There is so much I wanted to write about this week. I celebrated my 10 year wedding anniversary last week and had an amazing vacation with my hubby where we renewed our vows. I have much to say about that experience… But I feel it is more important to share my experience with Denim Day this year. If you follow my social media you may be tired of this already, but I promise I will share some new things.
First I need to explain what Denim Day is to those who are not familiar. Denim Day is a day we wear jeans in SOLIDARITY with/for Survivors. In the 1990’s a 15/16 year old girl was taking driver’s ed. Her teacher raped her while they were together. She won her case and he was convicted. HE took the case to the Supreme Court to fight his conviction. He was set free and his conviction overturned because they determined she had to be complicit in her rape. Her jeans were too tight for him to remove them without her assistance, so there is no possible way he could have raped her. It had to be consensual. Now there are so many things wrong with this, it makes my head spin.
Sadly we still live in a society that victim blames and shames. Today in Salt Lake City, Utah- there was a press conference held by UCASA (Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault), and the local leaders they have been working closely with to change the way victims are treated, guided and supported through their journey and healing process. It starts fundamentally. In Prevention Education and Affirmative Consent. I was surprised to learn there is now an affirmative consent lesson in schools and has been since 2019. I have not heard of this ever being taught in schools and it makes me wonder if it actually gets taught. The curriculum is there, but are we educating teens enough?
Education should start in the home and then in schools and in religious settings. What I have learned through my personal healing journey and attempts to educate, is that we as a whole are scared and uncomfortable with the topic of rape and assault. I’ve requested a course be taught to the youth in my religious organization many times… Every time I have been met with discomfort and uncertainty that inevitably ends with “We’ll think about it.” Honestly I don’t think it’s ever even discussed.
At home, growing up, I knew about sex, I knew not to have sex and I knew about safe sex. As my life formed and my choices and the choices of others led me to sexual activity, I was sure to practice what I had learned. Safe sex. I knew I shouldn’t be engaged in sexual activities but at least I was being safe, right? WRONG! If during the education process at home, school or church ever included healthy relationships, or affirmative consent, the different forms of assault or how and when to get help…. I likely would have found my way out of my first negative experience with sexual abuse. Or maybe he would have known not to behave in such ways. That having sex was not love. That I was capable of caring for him without it.
Perhaps I would not have found my self worth plummeting or known I was worth more than my body and what guys could get from me. Or when I was raped at 16, I would have known that I was raped. My friends who also would have learned these principals , would have been able to help me see that I was in fact assaulted and that I had resources at my disposal.
The next step Salt Lake City Leaders are working to improve is with law enforcement. With a new independent unit comprised of non police advocates, the first interactions are with empathetic and knowledgeable people who will connect the victim with a specially trained detective (think SVU) who will be sure to use “inquisitive questions and not interrogative tactics” to help victims with recall, and comfort. To make sure we first believe the victim and don’t blame or shame them. Nor do we question their role in their assault. All things that were missing in my own reporting experience. At Denim Day, I learned that 88% of victims NEVER report…. I wasn’t surprised. BUT the way they worded the next statistics was a powerful image… The DA shared these stats.
Every 73 seconds 100 women WILL be sexually assaulted. Let that sink in…. Of those 100 women only 12 will report their assault. 88 will never disclose. Of the 12 who report, only 6 will be prosecutable (have enough evidence for a triable case). Only 4 of those will make it all the way to court. Let’s go back to the first numbers… out of the 100 women who were assaulted… only 4 will ever see a courtroom. Currently 4% of all sexual assaults make it to court. That’s not enough! SO Salt Lake City is working with their Mayor, the DA’s Office, the Sheriff’s department and on legislation to make serious changes to better serve the survivors and their process from victimhood to survivor.
I was asked to share my story and answer some questions for KSL news while attending Denim Day. I was asked some great questions and I wanted to share with you what thoughts came to me. The questions were what I think the community needs to know, how to help friends who are survivors and what I would tell my younger self now, among a few others. So here are my takeaways…
1- Education is key to prevention. We HAVE to educate boys and girls, parents and friends, teachers and business owners on Sexual Assault. That includes what consent looks like, all the different ways there are to say no, affirmative consent, healthy relationships, the different types of sexual assault and where to find resources.
2- Conversation is key to progress. As I started writing this blog a year ago, I quickly learned how uncomfortable my story made people. My mother won’t read it, others told me I should have written it as a fictional story, others asked if it was true or why I would share so much detail… It made me think back to the conversation with church leaders who said “we’ll think about it.” Sex is everywhere. In the movies, tv, porn, sexting, and more. We see it and are desensitized to it, yet when someone talks about non consensual sex, or rape, we instantly get uncomfortable. We feel we shouldn’t talk about it. It’s not proper conversation or a topic we care to dive into. But if change is ever going to occur, we HAVE to start talking about it. I had completed my healing many years ago, or at least I thought I had… but when I started writing this blog a year ago, a whole new level of healing occurred. Knowing my story was out there even if to only a few people, felt like I was being heard. That I was not suffocating my story. I allowed it to breathe and provided an opportunity to be heard and not silenced. I was empowered. My goal is to help at least one woman through her journey, of course I would love to help more, but ONE woman. Helping one person through their healing will make the conversation worth it. The nay sayer’s comments to be null in void. Talking and being willing to listen will be a game changer that allows survivors to feel safe disclosing.
3-There are stages to recovery. The initial assault creates a victim. Something has happened to you that you could not control. You were a victim of a sexual crime. As you begin your healing journey you become a survivor… As soon as you do anything to heal ( report it, do a rape kit, confide in a friend etc) you become a survivor in survivor mode… Once you feel comfortable talking about your trauma and experience, you are a survivor in recovery mode. When you feel a desire to be an advocate and want to help others through their experiences and journey, you are a thriver.
4-There are different types of assault and different reactions to those assaults as well as different recovery journeys. There are violent assaults, there are non violent assaults, there are conditioned assaults etc. The rapist can be a friend, significant other, stranger, coach, teacher, boss, mentor, family member…. The different type of assault, relationship to their rapist and resources available to them will all determine their recovery journey.
I am thankful for the efforts of UCASA and the leaders in Salt Lake County. Hopefully their efforts catch on quickly to other counties here in Utah and around the world. To make change there needs to be. UNITED front and LOUD voices standing up and demanding change. Get the attention of your local leaders that education in churches, schools and home are necessary. Special training for law enforcement and a change in how we talk with, to and about survivors. Stand up, be loud, support, believe and hear survivors. Together we can eradicate sexual violence. I look forward to further efforts and united changes in our communities. Together we can rise above the failures of the past and be better to support survivors and demand change from those around us!