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Column: To sexual assault survivors and the community
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By ROSALYN SMITH-STOVER

Executive Director, Family Resource Center

Harvey Weinstein, Nasser, R. Kelly … #metoo.

This movement has been powerful in allowing the unspoken, silenced voices of victims to be heard. However, sexual abuse began long before the #metoo movement. Hollywood has simply worked as a catalyst to bring survivors forward to tell their stories.

Recently, the Surviving R. Kelly docuseries outlined decades of abuse allegations by the R&B singer. Survivors from practically every stage of Kelly’s life, detailed their experience of emotional, domestic and sexual abuse. There have also been countless allegations of child sexual abuse and child pornography.

Sexual abuse is not a foreign thing that only happens in Hollywood with pop stars and super fans. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused by age 18. So, either you know someone who has been abused, or that someone may be you.

The conversations around you may not be all positive. Undoubtedly, there are people who do not believe survivors when they speak, who believe victims should be blamed for abuse and who are in complete denial about the acts of perpetrators. There are some who simply do not understand.

Why wouldn’t a child tell? Where were the parents? Why doesn’t she just leave? Is she telling now in hopes of getting money and fame?

For 33 years, The Family Resource Center (FRC) has supported and helped in the healing of victims of abuse. We also work to educate the community by clearing confusion around a victim’s actions and by helping others understand the dynamics of abuse. All in efforts to create a community that responds appropriately to abuse, stand behind survivors, and hold perpetrators accountable.

We hope to do just that in this column.

A few important truths

• More than 90 percent of abused children know, love or trust their abuser. So, in the majority of cases, the person harming the child is not a stranger and, in fact, may be a caretaker or someone providing the child’s basic needs (i.e., food, shelter, clothing, etc.).

• Nearly 65 percent of all child abuse happens at the hands of a parent, step-parent, relative or boyfriend/girlfriend of the parent.

• Most victims whether child or adult, do not tell. Why? Often fear. Fear of their loved one going to jail, fear of breaking up a family, fear of not being believed, fear of embarrassment, fear that they somehow played a role, fear of being hurt by the perpetrator, fear of being blamed.

One of the biggest problems we have, among many, in eradicating sexual violence is victim blaming. Many people’s first response when a person discloses abuse is to ask that person about how they could have played a role. Much of our society does not want to believe that someone, who has done nothing wrong, could have been a victim. Partly because their believing also means they must accept that it could happen to them.

When it comes to consent, it does not matter what she wore, what she drank, where she went, who she kissed, who she dated, when she told. None of these actions are ones that imply consent to sex.

For the sake of protecting women (the overwhelming majority of victims) we have to dismiss the notion that just because she shows up and shows interest, she is to blame. When society blames the victim, they also dismiss the responsibility of the perpetrator ... further contributing to the cycle of abuse.

You may have heard of children that are described as “fast” or promiscuous when sexual abuse is alleged.

• Another truth … children cannot, by law, consent to sex with an adult. There is no such thing as a child who wanted it or agreed to it. The child has no role or responsibility in this. “Underage sex with a minor” is a dangerous and inaccurate phrase often used in the media in attempts to define what should always be labeled as child sexual abuse.

Children who are labeled as “fast” are also children who are dismissed, unbelieved and left unprotected from a predator’s grasp.

Some of the women in the recent docuseries were adults during their first encounter with Kelly. So many wonder why these women allowed Kelly to treat them as described and why they stayed to endure more abuse.

Domestic violence usually does not show up abruptly in the way that a bright red flashing light might warn you to stop. The manipulation of an abuser involves a slow moving, grooming process that is usually not recognized until it’s too late. Perpetrators are often initially charming, kind and appear to be trustworthy. They make promises, attempt to fill voids of self-esteem and promise to heal the parts of a victim that are broken. In the case of Kelly’s victims, it was sometimes the promise of a dream to become a star, a promise to the victim and their family of his commitment to mentor and help a young child make it to the top. All to establish trust that will inevitably work in the abuser’s favor when it comes to their efforts to isolate and control. Abusers are very strategic at choosing potential victims that are vulnerable, lost or broken.

Another common theme: Women lie for fame, money, publicity.

• Truth -- Research suggests the prevalence of false reporting on sexual assault is as low as 2 percent. Consider the public scrutiny an accuser faces when she discloses. Some survivors reported death threats, public shaming and a need to quit jobs and locations after coming out against their abuser. To come out against, a well-loved celebrity or person of influence in the community often requires a willingness to risk it all.

For the Community

With an understanding of these truths, it’s virtually impossible for communities to continue to miss the mark in their response and support for victims. I challenge you, as a member of your community, to learn more about sexual violence, to speak out and join our efforts to eradicate these crimes that impact us all. For the sake of our children and love ones.

For Survivors

How do you deal with news, deal with social media, react in conversations and maintain a social life if the voices around you trigger a response that may have previously been tucked far away?

• Disconnect -- Take a break from social media or refrain from responding to comments that you know are made with malicious intent. Feed your heart and mind with content that is supportive and positive.

• Be Transparent -- with someone you trust on how you feel. You may feel anger, sadness, fear, relief. Talk with someone who can work through and normalize those feelings for you.

• Maximize time in safe places -- Do you need time off from work? Do you need to spend more time in nature, with a pet or loved one? Give yourself permission to find a safe place, stay for a while and visit when needed.

• Get Help -- It’s never too late to speak with a professional to get through a difficult time or to walk with you on your journey towards healing. Counseling services at the FRC are free to survivors and non-offending family members.

• Join Us -- Sometimes giving back can help and may be exactly what a person needs. Contact the FRC or a rape crisis center near you and ask how you can get involved.

To help the FRC or learn more, call (803) 425-4357. If you need help, call the Crisis Hotline at 1-800-585-4455.