A State of Our Union: Women, Sexism & Sexual Assault

By Sophie Dila

It would be putting it mildly to say that this Presidential election season has been, um, rough. No matter what side of the aisle you sit on, the issues of focus have brought up intense emotions and reactions in the American public. The American Psychological Association even found that the election poses a significant stress on over half of Americans. Psst, they also offered healthy tips to help people cope with election-related stress.

The front and center issue of sexual assault raises emotion and reactions in so many of us – particularly when these violations are similar to our own personal experiences.

But sexual assault isn’t just an “election issue”. It’s a reality in our society – and one that needs to change. Some call it sexism, others call it rape culture. Whatever you call it, we want to encourage you, dear Beforeplayers, to lean in and talk about it – even if the conversations a little awkward.

Sometimes with all that is swirling around, we can forget about the facts. Here are some… Sexual assault and rape are really common in America. Every two minutes, another American is sexually assaulted. 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Also, 9 out of 10 victims of rape are women. This is jarring. It makes my heart hurt. We know there is so much potential for progress in this world. We need to build the momentum to end these violations – and communication is key to addressing this painful issue.

More victims of sexual assault are coming forward, opening the door for our own conversations about the issue. Nationwide, a really important cultural conversation is happening about these tough to talk about topics, and Beforeplay.org is all about just talking about it, even when it’s uncomfortable. Especially when it’s uncomfortable. If we avoid thinking or talking about these issues, they’ll persist. If we bring more awareness, thought and conversation to these issues, then there is opportunity for healing and constructive change.

The good news is sexual assault and rape has decreased by 74% since 1993. We can make progress! Still, for a range of reasons, sexual assault and rape is vastly underreported. Bottom line is there is so much work left to be done. As we often say at Beforeplay.org, what you can do is Just Talk About It. Talk about it with your partner, your friends, your parents. Talk about it in schools, in classrooms, on the sports field. Talk about it at work, at church, in the community. Talking about sexism and sexual assault is not easy, but it’s a good place to start. If you’re not quite sure how to approach the topic, here are a few ideas or conversation starters:

  • Try defining sexism and sexual assault. What’s your definition? Do others agree with your definition?
  • Think about the last time you witnessed sexism in your day to day life. What happened, how did it make you feel, what would you do if you witnessed the same thing happen again tomorrow?
  • Do you believe that male aggression and violence toward women is common in your community?
  • Do you think that victims of sexual harassment, assault or rape are blamed and shamed for their actions that led them there in the first place? When it comes to rape, who is to blame?

Also, don’t forget to listen. Actively listen. Try to understand the other person’s point of view before reacting or responding. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for someone who has been hurt by sexist comments or victimized by sexual assault is to simply listen.

So much can change when we bring conscious awareness and thoughtful discussion to difficult issues. We’ve already seen such progress in the decreased numbers of sexual assault and rape over the past few decades, so let’s build upon this momentum! Together, we can bring healing and change to the current state of sexism and sexual assault in our country.
For more information, check out our friends at rainn.org, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.