Politics aside, it’s important to examine the latest response to the new allegation against the President of the United States. Accused of sexual assault in the 1990s, the President said that the allegation could not be true because the accuser was “not my type.”
As an attorney whose practice focuses on representing survivors of various forms of sexual assault, I believe our community must understand that acts of sexual violence are the result of overarching themes of power and control and not, in any way, about attraction.
Sexual assailants behave much like predatory animals. Predators, human and otherwise, keenly identify the vulnerable in search of their prey. The act of becoming a predator is, in itself, a way to manipulate and control victims, in often violent ways. Sometimes, attacks are planned. Other times, predators take advantage of opportunistic situations, when a target’s guard is down or is otherwise incapacitated. But always, sexual assault is about violence and abuse, about control and manipulation, about ignoring and attacking a victim’s will, consent, mind, personhood, and spirit, and accomplishing that by violating the most intimate parts of a person’s body. For predators, prey come in all shapes and sizes, not just those that are a “type.”
Sexual abuse occurring within the context of domestic violence, where the abuser and victim are married, living together, or in an intimate relationship, involves additional complex dynamics. In domestic violence situations, abusers typically utilize rape – along with social isolation, economic abuse, intimidation, emotional abuse, and other physical violence – as part of an overall effort to manipulate and control a victim.
A too common narrative is that victims “make up stories.” But the truth remains that as few as five percent of reports of sexual assault are proven false, which is comparable to that of any other violent crime. This fear, of not being believed, or of retaliation from the assailant, leads to the vast majority of assaults going unreported. Keep in mind that these are violent, shocking incidents. Victims sometimes freeze, and they are often riddled with fear, humiliation, embarrassment, and mental anguish, if not physical pain.
How can we prevent sexual assault from occurring in our community? We can start by better understanding the dynamics of sexual violence. We can start by not blaming victims, or asking why they took so long to report when they do come forward. We must recognize how extraordinarily courageous they are for reporting the abuse they have suffered. We must listen to them, and we must treat sexual assault with the same degree of seriousness that we treat other violent crimes.
Through understanding, far beyond the soundbites in the news, belief, support and listening, we can reduce assault and abuse, here at home.
Monica H. Beck is Managing Counsel of The Fierberg National Law Group and member of the Board of Directors of the Women’s Resource Center for the Grand Traverse Area.