A movement that is changing the American culture

Women in the 21st century are breaking the silence on sexual assault with the help of the #MeToo movement. Photo Illustration by Natori Spence | The Signal

Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted, and there’s a nine out of 10 chance that each time it happens, the victim is a woman, according to statistics by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN).

That’s an estimated 33 women per hour, 794 women per day and 315,360 women sexually assaulted each year in the United States alone. That’s enough people to fill the Mercedes-Benz Stadium nearly four times.

“It’s an epidemic everywhere, in America and worldwide. I don’t even think I know one woman that hasn’t been violated in one way shape or form by a man. We live in a society where sexual abuse is ingrained into the culture,” Kayla Patterson, a junior at Georgia State, said.

According to an analysis of data on rape and sexual assault completed by the U.S. Department of Justice in 1997, the vast majority of violent sex offenses involves males assaulting female victims.

“Yes, men are victims of sexual abuse too, and that should not be ignored. But this is a problem that has always affected women the most,” Nakibiyah Victoria, a junior at Georgia State, said.

The predators?

Strangers. Bosses. Boyfriends. Friends. Husbands. Dads. Uncles. Pastors. Neighbors.

According the RAINN, 25 percent of sexual violence is from a current or former spouse or significant other and 45 percent is from an acquaintance.

The majority of sexual assaults occur at or near the victim’s home, according to RAINN statistics. In eight out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the perpetrator, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC).

“We know that people are less likely to disclose if it’s someone that the victim knew beforehand. We also know that the psychological trauma experience is going to be greater because there’s the added betrayal of being assaulted by someone you know,” Dr. Kevin Michael Swartout, a psychology professor at Georgia State, said.

Poster boards with the #WhyIDidn’tReport hashtag emerged in several bathrooms around the Georgia State campus during the second week of October. Both men and women were able to write anonymously about why they chose to stay silent about their sexual assault experiences.

“It was my fault,” someone wrote in the women’s restroom on the second floor of the Arts and Humanities building.

“I didn’t know what what happening. My mom’s heart would break if she knew her brother fingered her daughter while she was asleep. I was 6,” another person wrote.

“I did but that was years ago and now he’s a politician,” someone else wrote.

Stewart said that no two victims respond to an assault the same way. But, if a victim does choose to confide in someone, the response that person gives them is crucial to the victim’s decision-making process.

“If they do tell anyone, whether it’s a formal or informal source, that person’s response is really important,” Swartout said. “If the person asks a lot of questions about what [the victim] was doing and their behavior, the survivor can feel kind of blamed.”

Although the rate of sexual assault and rape has fallen by 63 percent since 1993, the majority of victims are still reluctant to come forward.

“One of the ways that humans survive horrific events is to shut down and go into fight or flight mode. In that mode, often reporting events does not occur because all energy is focused on survival,” Jill Lee-Barber, senior director of psychological and health services at Georgia State, said.

In order to survive, she said victims may numb the pain of what happened with substances, overwork or a flurry of social activity, while others may isolate.

“Most people try however we can to regain a sense of control, to make the world and the event ‘make sense.’ The truth is that there is no way to make sexual assault ‘make sense,’” Barber said.

According to NSVRC, 63 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police.

But in recent years, the power of social media has paved the way for victims of sexual assault, women especially, to find the courage to speak up about their experiences. Online platforms have proved to be a window to a disturbing truth, unveiling the astonishing number of people affected by this issue.

“I think with social media, there’s a place for everyone. Literally, the whole world connects, and I think the power of it is that it makes everyone feel less alone,” Georgia State student Alexis Huddleston said.

In October of 2017, the #MeToo movement hashtag spread virally on social media in an effort to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace.

The movement was actually started over a decade ago by Tarana Burke, a woman who is a survivor of sexual violence and an advocate for young women of color.

Although Swartout’s research does not specifically pertain to this topic, Swartout gave his opinion on the shifting nature of society in response to the #MeToo movement.

“Studies do show that many people, depending on exactly what you are talking about, at least somewhat are accepting of rape myths,” Swartout said.

He said that an example of a rape myth is the belief that if a man buys a woman dinner, he is entitled to have sex with her. Another example is if a woman agrees to go up to a man’s apartment or dorm room, he is also entitled to have sex with her.

“[Rape myths] are kind of evidence of a society or a group of people that is to a certain extent accepting of [sexual violence],” Swartout said. “With the MeToo movement, there’s been a cultural shift. It’s becoming more normative to speak up about experiences with sexual violence and sexual harassment.”

He said this cultural shift is responsible for powerful men being held accountable for their actions. However, he mentioned that their punishment often doesn’t equate to their crimes.

He noted that Bill Cosby was only sentenced to three to 10 years despite the some 60 accusers that spoke out against him.

According to RAINN, the vast majority of perpetrators will not go to jail or prison. Out of every 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators walk free.

“We have a sitting president with numerous sexual assault allegations against him, a president who constantly disrespects women. We have a Supreme Court justice accused of sexual assault. In today’s society, money and power still win over everything, and until that changes, we as women can’t claim victory,” Victoria said.