April 2nd is the sexual assault awareness and prevention day. Sexual assault and sexual abuse are topics that need to be talked about in our society. It is far too often that children are abused and unable to find an escape because of how little they know about it. A program has been put in place for Illinois schools to make sure that it does. The program is called Erin’s Law.
What is Erin’s Law?
Erin’s Law is a program adopted by Illinois and 34 others states that require all public schools to have prevention-oriented childhood sexual abuse programs. This usually comes as 3 aspects. 1- having age-appropriate conversations with students from Pre K through 12th about what sexual abuse is and how to report it to a trusted adult. 2- keeping school personnel informed of warning signs and reporting to the authorities. 3- resources for abused children and their families. This law and the program behind it were founded by an author, speaker, activist, and childhood sexual abuse survivor, Erin Merryn. Merryn is also the president of the social welfare organization that also goes by the name of Erin’s Law. She has worked to get legislators to recognize this issue and stop sweeping it under the rug because it makes us uncomfortable. She works to help children have the knowledge of what is safe and what is unsafe for them.
What is Child Sexual Abuse?
It is any form of sexual activity with a minor. Inappropriate touching, fondling, penetration, exposure, or pornographic exploitation would be considered abuse. 95%-98% of incidents are perpetrated by someone the child knows and is many times a person the child is dependent upon. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they are 18. With how high the estimates are we would assume there would be a lot of children coming forward when it happens, but the sad truth is that for many of the children suffering sexual abuse they have no way of knowing that what has happened is wrong.
What are ways to prevent sexual abuse?
Teaching children while they are young to know what consent is and to have boundaries. Having a support system of trusted adults, who could be told if something were to happen. Watch for acts of “grooming.” Grooming is generally an individual building trust with a victim before acting out often times using fear and confusion to prevent the victim from informing others. Educating young children on what is considered “bad touches” and “bad secrets” to help them find the voice to speak out against their abusers. Teaching kids while they are young to not keep “body secrets” is one-way parents or teachers can help. Watch out for behavioral changes, such as aggression, hyperactivity, being overly affectionate or unaffectionate; or physical indicators as well, injuries, stomach problems, or UTIs are common signs of sexual abuse.
What is sexual assault?
Sexual assault is in a broad term sexual contact without consent. This can include any form of rape, such as statutory rape i.e. sex with a minor or an intoxicated victim. The victims of these crimes could not have given consent because of age and because of mental impairments due to alcohol. Unwanted sexual contact can be extended to include things like harassment, stalking, or sending explicit pictures, but would usually be used to describe advances made on a person who has indicated for it to stop. 1 in 7 women in Illinois have been victims of sexual assault in their lifetimes. Terrifyingly 1 out of 4 women who attend college will be sexually assaulted during their time there. One group, in particular, that is heavily affected by sexual violence are people in the LGBTQA+ communities. 44% of lesbians, 26% of gay men, 61% of bisexual woman, 37% of bisexual men, and 47% of trans people have suffered some kind of sexual assault within their lifetime. Statistics often only show the number of women or LGBTQA+ people who are affected, but there is often very little on the male victims. These crimes could happen to anyone and the shame and fear girls and boys both experience should be taken seriously. These actions are very illegal when done to anyone and should be reported to authorities or trusted adults.
What is consent?
Consent is the permission you give for something to happen to you or for you to do something. This means a person must know specifically what they are agreeing to and should not feel pressured to agree to it. it is good to always get permission for any activity with a partner, including kissing, cuddling, or sex of any kind. Never assume consent is given, even if a partner had agreed to the activity on a different occasion. Not being told “no” is not a “yes.” Even forms of unclear consent, such as a hesitant “yes” are not consent. A good rule of thumb for asking to engage in sexual activity is to ask if your partner is comfortable with the activity and pose the question in a way that indicates that it would be okay for them to say no. Even a long time partner should be asked before engaging in any sexual acts. In the world we live in today relationships should also have digital consent between the partners.
What is digital consent?
Digital consent is setting boundaries in a relationship pertaining to smartphones or digital devices. Often times this can mean not having your partner available 24/7 even if technology could allow you to be in contact that often. One party of a relationship may not enjoy having the other bombard them with texts or phone calls. They could consent to the constant contact, but they should also be able to not be in contact with no repercussions. Another aspect is of sharing information about each other online. Photos or personal information can easily be put up for the whole world to see, but you should always ask a partner about how comfortable they are with sharing that kind of information, over the phone, in text messages, or on the internet.
How does power impact consent?
Power can be in many forms in a relationship. Age, strength, and even confidence can be played to “one-up” a partner. Having one party feel inferior or that they need to prove themselves to the other is not a healthy relationship dynamic. This is often to case with issues of age or confidence. The younger or less emotionally sound member is likely to be taken advantage of by the one they are trying to get the approval of. Strength is a little better know in its dynamic. It is often physically intimidating a partner into agreeing to activity against their will. Using a power advantage over a partner to garner agreement is not getting consent.
What is a healthy relationship dynamic?
There are four main things a healthy relationship needs. Respect, understanding, responsibility, and consent. Showing how you value a partner and being considerate are common things people know to try for in a relationship, but many don’t know those healthy relationships are something that must be constantly strived for by both parties. There are many things to also watch out for in your own relationships as well as those around you. Things such as jealousy, controlling behaviors, name-calling, lack of privacy or violence are not healthy behaviors form either party. Often, when abuse happens the abuser will apologize to their victim and treat them well for a time before acting out again. The cycle of abuse is named that for a reason. It is unlikely that an abusive partner with end the abuse. The best course of action is always to leave a partner who has shown abusive behaviors.
What is sexual violence?
Sexual violence is any situation where a victim is sexually assaulted, and the perpetrator uses violence. This could be anything from harassing comments to rape. These actions are usually carried out in a situation where the perpetrator uses physical force or threats when engaging with the victim. There are also situations where a victim could be incapacitated, physically helpless, or unconscious. Anyone can be a victim of sexual violence men, women, children, etc.
What are the resources for victims?
There are hundreds of online resources for victims of crimes. They could be help hotlines or legal resources. Here are some that could be useful.
http://www.erinslaw.org/erins-law/ (information on Erin’s law)
http://victimsofcrime.org/our-programs/dna-resource-center/untested-sexual-assault-kits/resources-for-victims (database for victims of any crime)
https://www.rainn.org/ 800-656-4673 (The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network)
https://malesurvivor.org/survivors/ (Info and resources for male sexual abuse survivors)
https://www.dayoneny.org/ 800-214-4150 (Sexual trauma and Domestic Abuse)