Around the world, people are engaging in 16 Days of Action, an international campaign to raise awareness and help end violence against women.
There are various forms of violence committed against women and one of the most prevalent is sexual violence.
As a young women its particularly unsettling to be confronted with the knowledge that according to World Bank data “Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria”.( UN DPI/2546A, 2011)
By definition sexual violence means any non-consented act or activity imposed upon a person. The violence itself can take various forms “including but not restricted to: rape, sexual assault, child sexual abuse, sexual harassment, rape within marriage/relationships, forced marriage, so-called honour-based violence, female genital mutilation, trafficking, sexual exploitation, and ritual abuse.” (Rape Crisis Organisation)
Sexual violence never seems to be an easy topic to openly discuss due in part to its sensitive nature, a situation which seems to only feed the crime’s prevalence. This year I was given a wake-up call to this harsh reality when I witnessed first-hand the negative and unsupportive attitudes towards sexual violence when two female friends within a week became victims of a sexual assault.
While I had heard of victims experiencing negative attitudes and victims being made to feel blame or even shame for what happened to them when reporting this, it was still difficult to imagine it actually happening. The situation I witnessed however, saw one victim being accused of making up the sexual assault, while another was asked could it have been a mistake. They questioned her drinking and her behaviour which led to the incident. As a result she was scared of reporting the incident.
This experience produced a range of emotions. While I did my best by listening, believing and being there for them, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of powerlessness. I felt ill-prepared on how best to support them. These emotions soon became an inquiring interest into finding out about its frequency, how to support victims and the prevention of sexual violence.
As I began researching, I was shocked by the statistics. One study revealed that one in 3 women in Europe say that they have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15 by a partner or non-partner. While 55% of women say that they have experienced some form of sexual harassment. (EUAFR, 2014)
Research in Ireland (SAVI) was not dissimilar with 42% of women and 28% of men having experienced some form of sexual abuse or assault in their lifetime (McGee et al, 2002). Further research shows that only around 33% of incidents are reported in Ireland to the police or another formal authority. (Donegal Rape Crisis Centre, 2012) while 90% of sexual violence perpetrators are known to their victim. Such statistics highlight the victim’s insecurity over coming forward and the fact that perpetrators are commonly known to them.
In order to bring an end to sexual violence I strongly believe we need to start actively engaging in conversations about the issue, educating ourselves on what sexual violence is and the impact it has on victims. We should not wait to be confronted by it to realise the social and personal damage it causes.
By engaging in an open conversation we will help break down the negative attitudes and barriers which allow sexual violence to continue and instead start to ensure its prevention.
If you or any one you know have been effected by sexual violence you can find support with Donegal Sexual Abuse & Rape Crisis Centre, call them for free on 1800 44 88 44.