Photo by Eric Eztli

Every 2 minutes someone is sexually assaulted in the U.S. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

I worked as a therapist/ clinical social worker at a Rape Crisis Center for six years full time and then about two years part time before I left at the end of last June. It was simultaneously the hardest and most rewarding job I have ever had. The survivors I worked with were so strong and determined to not let the trauma of sexual violence beat them. Being able to witness that was truly an honor.

Getting to know people based on the fact that they had choice about their bodies taken away from them completely is an odd thing. It is to first know that fact about them and to know no one should have hurt them. It is to feel angry, sad and a whole host of emotions that someone hurt them and then as you get to know them more, maybe over the course of a couple of hours or maybe over the course of a few years, to hate this world that could hurt such amazing people. It is to see that it is completely unjust and to want it to change.

It is to see that Patriarchy is a system that not only oppresses women but pushes for total domination and conquering by anyone deemed “stronger.” That may mean stronger in upper body strength or it may mean, the person who could trick and trap the other.

Outside of work when people asked me what I did for a living- “I’m a therapist at a rape crisis center,” I would say. People had one of two responses. They either quickly changed the subject or they would tell me about an experience of sexual assault.

The first response was more common. I even had a couple of people discreetly walk away. At parties or in public, people don’t often want to think about rape. It’s not a fun topic. But I also think people don’t want to deal with it because a good percentage of the population has had personal experiences with rape- whether they themselves have been victims or someone they know and love has been a victim.

I also think people feel helpless about rape. It’s something that is horrifying and yet seems hard to stop. It’s something that most people agree is awful, but when it comes down to it, they don’t know what to do to stop it from happening in the world.

Equality between men and women would help reduce all incidents of sexual violence and would be a major step toward eradicating sexual violence against women, men and children. But while we’re working on that, talking about it helps raise awareness about it and hopefully aids in stopping it. Rape Crisis Centers always need volunteers as well, though it’s not recommended that you volunteer if it will trigger your own sexual assault trauma.

What is sexual assault?
Simply put, sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact between people. Sexual assault can range from having your breast grabbed on the street to being drugged and raped. It can also be many things in between and it happens to women, men, and children. Again, it is any unwanted sexual contact.

How do you know if it’s wanted or not?
There has to be consent. Both people must want to have that sexual contact and to communicate that they want to have that sexual contact. If someone is really drunk, high, or mentally incapacitated, they cannot give consent to sexual contact.

No one has the right to sexually assault you. Our bodies are ours. No one has the right to help themselves to our bodies unless we consciously give them permission.

Grrl Code: Speak out about sexual assault and all sexual violence. No one has the right to rape or sexually assault another person. Believe women who tell you they have been sexually assaulted and help them understand their options. If a friend has been sexually assaulted, support her in making the decision she wants to make when she knows what options she has. She did not have a choice about whether or not she wanted to be sexually assaulted, but she can have one about what to do afterwards. Above all, support her or him- they need you right now.

For more information about sexual assault statistics see the RAINN (Rape and Incest National Network) website. Cool side note: RAINN was started by Tori Amos.

Find out about sexual assault services near you. In the U.S., you can call the RAINN number 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) which will route you to the nearest Rape Crisis center in the United States. They will help you know more about options.