Ashley Warner, a survivor of rape, is concerned how this act of violence affects men, families, marriage and society.
It’s official: Men are invaluable partners in the process of sexual assault prevention.
That’s one of the underlying messages of The White House’s new “It’s On Us” campaign, which seeks to engage campus communities and empower all students – especially young men – to play a role in preventing sexual assault.
While confirming what so many of us have known for quite a while, this acknowledgement also brings the implicit challenge of figuring out how, exactly, to engage men constructively or, in the words of ‘It’s On Us,’ to “see it as their responsibility to do something, big or small, to prevent it.”
For such commitment to take hold and endure, it has to come from the heart. Which begins with all of us – men, women and policymakers alike – stepping back and recognizing the many reasons why men, too, have a strong emotional stake in preventing sexual assault and violence and should care deeply about the issue.
As a rape survivor myself, I know first-hand that rape hurts men, too. Men are sensitive and feel the pain when women are harassed and hurt. More than 23 years have passed since I was sexually assaulted, yet I remember all too clearly the tears in my best friend’s eyes when he insisted I stay with him for a while after the assault. Or how one of my male colleagues cursed loudly and walked away slamming a door when I announced what had happened at work. Such pain and feelings of helplessness can be overwhelming.
When survivors suffer the men living alongside them do, too. Survivors can struggle for years with the fear, anxiety, and despair that arise in the aftermath of sexual violence. In my own case, terror continued to strike for months on end every time I heard a noise behind me on the street. Cars honked and my heart pounded. If I heard a young boy shouting to his friend, I was left trembling. I walked around in constant fear, certain that something terrifying was about to happen, plagued by forgetfulness, hopelessness and violent flashbacks of what had happened.
At the time I was young and single and this affected mostly my friends and my colleagues. What if I’d been married or had children? Caring for myself in the aftermath of rape was challenging enough without the responsibility of a family. According to 2002 data from the CDC, divorce is more likely among survivors of sexual assault than among the general population.
Untreated trauma can also have devastating long-term effects on parenting skills. For example, survivors of sexual violence may find it harder to attune to the needs of their children, have difficulty showing affection, or become quickly angry and anxious. Additionally, physical aspects of birthing and parenting may trigger unwelcome memories of sexual trauma, negatively impacting the ability to bond with children. In this way, sexual violence becomes a multi-generational problem which impacts all of us.
From a broader perspective, rape reflects poorly on men everywhere. Although only a tiny fraction of men are ever involved in a rape, the mere act, along with widely held notions that it’s up to women to “not get raped,” sends a degrading message that men can’t control themselves when faced with a short skirt. But this is simply not true. We all know personally that the men in our lives are not rapists and research shows that rapists are serial predators, not good guys turned momentarily bad.
And let’s not forget: there are men who are rape survivors, too. One in 33 according to the National Institute of Justice. Putting ourselves in their shoes for even a moment is a motive for engagement that speaks for itself.