By Deborah R. Gilg
U.S. Attorney for Dist. of Neb.
It is time to get involved.
“Sexual violence is an affront against our national conscience, one which we cannot ignore.” -President Obama, April 2010.
In 2009, President Obama was the first president to mark April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This was significant because awareness months serve not only to highlight different issues that impact our society, but they also challenge citizens to learn more and to become involved in finding solutions to a collective problem.
This April, I am heeding the president’s call to be a partner in raising awareness on the issue of sexual violence and I hope you will join me.
This devastating crime warrants our focused attention because it is often misunderstood and incorrectly portrayed.
Paradoxically, on the one hand, we are reluctant to talk about the issue; yet, when sexual violence is discussed, we see that it continues to be misunderstood.
Myths still dominate the collective thinking; victims are blamed and often shamed into silence.
It’s commonly believed that rape is something that only happens between strangers. This is not the case. Statistics show that the majority of rape victims know their perpetrator. Many believe that consent to sexual activity is a flexible concept up for debate. It is not.
Regardless of whether you or someone you know has been personally affected by sexual violence, you have only to read the newspaper or turn on the television to realize the extensive nature of its impact on our society and around the world.
Sexual violence knows no boundaries. It reaches people of every age, race, class gender and sexual orientation. It affects entire communities from high schools, to college campuses, the work place and our own homes.
Some populations are particularly vulnerable such as children, people with disabilities, and the elderly. Whatever the circumstances, it must be said plainly and indisputably: no one asks or deserves to be sexually assaulted.
Researchers estimate that about 18 percent of women in the United States report having been raped at some point in their lifetimes. Many men are also victims of sexual violence: 1 in 33 men will be victimized in his lifetime.
Nearly one in three American Indian and Alaska native women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. The level of sexual violence in tribal violence in tribal communities is particularly disturbing. The Department of Justice has made addressing public safety in Indian country a priority.
Department leadership has held numerous listening sessions and consultations to hear from tribal nations on ways we can work together to assist victims and hold offenders accountable.
In my own office, we have conducted consultations with tribal communities to develop specific plans to improve public safety in those communities, and to prioritize prosecution of sexual assault of Native American women.
But a deeper look at these numbers reveals another critical concern. Sexual assault remains one of the most underreported crimes in America. In fact, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that in 2008 less than half of rapes or sexual assaults against women were reported.
Many victims will never seek justice for a host of reasons, including fear of not being believed, having to relive a traumatic experience, or fear of retribution, to list a few.
The effects on victims and society are profound. Many rape victims suffer severe long term physical and emotional difficulties. They experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and even thoughts of suicide.
One sexual assault is one too many. From a criminal justice perspective, we must create an environment where victims feel safe reporting crimes to law enforcement so that they can begin to seek the justice they deserve.
This April, let us challenge every community in Nebraska to learn more about sexual violence, to better understand its impact, and to take a stand against it.
As the U.S. Attorney for Nebraska and part of the Department of Justice, we view working for greater public safety not only as our job but as our moral imperative.
Our greatest hope is that more citizens will join us in our quest to meet the needs of victims, hold offenders accountable and put an end to sexual violence here and around the world.