April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Vermont Child Abuse Prevention Month. PAVE (Project Against Violent Encounters) invites you to stand united with us in hope and strength to end sexual violence and child abuse. One in five girls and one in seven boys will be victimized between the ages of 11 and 17 years old. Children with disabilities have an even greater chance of being victimized than children without. The facts are inescapable.
We are bombarded by national cases of rape and sexual assault. Who is not familiar with the Steubenville rape case; the revelation of military sexual assault cover ups; college and university mishandlings of cases because of outdated policies and narrow definitions of sexual assault; and, maybe the most egregious, the heir to the DuPont fortune convicted of raping his 3 year old daughter 10 years ago, never spending a day in jail, and now being accused of doing the same thing to his young son. And locally, unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the Bennington Banner (April 3, 2014) reported on three alleged sexual assaults on minors.
Too often victims stay silent; often they are told to stay silent. We know the reasons for not coming forward: victim-blaming and shame; fear of retribution; long, unpredictable court cases. Yet, we want to acknowledge their strengths, whether they report or not. These crimes against innocent victims may have a long-lasting impact on their relationships and their health.
While PAVE knows that most men are good, decent, and hard-working, this writer has to repeat this so those accusing us of being "rape-culture theorists" (Time Magazine, March 20, 2014) will hear us, and possibly listen to us too. What we fail to realize and need to acknowledge is that rape is often committed by serial rapists; those who before they get caught -- if they get caught -- rape over and over again. Does the lack of prosecutions or convictions appear to give perpetrators the green light to rape again? We see this happening on the college campuses and in our towns. We have histories in our own communities of young people -- first one, then another -- telling incidents of assault by the same perpetrator.
These horrible crimes will happen over and over again unless we keep up our momentum on providing prevention education, enforcing the law, and passing new legislation. Certain progress areas made on behalf of victims over the past year include:
* The 2013 reauthorization of VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) includes the passage of the Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act mandating actions for colleges and universities to take to reduce sexual assault on college campuses.
* President Obama's January, 2014 "Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action" recommends better training for police in investigating sex crimes, and "help police increase testing of DNA evidence," among other things.
* Various reforms of how the military handles serious offenses, including sexual assault, were signed into law through the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act in December 2013. (The down side is that will take some time before they take effect.)
* Though not passed, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand must be given credit for her efforts to pass the Military Justice Improvement Act, removing the chain of command from the "prosecution of crimes punishable by one year or more in confinement." It was received well in Congress but at the last moment was not voted upon.
On May 12, PAVE and the Bennington County Child Advocacy Center (CAC) will sponsor an important training event: Producer Simon Weinberg will present the documentary "Boys and Men Healing" and Maria Gallagher, MSW, will offer a presentation on "Understanding Key Relationships and the Grooming Process." Registration is required.
When we, as a society, don't speak up or don't take action, we fail all potential victims of sexual assault and child abuse. We allow abuse to continue by keeping silent. Let's continue our conversations and activism to end violence. For information on what you can do to help, please call PAVE at 802-442-2370. If you are in crisis, call the 24-hour crisis hotline at 802-442-2111.
Nancy Feinberg is Volunteer Coordinator for Project Against Violent Encounters.