Every 98 seconds, another American is sexually assaulted. 1 in 6 American women and 1 in 33 American men have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the Rape Crisis Center of the Coastal Empire is hosting several events throughout the month to help raise awareness of the crime.
The Rape Crisis Center (RCC)’s sole purpose is to help victims, and they do so through a series of regular programming such as the 24-hour crisis hotline, counseling, support groups, and victim advocacy at the hospital.
“RCC is like any other nonprofit, and this month is an opportunity to take advantage of platforms where we speak to rape and to generate the revenue to support our services, our survivors and education to sexual awareness prevention programming,” explains Kesha Gibson-Carter, the director of RCC.
“More than any funds, it’s an opportunity to raise consciousness and awareness of the plight as it relates to rape and sexual violence in our community.”
In 2017, RCC recorded 183 reports through law enforcement of sexual violence. 153 individuals from that group received a rape kit, a forensic exam that preserves possible DNA evidence.
“Rape is one of the most underreported crimes, so you can accept that there are more incidents,” Gibson-Carter notes. “These are reported to us where we worked with law enforcement—this doesn’t include calls through our crisis lime or from family members. There are a litany of ways that people report to us.”
There is a myriad of reasons for why victims don’t report their rape, but one attributable factor is victim-blaming.
“Laypeople are more inclined to judge because it makes them feel safer if they don’t do what obviously the victim should not have done,” Gibson-Carter explains. “I don’t know that judgment and victim-blaming always comes in the form of attack or criticism more than it comes out of a way in which the person who is spewing the judgment is more inclined to think, ‘If I don’t exhibit that behavior, I won’t get raped.’ In that scenario, it’s displayed and expressed that people are really doing that because they want justification. In some weird way, it protects themselves.”
That’s why RCC is partnering with Jeans 4 Justice, an awareness campaign that began in Italy in 1999 when a victim was blamed for her rape because she was wearing jeans.
“In that case, a judge made a comment that the perpetrator could not possibly have pulled her tight jeans down without help,” Gibson-Carter says. “The question that many survivors are asked after they disclose that they have been raped is, ‘What were you wearing? Why were you wearing those shorts?’”
However, rape has much less to do with clothing than it does with the rapist.
“There is nothing a person can do to protect themselves from rape. Rapists not raping is the only way to not get raped,” Gibson-Carter says firmly.
“But, we do acknowledge from looking at accounts of our survivors, there’s a good mix of individuals going about their regular day, doing nothing that would have caused or put themselves in harm’s way, and then we see there are times where individuals are more vulnerable and engage in high-risk behaviors and become vulnerable.”
Gibson-Carter says that one effective way to help stop rape is to involve the male demographic.
“The majority of rape committed is by men, but all men are not rapists,” she explains. “There’s only a small percentage of the male demographic who do commit rape. We acknowledge that all men are not rapists—they have mothers, daughters, sisters, wives in their life that they love and care for. By virtue of that fact, they are our likely partners in this work.”
The Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event on Apr. 5 is a fun way to garner male support. Participants are asked to put on high-heeled shoes and walk around Forsyth Park to symbolize the steps victims take toward healing.
“While they don’t all have to strap on heels, we want all men out there taking a stand,” Gibson-Carter says. “Walk a Mile is a platform for men to say, ‘Here is a community who supports you.’”
Gibson-Carter stresses the fact that men are impacted by rape, not just as witnesses but as victims.
“The Rape Crisis Center is here for everyone. Men are victims and survivors, too,” she says. “While rape is underreported in women, if you factor in the stigma and shame and embarrassment with women being assaulted, you can only imagine it’s far greater underreporting when it comes to male survivors.”
Ultimately, Sexual Assault Awareness Month is just as much about empathy for rape survivors.
“I think the greatest demonstration for me is what I have basically convinced myself of is that rape and sexual violence tear at the fabrics of a person’s being,” Gibson-Carter says. “It changes the trajectory of their life’s path. Oftentimes you see perfectly well-adjusted people succumb to societal ills as a result of not being able to hope and to heal. Sometimes if a person does have a good support system, faith system, or some sort of therapy, they will have a chance, but even amidst those supports it’s a difficult lifelong journey. It’s not something you just get over.”