Breaking The Silence

Speaking out against sexual assault

I can still remember us walking up LaSalle Boulevard, in our red plaid pleated knee-length skirts with matching school girl sweaters, cross ties and knee-high socks. I was 10 and three-quarters. My older sister just turned 13. We both barely filled our training bras. But that didn’t stop them.

Our age, our obvious pubescence did not stop them from throwing Heineken glass bottles at our feet.  My sister and I had refused to talk to four men in a tan 1981 Caprice. They sped off. This has also happened to me as an adult.

We women all have these stories, these nightmares ranging in different levels of verbal, mental, spiritual and physical pain. Based on reported cases of sexual assault, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted by the age of 18. These statistics have a level of inaccuracy based on numerous unreported cases.

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When the words “sexual assault” are heard, most think of just rape. However, sexual assault can include child sexual abuse, rape (attempted, statutory, prison, acquaintance, marital or partner), incest, exhibitionism, voyeurism, obscene phone calls, fondling, sexual harassment, female mutilation, child prostitution, elder sexual abuse, aggravated indecent assault, indecent exposure, verbal pressure of sex, child pornography, street harassment and much more.

In 1999, the National Center for Policy reported that “the overall probability that a rapist will be sent to prison for his crime [is] 16.3 percent,” with an average sentencing of 128 days. So, how do we begin to decrease these statistics and outcomes?

“I think the trait of protecting women and stepping in when needed should be taught from an early age, due to the fact that, in most cases, the mind tells you that you are either an ally or not an ally,” says poet Omari Barksdale, who grew up in a house of six women.

He believes that some sort of reduction of sexual assaults will take place with the presence of community bravery, education, involvement and proper prosecution.

“If a young boy is taught that this is what you do, you protect when needed, you say something when needed, then I believe they would most likely stay on the side of what’s right and what’s important,” Barksdale says. 

“You asked for it,” “look at how she was dressed,” “he probably liked it,” “you gay” or “rape does not happen in the black community” are all statements that drive the victim-blaming nature of sexual assault and leads to victims keeping quiet. 

The patriarchal nature of society thrives off the sense of entitlement: the idea that one has dominance, wealth and power because of one’s gender or ethnicity creates a society that cultivates rape culture.
Thus, the idea to take anything from anyone becomes normal.

“The problem is this idea of some sort of hierarchal kind of emotional society where we exploit one another rather than care for one another, and nurture and be kind to one another,” says dream hampton, journalist, social critic, and activist.

hampton believes that because certain behaviors go unchecked, the cycle is never broken. She spoke of “the preacher that bashes women but does not check the man in his congregation that dates women 20 or 15 years younger because they are malleable” and the catcalls and hassle young girls and women receive from men and boys alike while walking home from school, the store, or a friend’s house.

“We have to talk to our young men and deconstruct the privilege and misogyny that so many of them carry or are being pulled into. Men must build more men and divorce the mentality of breeding and guarding rapist,” Barksdale says.

Hampton, like Barksdale, believes that children should be taught at a very young age about respect, their bodies and sexual awareness. “Children are absolutely depended on us to be, to treat them like human beings and with kindness and love.”

The U.S Department of Justice found that “70 percent of sexual assaults reported occurred in a residence.” As adults and/or parents, we must foster safe havens for the children in our communities physically and verbally.

There is “a sign of intelligence amongst children and it is there ability to lie. Once they learn how to lie than they use it in all different kinds of ways.” hampton has established a relationship with her daughter about honesty, comfortability and communication. 

“Of course, [discipline] your child for lying, but you need to let them know, that any topic they come to you about, if they come to you a week later, a year later, a child needs to have some type of amnesty so that they will come talk you.” 

When a child is sexually assaulted, their seal of innocence and security is broken until self-realization.  And most people go their whole life unaware or choose to forget. Sexual assault can affect both children and adults behaviorally, psychologically, emotionally, physically and socially. 

In Rebecca Walker’s “Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness,” hampton wrote the essay, “Audacity,” about her experience with sexual assault. It explains that she chose to defend herself and garnered an unwavering power from her ability to fight off her assailants.

Consequences are needed. hampton called the police. She encourages others to call the police.  However, she also explains that police are not seen as allies because of their abuses of power. Above all, a victim of sexual assault is never at fault, regardless of what is worn or location.

“I know for every man that isn’t an ally, I must find an ounce in me to be a stronger ally and to find other brothers that I can mentor or bring to a new understanding and become allies themselves,” Barksdale says.

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