April is both Child Abuse Awareness Month and Sexual Violence Awareness Month.
The statistics on child abuse are staggering. According to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, one in five girls and one in six boys in the U.S. are victims of child sexual abuse.
The U.S. Bureau of Justice reports that three out of four adolescents who have been sexually assaulted were assaulted by someone they knew well.
To facilitate access to potential victims, abusers often use “grooming techniques,” which include identifying and targeting the victim, gaining trust, playing a role in the child’s life, isolating the child, creating secrecy around the relationship, initiating sexual contact and controlling the relationship.
The effects of child abuse can be devastating and last long into adulthood. There can be feelings of shame and guilt that make it more difficult for survivors to reach out for the help required to heal.
“I never wanted to talk about it because I always felt like it was my fault,” said Suzie, who did not want to reveal her last name for safety and privacy reasons. “Even though I am older now, I am still afraid of my abuser.”
Children who are victims of prolonged sexual abuse usually develop low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness and an abnormal or distorted view of sex. They may become withdrawn and mistrustful of adults.
Recently, the U.S. court system has gotten better about respecting children during legal proceedings. It uses recorded testimony and individual interviews in judges’ chambers so that a child is not exposed to the perpetrator again.
Victims of child sexual abuse may pursue justice through both the criminal and civil justice systems. There are specific time limits set by law for filing criminal and civil lawsuits.
When repressed memories that do not surface until adulthood are involved, these limitations may be extended. These are called delayed discovery suits.
The statute of limitation varies from state to state. An attorney should be contacted about questions for this process.
Often there are warning signs that a child victim will exhibit. Go to StopItNow.org for a comprehensive list of signs and resources.
Victims of child sexual assault have higher rates of re-victimization. According to VictimsofCrime.org, children who had an experience of rape or attempted rape were 13.7 times more likely to experience rape or attempted rape in their first year of college.
Reports of sexual violence on college campuses inspired the White House in 2014 to start a task force to investigate the issue.
“One in five women on college campuses is sexually assaulted during their time there – one in five!” Vice President Joe Biden said after the task force finished its investigation.
Sexual assault on college campuses is not just a women’s issue. One in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, according to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service’s 2007 Campus Sexual Assault study.
WCC student Ashley Shankles initiated bringing the Pau Violence campaign to WCC, helping to organize frequent poetry slams and various art projects. Pau Violence is a campaign across the UH system that strives to raise awareness and end sexual violence.
After being raped by her fiance and his friends, Shankles still struggles with issues of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Now she speaks on behalf of other survivors because she remembers what it was like to have her voice stripped from her. She wrote the poem “Bracelets” that is highlighted in the Title IX informational video shown to all incoming students in the UH system.
“Activism starts with a single word or action that strikes the mind of others and inspires them to respond,” Shankles said.
WCC has a sexual violence prevention committee that educates and raises awareness on campus about sexual assault. It has organized several events on campus this month and invites students, faculty and staff to learn more about this important issue.
April 5 – Film screening of Shots, Hale ‘Ākoakoa 107-109, 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.
This year’s spring [respect] campaign (GIVE IT GET IT LIVE IT) starts with a screening of this 8-minute film, which explores the connection between alcohol and sexual violence among young adults. There will be a discussion about consent and bystander intervention following the film.
April 6 – The first-ever global “Start By Believing” pledge day, outside the library, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., WCC Chancellor Doug Dykstra will be on hand to sign a pledge.
“Start By Believing” is a public awareness campaign started in 2011 by End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI) to change the way we respond to rape and sexual violence in our communities. EVAWI asks the question: “When someone comes to you … what will your reaction be?”
All too often when a victim has the courage to tell someone what happened, they are blamed for bringing it on themselves. EVAWI believes that needs to change and asks people to make the commitment to “start by believing,” because usually a friend or relative is the first person a victim will confide in. Knowing how to respond is critical. Each individual’s response is the first step in a long path toward justice and healing. A negative response can worsen the trauma and foster an environment where perpetrators face zero consequences.
If you miss the pledge day on campus, you can sign up at StartByBelieving.org.
April 14 – No More Excuses presentation, Hale ‘Ākoakoa 107-109, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Several survivors will give testimonials followed by a time of questions and sharing. All are encouraged to attend.
April 14 – Denim Day
Over 15 years ago, an Italian court overturned a rape conviction because the girl was wearing tight jeans. The next day, the women in the Italian parliament showed up wearing denim jeans.
Since then, once a year during April, a “Denim Day” has been observed to make a statement that there are no excuses for rape. Help WCC support that cause by wearing denim jeans on April 14.
April 19 and 20 – Keiki Wellness Educational Table for Child Sex Abuse Awareness and Prevention, library breezeway, 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.
April 29 – Film screening of The Hunting Ground, Hale Pālanakila 102, 9 to 11:30 a.m.
The Hunting Ground is a documentary about sexual violence on college campuses. The showing is geared toward faculty, but students are welcome to attend.
There will be a panel discussion afterward with WCC vice chancellor of student affairs Amy Rozek, WCC mental health counselor Carla Silva, WCC safety and security manager Rick Murray, education coordinator for The Sex Abuse Treatment Center David Nisthal, and UH Mānoa Pau Violence coordinator Jennifer Barnett.
If you are a victim of assault, you are encouraged to reach out for help. You do not need to suffer in silence alone. If the first person you tell does not help you, keep telling someone until you get the help you deserve.
Students are encouraged to visit the Student Safety Guide on the WCC website to learn ways they can reduce their risk of becoming a victim and what to do if that happens.
Other resources include:
Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (www.RAINN.org or 1-800-656-HOPE) is the largest national network available.
1 in 6 (www.1in6.org) offers support and resources for male survivors of sexual assault; help and guidance are offered through private online channels.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (www.missingkids.com) has a valuable library of resources for those wishing more information on this prevalent issue.
by Cynthia Lee Sinclair, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter