a small town somewhere in America, a family not all that different from your own is finishing the evening with some late night television. The kids should have been asleep for a couple hours by now, and Mom and Dad are heading off to bed. The father passes his oldest daughter's bedroom and smiles as he sees her sleeping off to one side. Gently, he closes the door.
As he slides into bed beside his wife, and sleep overtakes him, he is oblivious to the fact that his daughter was not asleep, or that she will not sleep at all tonight. Muffled by solitude, tears stain her pillow and she cries out in silent shame staring at her bedroom wall.
Earlier that afternoon, the girl had been attending what seemed like just another day at school. She was asked to stay after class by one of her favorite teachers. He was always a nice man and had offered to help her with her homework. Being young and naive, she had failed to see his advances for what they were. Besides, they made her feel special.
A short time later, she left his classroom, her innocence gone in a haze of confusion and numbing pain. She walked home and composed herself trying to hold back the emotional dam inside that felt like it could burst at any moment. When she arrived home a little late from school, no one noticed the deep pain she was holding inside... she couldn't let them. No one could ever know. She knows what girls like her are called.
"No one can know," she repeats to herself.
After what seems like an eternity, she sneaks off to her room. She hears her dad at the door checking in on her before he goes to bed, as he always does. She can almost see his smile as he quietly shuts her door.
The dam bursts.
We would like to comfort ourselves with the idea that this story is just a lone example of a rare tragedy. Unfortunately, and heart-breakingly, it is far too common.
Over 213,000 sexual assaults occur every year, and 44 percent of those victims are under the age of 18. The story I detailed above isn't part of these figures, however. Individuals like the young woman in my story fall into a category of unreported assaults which account for 60 percent of all incidents involving sexual violence, and just as in my example, over two-thirds of all victims are violated by someone they know personally.
Fear and shame are powerful motivators to keep silent. Society can often be cruel to those who need the kindness of understanding the most, which pressures many of these victims to carry their secret to the grave while their attacker is free to prey on the next innocent person.
Fifteen out of 16 sexually violent criminals never see the inside of a prison cell. Meanwhile, thousands of children and adults are condemned to an invisible prison of shame and guilt every year.
You may wonder why this should mean anything to you or what you can do to make a difference. Every two minutes another person becomes a victim of sexual violence. It could be someone you know or care about.
Recognizing that we have a problem as a society is the first step.
Giving to organizations that help the victims of sexual abuse is another way you can help. If you have children, communicate with them so that if anyone ever victimizes them or they see warning signs, they do not fear talking about it. Teach your children to be sensitive to those who may have been victimized and stop potential bullying at home before it goes to school.
You can also show your support publicly by taking part in community awareness projects and by standing up for those who cannot speak out on their own.
No one deserves to be victimized by sexual violence, and no one needs to face it by themselves. If you are out there and have been victimized, please talk to someone...you are not alone.
April is Sexual Violence Awareness Month.
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Statistics obtained from www.rainn.org/statistics