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Staying Silent is Part of the Problem

Emma Bittner, Co Editor-in-Chief

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Actions speak louder than words, it’s one of the oldest sayings in the book, but do we ever take a moment to think about what it means?

Our actions have much worse consequences than our words. Saying something damaging or inappropriate to someone can roll off their back, but you can’t take back your actions. What’s done is done.

Bluntly, telling someone they have a nice butt or you want to do sexual things to them is never the right thing to do or way to go about it, but acting on those thoughts or words is something that can never be taken back. Sexual harassment and sexual abuse are prevalent in high school, the workforce, college campuses and everywhere we go. Even though we don’t hear about it often or have seen a large concentration of survivors come forward in Hollywood, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen to those around us.

One in four girls and one in five boys are sexually abused by the time they turn 18.

Let that sink in.

You can count the people around you and realize that one in four or one in five of those people will most likely have been or will be sexually abused. It’s awful and seems impossible, but this is that horrifying truth.

In Frisco, a questionnaire was sent out to students asking their knowledge on sexual harassment and promising anonymity, if they had ever been subjected to sexual abuse or harassment.

Students were asked if they had ever been harassed or abused and then shown a list of acts that were considered harassment/abuse and then were asked again if they were a victim of harassment/abuse. Initially, only 39.6% of respondents were victims, yet after seeing nine different criteria, 60.4% had realized that they were victims.

Sexual harassment and sexual abuse seem to have a grey area as many are unsure of what it means or what constitutes an act of abuse or harassment, therefore holding victims from coming forward.

“It really needs to be addressed, especially among people our age because many people don’t know that they’ve been sexually harassed. I think that the definition of sexual harassment isn’t completely clear to everyone. When someone speaks about it, most people think of actions and actions only,” a respondent detailed in the questionnaire comments. “However catcalling, obsessive compliments when someone has asked them to stop, are both forms of sexual harassment.”

“It really needs to be addressed, especially among people our age,” another respondent added. “Many people don’t know that they’ve been sexually harassed and don’t come forward.”

Education and awareness of what sexual harassment and abuse consist of are needed to help now and in the future.

“It has to have a sexual piece to it, it can be verbal or physical. Forcing you to do something you don’t want to do, including sexual acts, but also exploitation to pornography and photos, are forms of abuse and harassment,” Jodi Payson, Sexual Abuse counselor, and therapist explained. “Sending nudes is a huge issue among people under the age of 18. It falls under sexual abuse. Anytime someone sends a nude under the age of 18, it is the distribution of child pornography. A female takes take a picture, anytime she sends it, it is distribution, any time the guy shows it is a distribution of child pornography. “

Apps that are part of our everyday life that we see as harmless are some of the leading causes and catalysts for sexual abuse and harassment.

“Everyone thinks that snapchat and things of that nature are okay. Nothing goes away, anything can be saved. You can take a picture of that with their iPad or another phone. The police can recover all of that. Four months from now you could get in trouble for sending a nude that you sent years or months ago,” Payson continued. “For example, a female takes a photo topless or bottomless, that is the distribution of child pornography. Anytime that guy shows someone else it is a distribution of child pornography. Each person is a different account. It is a distribution of child pornography if you are under the age of 18 because in the eyes of law you are a child.”

Change to this starts now, law enforcement is taking charge to end this and clean up the messes in the past to be prepared for the future.

“[The police] are starting to crack down on it more and more because it is getting out of hand. When nudes are sent and shared there is a teenager who is devastated. She didn’t want any of that, she didn’t ask for that picture to share with the entire school,” Payson explained. “Just like a college girl at a party didn’t ask to be raped by three people. There is not a difference, so that is why people are cracking down more.”

Many people associate sexual abuse or harassment with happening to females and females only, but of course, it happens to males as well. As victims moving forward, there are two paths that have to be gone down.

“After you tell someone, there are steps to follow on the legal side and steps to follow on the side of the victim. If you tell your parents or counselor, they will make a report to the police. One way or another the police and CPS will get involved and there will be a forensic interview with the victim. The legal side will proceed as it should, by putting restrictions in place. It all depends on who the perpetrator is,” Payson said. “There are advocacy centers all over that deal with only those who have been subjected to sexual abuse. These centers will put you in therapy to begin your coping with what has happened.”

The best thing to do once you have come forward is to learn to cope. Therapy and counseling help you navigate through the dark to make sense of what has happened.

“It’s like learning how to drive a car with no one teaching you. Trying to cope with something of that nature with no one to help if difficult. It can be possible, but why not have an expert help you through it,” Payson noted. “It helps you change seeing yourself from a victim to a survivor, it is a powerful shift because you are moving forward. Oftentimes, seeking help from a therapist or expert that is able to navigate and process this event in a calm and supportive way is going to help you.”

While therapy is unappealing to many, and as someone who went to therapy for other reasons, it’s not fun, yet is necessary.

“Therapy is kind of like throwing up. Throwing up is the worst thing in the world, but you know if you do it you’ll feel better,” Payson detailed. “That’s what therapy is. Going through it is awful, but after it helps you process it.”

What is taught in therapy will pave the future and help victims become survivors from this horrible experience.

“Learning to talk about it and re-talk about it helps you to desensitize to it,” Payson said.”If you don’t have the skills to tell someone no or don’t talk to me, then things will continue to happen and that’s not your fault. Learning the skills is the key to stopping revictimization.”

In Hollywood with the creation of the #MeToo and #EndItMovement, sexual harassment and abuse victims are coming forward and demanding change in the society we live in.

“It’s coming up all over the world more because of awareness, it is really bringing it to the surface and creating a movement and a stance to be strong rather than sweep it under the rug,” Payson said. “We are holding people more accountable for their actions because of the awareness that this is bringing about.”

When reaching out and coming forward it is important to know what will come with that. Things will be different, but it will be for the better.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out. Be prepared that when you reach out there might be some things that will change and that will be okay,” Payson reminded. “It is dependent on the perpetrator, if it is a family member then your household will change. CPS will not allow the perpetrator to stay in that home, somethings might change and that’s okay, you did not ask for this to happen to you.”

For those who have been sexually abused or harassed and are afraid to come forward because of what will follow, it is important for victims to remember a few things. These victims are the change we need.

“It’s not their fault, they are brave for taking steps to heal themselves and get justice. Ultimately, what sexual harassment and abuse create is a lack of control,” Payson reminded. “Learning to get that control back either physically, mentally or figuratively plays a huge role in what comes next. You didn’t ask for this.”

We are more than a statistic, but in order to be more than that we must stand up and speak out. We must demand change.

“By being silent when you see this happen, you are adding to the problem,” Payson said. “If you don’t step in to help the victim you are part of the problem, not the solution.”

 

If you have been sexually abused or harassed, please come forward. It is scary and what happens after may be unknown, but things can only get better. As reminded above, you did chose for this to happen, this is not your fault. Tell a trusted adult, counselor, teacher, parent or even go to a sexual abuse hotline. Please get the help you deserve. You are a survivor.

 

You can contact Jodi Payson, Sexual Abuse Counselor, at (972) 845-5554 or email her from https://bit.ly/2Fuoiep.

Sexual Abuse Hotline: 800.656.HOPE (4673)

Other helpful hotlines: http://victimsofcrime.org/help-for-crime-victims/national-hotlines-and-helpful-links

 

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Staying Silent is Part of the Problem