Guest Commentary

Community’s support essential to counter sexual assault

A federal judge on Tuesday said she will appoint an independent investigator to help her manage a complex case over prison recordings of lawyer conversations with clients that one public defender called an unprecedented violation of their right to privacy.
A federal judge on Tuesday said she will appoint an independent investigator to help her manage a complex case over prison recordings of lawyer conversations with clients that one public defender called an unprecedented violation of their right to privacy. Special to The Star

It has been hard to miss the story of a Stanford University student-athlete who, after being convicted of three sexual assault charges, was only sentenced to six months in prison.

With a possible maximum sentence for his convictions of 14 years, outrage ensued after Judge Aaron Persky handed down the six-month sentence saying: “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others.”

People nationwide have responded, saying justice was not served. In a powerful statement, viewed by millions online and addressed directly to the convicted in court, the survivor describes waking up dirty and bloody in the hospital.

“I stood there examining my body beneath the stream of water and decided: I don’t want my body anymore…,” she said. “I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.”

In her statement the survivor described the trauma she experienced and the horror of being blamed for the attack. In her statement she said: “Sometimes I think, if I hadn’t gone, then this never would’ve happened. But then I realized, it would have happened, just to somebody else.”

For so many survivors justice will never be served. In fact, the vast majority of those who perpetrate sexual violence will never spend a day incarcerated — 99 percent walk free.

Perpetrators of sexual violence are less likely to go to jail or prison than other criminals. These sobering statistics are compounded by the fact that perpetrators often have multiple victims.

To understand how a man convicted on three sexual assault charges can receive a six month sentence, we have to look at our culture and factors that normalize sexual violence and blame victims. When we blame sexual assault on alcohol, ask a victim what they were wearing or make excuses for the perpetrator, we contribute to a culture that allows sexual violence to happen.

Perpetrators count on us to say and do nothing. Looking the other way helps abusers, rapists and harassers.

However, if we all work together, we can end sexual violence. We can prevent sexual violence and it starts by believing survivors. Believing survivors will end the silence that perpetuates sexual violence.

First, we have to learn and talk about boundaries, communication and consent. Second, we must educate ourselves so that we know what sexual violence is and how to safely intervene.

We must take action when we see something that feels wrong and speak up when we hear victim-blaming or jokes. Finally, we must use our voices to influence policies, practices and laws to change how the community views and responds to sexual violence. The Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault is working to end sexual violence.

The organization stands with the survivor at Stanford University and survivors everywhere, and we echo her powerful message: “And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought every day for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you.”

Julie Donelon of Kansas City has worked more than 20 years in child abuse and sexual violence. Since 2012 she has served as the president and CEO of the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault.

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