May 10, 2023
Focusing on sexual assault awareness during the month of April each year is an important step in raising awareness of the prevalence and impact of an issue that affects 1 out of 5 individuals in our communities. As sexual assault doesn’t occur on one month of the year, neither should awareness. Raising awareness every month and every day of the year is necessary if we hope to stem the tide of this all too often hidden tragedy.
Judith Herman, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and one of the earliest and clearest voices speaking to the need for treatment of sexual trauma, reminds us that the community has an important role to play in helping survivors to heal.
In her latest book, Truth and Repair: How Trauma Survivors Envision Justice, Herman states, “Recovery cannot be simply a private, individual matter.” I would argue that sexual assault proliferates because it is such a private and most often secret matter. Healing must involve community awareness and acknowledgement to allow this life-changing crime to come out of the shadows.
Individuals who have been sexually abused fear speaking up and telling of their violation. There are a myriad of complex reasons that survivors don’t tell of their abuse, but fear of not being believed is most often one of them. The more this issue is unacknowledged, the more survivors feel that they are the only one — and nothing could be farther from the truth.
We all have a role to play in becoming informed, daring to know about the pain and the harm of sexual assault, and creating a space where survivors know they will be believed and that their suffering matters. Herman reminds us that, “Trauma is not just a psychological issue, it is a social one.” When so many individuals in our communities are deeply harmed, we all pay a price.
Janice Palm, Executive Director