Sexual Assault Awareness Month // Megan Zurasky

With sexual assault awareness month looming (it starts tomorrow, for those of you who didn’t know) I thought I’d use this space to touch on some wisdom I have acquired while working for a rape crisis center.
1.     1 in 4 women experience sexual violence before they turn 18 and 1 in 5 women experience college rape.  It happens. It happens in your state. It happens in your city. It happens to people you know, and people you know are perpetrators. We often look at statistics and think, “yeah but, not me.” I know I did. It’s time to get real about sexual violence. It is everywhere and it’s not going away until we actively try to stop it.
2.     People don’t lie about this. The false reporting rate for this crime is the lowest of all violent crimes. The individuals coming forward about their assault do not receive monetary gain; in fact they often spend significant money during the process.  I’m not saying that false accusations never happen, but we need to shift our view and start believing these survivors.
3.     Rape culture is real and it’s hurting the survivors. I can honestly say if I had a dollar for every time I heard a victim-blaming statement while working at the center, I could retire now. People think it doesn’t happen anymore, but it does. Let’s start supporting these survivors instead of tearing them down.
4.     It’s never the victims fault. Let’s be real about this: it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, if the rapist would just not rape them, the rape wouldn’t happen. The responsibility is on the perpetrator, not the victim. Every time. No matter what.
5.     College rape is a real issue. This topic has been in the media lately with the “It’s On Us” campaign started by the Vice President. The awareness being brought to this population is fantastic. 90% of college rapes go unreported and I believe with this new awareness we will see that number drop.
6.     Human trafficking happens in the U.S. This issue is something I have become aware of more recently and that more people should know about. It’s not like the movie Taken- it’s our young, at risk youth who are at risk and we need to do everything we can to protect them.

Now, with those topics out of the way, let’s talk about what people are doing to help. We have some amazing programming going on in Pittsburgh for sexual assault awareness month. Many college campuses are screening movies like, The Hunting Ground, which highlights the injustices on college campuses when it comes to sexual violence (it’s on Netflix now, check it out!) There are Take Back the Night events that give voices to survivors.  There are benefit dinners and concerts. There are Red My Lips events that encourage people to wear red lipstick as a conversation starter about sexual violence. Pittsburgh is doing amazing things, and I know other cities are as well. Get out there and participate! Share posts on Facebook, attend events and wear red lipstick. Now is the time to get our awareness up so we can start to see the changes we need to support survivors.

By:  Megan Zurasky

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