What are the trends?
Looking at national data from 2004 to 2013, the Crime Victimization Survey 2013 shows that property crime and harm from firearms went down, but rates of rape, sexual assault, and serious intimate partner and family violence increased. Reporting ticks up, but remains at under 35% for rape and sexual assault.
Have things changed for the better?
Honestly, no. Although rates for most types of crime have gone down, reports of sexual violence and harm from intimates, familiars and family have gone up. People of color, vulnerable men, people in the LGBTQH community, people with physical and cognitive disabilities, and children are all facing violence in astonishing numbers. Some groups face violence at rates six times higher than the overall population. Sexual assault on college campuses is getting a lot of media attention, but college women aren’t the only ones who are targeted.
It’s still a radical idea to empower people with resistance options if they encounter boundary violations or physical aggressors. It’s still rare that people are provided with education to understand the most common signs of danger — especially with people they know. It’s still unusual to find people who are comfortable and adept at saying “no” in any context.
Reporting is not a simple choice
Most of those who have experienced sexual violence choose not to report (in 2013, that survey showed that 34.8 percent of rape and sexual assault survivors reported to police) due to lack of social support, social policies that place the burden of proof on victims, and/or social consequences of reporting.
Understandably, survivors are fearful of the way others (including their perpetrators) will respond if they tell their stories or ask for help – law enforcement, family, and friends may not believe their experience, urge them to “forget about it,” tell them “it wasn’t a big deal,” or ostracize them from their social or workplace groups. News channels and social media rake survivors over the coals and promote victim-blaming narratives that already exist in our society – a huge disincentive to report. Justice and accountability, no matter how one defines them, is almost non-existent, and survivors are concerned about criminalization of their actions taken in self-defense.
The result is that people often face the aftermath of violation in silence and isolation. Our classes are a place where people who worry about something happening to them can express those concerns. And sometimes, for the first time, people can identify as survivors out loud, acknowledge anger or cry, without being blamed or shamed for doing so.
It’s time for a big change
Prepare wants to change this; what does the future look like? It means each of us can be, and needs to be, a part of the solution!
We can continue to build a much larger and more powerful cadre of allies to help us turn this around and shift the culture. Some of these allies will be our graduates; some will be others also doing this work that we can partner with and support. We can act to create systems and individuals free of bias, provide more education in both prevention and resistance, decrease the market for media images and content that promote or condone violence, and so much more.
It’s been over 4 decades of classes, offered by IMPACT affiliates and other violence prevention organizations and empowerment self-defense instructors. Organizations and individual activists, educators, and advocates in the sexual assault, domestic violence, feminist, and anti-bullying communities have been at it for longer. Add our tens of thousands of graduates to those efforts, and the reach is impressive.
We have work to do!
Please join us each week and invite others to do so as well. Next week – Q & A with Carol Middleton of D.C. IMPACT – the first of a series profiling IMPACT chapter directors.