Margot Murphy '23
April is Sexual Assault Awareness month. In the United States alone, over 463,634 people aged 12 and over are sexually assaulted, abused or raped yearly, according to nonprofit organization RAINN. Sexual assault has been a reoccuring problem in the United States; every 1 in 6 American women is a victim of rape and every 1 in 33 American men are victim to some sort of sexual assault.
Although modern day media can be beneficial to survivors of sexual assault, allowing a platform to share experiences and information, hopefully ending the cycle and protecting those from sexual abuses. School therapist Lisa Khoury believes it can also promote potentially abusive behavior and support perpetrators. According to Southern CT Education, victim blaming is a common example of rape culture, excusing sexual abuse and innapropriate behaviors, notably in modern day media. Victim blaming specifically, looks to weaponize aspects of a victim of sexual assault in order to deflect blame and suggest the innocence of a perpetrator.
“Media can be detrimental to victim blaming because sometimes stories are portrayed in a way that leaves people wondering if the victim was to blame,” Khoury said. “They may look into the background of a person, suggesting the victim engaged in risky behaviors or dressed in a certain way that may lead people to think they “asked” for the attack or didn’t do enough to protect themselves.”
According to Zaria Jones ‘22, there is a strong presence of rape culture in American society, ofentimes being mimicked on social media platforms such as Instagram or Tiktok. According to research conducted by non-profit organization ILR, before the age of 17, 85 percent of American women have experienced some sort of sexual harrassment. Catcalling is one example of verbal harassment, which Jones believes is commonly seen on social media as well as in person.
“A lot of media promotes rape culture in ways that most people don’t realize,” Jones said. “Catcalling, for example. Using lewd language on the internet is such a huge thing right now. Leaving inappropriate comments on posts like calling girls “mommy,” can create a lot of discomfort. A lot of the time it is widely accepted and even considered a compliment, when in reality, it’s not.”
Grosse Pointe South social worker Douglass Roby believes that oftentimes society looks past sexual assault when in regard to celebrities, or those looked up to. Rape culture is extremely prominent in modern day media and entertainment – celebrity personalities such as R. Kelly, Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein are convicted sex offenders, and many others have been accused of sexual misconduct. Roby believes having prominent figures in American society being accused or charged with sexual assault crimes can send the wrong message to viewers.
“An example currently in the media is a football quarterback, making millions of dollars and also facing multiple civil charges of sexual assault,” Roby said. “The message can be very inconsistent.”
The National Sexual Violence Research Center reports 63 percent of sexual assault cases are not reported to the police. Jones believes fears of not being taken seriously, believed, or even targeted for speaking out are all reasons so many abuses go unreported. She says there is an importance of survivors taking to social media to share their stories, having a hub of support from listeners and a community of those with similar experiences, while also spreading awareness to prevent further abuses.
“Since modern media is so widespread in society, it can educate people all across the globe. It’s very quick, and easily accessible,” Jones said. “You don’t have to be well established on social media to go viral and to spread awareness. Anyone can do it.”
According to a survey conducted by NORC, 65 percent of Americans believe sexual assault is a problem in the United States. Out of participants, 70 percent of people surveyed stated news reports on sexual assault impacted their views, while 38 percent said social media posts lead them to their beliefs. Roby believes that social media’s accessibility allows for people to base their opinions on sexual assault on what they have seen or heard directly on social media, although he says it is important to form opinions once you have gathered all information.
“The speed at which messages land on social media and how that is interpreted can be different for everyone. It is important to know the facts before judging.” Douglass Roby
For those looking for ways to support victims of sexual abuses, and to spread awareness to hopefully limit the number of sexual assault cases in the United States, Jones believes having respect for others and their experiences is key, especially on social media.
“It is so important to be respectful,” Jones said. “Make sure you’re using appropriate language on the internet. Make people comfortable by not promoting rape culture, but trying to prevent it.”
According to the Department of justice, over 1.5 million women and 834,700 men are sexually assaulted or harassed by a partner yearly. As reported by RAINN, out of every 1,000 sexual assaults 975 perpetrators will not be charged and will remain free. Jones notes the lack of awareness about male sexual assault victims, and believes modern day media helps and supports all victims of sexual assault.
“One of the things that media has promoted is that not only women get sexually assaulted,” Jones said. “There’s this narrative that it only happens to women because that’s all we hear about, when in reality, it happens to men far more often that you’d think.”
Roby believes the best way to move forward as a society and prevent sexual assault in next generations is to increase the amount of education regarding the topic. According to Harvard Education, teaching is a key step in spreading awareness, and ultimately decreasing the amount of sexual assault cases in the United States.
“Society can move forward by increasing the advocacy for victims of sexual assault,” Roby said. “Education for teens is important. It is also important for individuals to be kind, look out for each other, and take action if you see something of concern.”
Ultimately, Jones believes sexual assault comes down to the decision of the perpetrator, and has nothing to do with what the victim did, or did not do to prevent the attack. Not explicitly saying no does not mean the person is giving their consent to any sort of sexual activity.
“A lot of people don’t understand that coersion is a type of sexual assault,” Jones said. “If someone is persistently saying no, and you convince them to say yes, that is still sexual assault. No means no.”