Murphy and Skowron: Sexual violence is a Summit County issue (column) |

Murphy and Skowron: Sexual violence is a Summit County issue (column)

Roby Murphy and Mary Skowron
Special to the Daily

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men are victims of sexual assault (Black et al., 2011), but all of us are impacted by sexual violence.

It is clear how sexual violence impacts victims, but the effects of this violent crime upon communities and society are subtler. Sexual violence creates a climate of fear, anger, uncertainty and disbelief in the communities in which it occurs.

When high-profile cases appear in the news, it’s easy for us to think of sexual violence as something that happens “there” but not “here.” We forget that people in our own community make the decision to inflict sexual violence, and that others in our community are victimized as a result. In 2015, the Forensic Nurse Examiner Program at Summit Medical Center cared for 59 survivors of sexual or intimate partner violence. To date, in 2016, they have cared for 22 survivors. Considering the fact that rape is 60 percent unreported, there are many more survivors not receiving the care they deserve.

In Summit County, as in other communities, the victims of rape and other forms of sexual assault are usually women and sometimes men. Often those victimized are children. More often than not, the person who chooses to rape or assault someone is known by the victim, though sometimes the perpetrator is a stranger. Most often, perpetrators are male.

The sad fact is that most of the time, the perpetrator gets away with it. Nationwide, out of every 100 rapes, only 2 of the perpetrators ever see time in prison (RAINN, 2009).

The lack of accountability for so many perpetrators of sexual violence is shocking and disgraceful, but it is only symptomatic of the cultural sickness allowing sexual violence to happen so often, even in places like Summit County.

Besides increasing accountability for perpetrators, another key element is bystander intervention: the ability of members of a community to actively involve themselves in prevention efforts, to both stop individual instances of sexual violence from happening, as well as change the culture in which such violence is allowed to happen.

Stopping sexual violence begins with awareness, but action has to follow. We must first acknowledge that our community is not somehow magically free from sexual violence; then we must accept that it is the responsibility of all of us to prevent it from happening; then we must commit to learning how we can do that.

Preventing such a prevalent social issue as sexual violence may seem overwhelming or even impossible. But we can, simply through promoting safety, respect and accountability. Prevention starts with challenging victim-blaming and believing survivors when they disclose. Individuals can model supportive relationships and behaviors, call out injurious attitudes and challenge social acceptance of rape. Communities and businesses can take action to implement policies that promote safety, respec, and equality.

Please join us for a free event hosted by Summit County Youth and Family Services & Advocates for Victims of Assault on Tuesday, April 5 from 6:30-9 p.m. at the CMC Breckenridge Finkel Auditorium. Summit High School students will perform a series of vignettes, and the audience will have the opportunity to pose questions to a panel of local experts. This venue also provides an avenue to learn about Summit County’s resources and services for survivors as well as our community’s opportunities for violence prevention.

Rob Murphy, MSW is the Executive Director of Summit County nonprofit Advocates for Victims of Assault.

Mary Skowron, RN, BSN, CEN is the Forensic Nurse Examiner Program Coordinator at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center 24-hour Crisis Line: 970-668-3906

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