Child's Play, The Citizen, September 2016 Girls At Risk

Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D.

Statistics regarding sexual abuse and sexual assault are chilling. Nearly a million children are abused each year, but we've drilled the risk of sexual abuse into the heads of anyone who works with children to the point that the incidents of abuse are actually on the decline. I'm grateful.

Back when I started my clinical work, there were no mandated reporting laws and many people - even those who worked directly with children - didn't even recognize abuse when it was in front of them. When they did, they weren't sure what they were supposed to do. That has all changed, thank goodness, but I'm seeing something else that is eerily familiar.

Sexual assault and rape of teens and young women is the new "mystery" phenomenon. People are aware that girls get raped, but for most people it is theoretical. They don't realize how close this is to home. Let's look at some data.

By the time women graduate from college, nearly a quarter of them will have experienced sexual assault or rape at some point in their lives. By self-report, 20% of high school girls acknowledge being physically or sexually abused by a dating partner and well in their 20's, the victims of rape and sexual assault are most likely to be assaulted by their dates or people they trust. For this reason college students are MORE likely to be raped in a dormitory than in their own apartment or home.

Sadly, 38% of women who have been sexually assaulted during their college years, were also victims in their earlier years. Therefore, being a victim in the teen years is the most reliable predictor of being a victim in college.

As if these data weren't discouraging enough, we know that most victims of rape never tell anyone; therefore, less than 1% of all rapes ever end in conviction. For those who choose to seek legal help, half of those cases will be dismissed before trial, and only about 23% of those cases that do go to court end in conviction. For that small percentage who are convicted, average jail time is 11 months.

I see rape and assault victims almost every week. They are consumed with misplaced shame, embarrassment, and guilt. When they have the courage to pursue legal action, they are often chastised and ostracized by their friends and family - as if the rape was their fault. They have to re-live this horrible experience many times over - in the ER while evidence is collected, in front of a police officer as a case is opened, for detectives and the prosecutor as the case progresses, and again at trial and sentencing. Repeatedly victims have to manage their humiliation - sometimes in front of a smug perpetrator in court while an accusatory defense attorney does everything he or she can to make the victim look responsible.

In one study, only about 20% of the women who reported rape were glad that they did. Over 60% later wished they had said nothing.

These victims' lives are changed forever. Their relationships with their parents, friends, boyfriends, spouses, and children are deeply affected by sexual assault.

The only way these discouraging statistics will change is for attitudes about sexual assault to shift in the same way they already have regarding child abuse. Sexual abuse and assault have to be on everyone's radar. Awareness, prevention, and intervention are starting points. Our young women need to be taught early in life that their sexuality is their own. No one deserves to be raped.

Even more importantly, the mood of culture must change so that one who has been sexually assaulted is never seen as responsible. No means no at any point in a relationship.

I would love to see a change in the data in the future where only a very small percentage of women regret reporting their rapes or assaults. Men who do this will do it again. They are empowered by their victims' silence and the complacency of the public. This has got to change.

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