In Ontario, May is Sexual Assault Prevention Month. It’s an annual occasion meant to raise awareness about how widespread sexual violence is in our communities, as well as promote ways to stop sexual assault.
This statistic doesn’t reflect those crimes that have been reported to police – we know that number is much lower: For every 1,000 sexual assaults, only 33 are reported to authorities. For every story heard about a friend being attacked on a date, someone who was abused as a child, or a colleague being sexually harassed at work, many more incidents are kept hidden or quiet, making sexual assault one of the most underreported crimes. This means survivors aren’t getting the help they need, and perpetrators aren’t held accountable.
A lot of our society’s understanding of sexual assault can be attributed to what’s called “rape myths.” These are common misconceptions about why and how sexual assault happens and what it looks like. Separating myth from fact is crucial to stopping sexual violence.
Myth: If a woman isn’t crying, visibly upset, or injured, it wasn’t sexual assault.
Fact: Everyone responds differently to the trauma of sexual assault and it’s important not to judge how they react. Sexual assault does not necessarily leave bruises or injure the survivor, and they may have been unconscious, threatened or otherwise coerced, so visible, physical marks should not be a sole indicator of assault.
Myth: If it really happened, she should be able to remember all the details of the assault.
Fact: There are lots of reasons why memories of sexual violence can be impaired. Many survivors try to minimize or forget details as a way to cope with trauma, plus shock and fear can play a major role in memory loss.
Myth: Most sexual assaults are not a big deal.
Fact: There is no right way to cope with sexual assault. But we do know that women who are assaulted have higher rates of mental health issues like self-harming or suicidal behaviours, depression, anxiety and sleep disorders. It’s estimated that each year in Canada, the financial impact for women who survive sexual assault is $3.4 billion in medical costs, lost productivity, and intangible costs like pain and suffering.
One way that survivors can overcome some of this financial impact is by pursuing justice for the emotional and physical pain caused. And we can help.