OPINION: It’s time to end the ‘insanity’ of condoning sexual assault, harassment

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Shauna Galloway-Williams, executive director of the Julie Valentine Center

By Shauna Galloway-Williams

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and again and expecting different results. For far too long, sexual assault and harassment have been tolerated in our communities. Change is coming, and it is coming fast.

When Time magazine announced the “Silence Breakers” as Person of the Year, I felt a move in the right direction and a powerful validating shift away from the insanity toward a world where victims are believed and offenders are held accountable for their crimes.

For far too long, we have lived in a world that protects offenders, allowing them to hide in plain sight and to carry out their lives without consequence. In that world, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men are victims of sexual assault in their lifetimes, and 1 in 10 children are victims of sexual abuse before the age of 18. Insanity.

Some have referred to this shift as a “witch hunt” or “Big Sister,” and there is talk of fearing the consequences of believing the accusers for fear of the scarred reputations of the accused. For far too long, we have protected these reputations and have allowed offenders to continue to live their lives without fear and without consequence. Meanwhile, victims have been forced to hide in the shadows for fear of losing their jobs, their families, and their reputations. On more than one occasion, a victim has reported that her offender, out on bond for his offense, has entered a space they both frequented and announced that although he had been arrested, she is a liar. He is boldly living his life without fear of consequence. Innocent until proven guilty. Meanwhile, the victim has to prove her innocence, prove that she isn’t lying. Insanity.

Lately, I have been asked if I am shocked by the number of individuals who have been impacted by assault and harassment. I am not shocked. It is what we see every day at the Julie Valentine Center.

Most victims, if they tell, do not tell right away. Some wait days, weeks, and years, and many never tell or report for fear of the consequences of reporting and not being believed. For every precaution that I can give you for keeping yourself “safe from sexual assault,” I can give you an incident where a victim was still assaulted.

The only way to end sexual assault is to stop offenders from assaulting. The way we do that is by creating a culture that does not tolerate these crimes, a culture that shames offenders rather than victims. We must create a culture that holds offenders accountable and does not treat victims as liars who are guilty until proven innocent.

We know that the vast majority of men do not rape, but we also know that of those men who do, they often have multiple victims. They often use manipulation and prey on the vulnerabilities of others to get what they want. They are skilled at having us believe what we want to believe; that there is no way that this could have happened.

My answer to ending these crimes in our community is what I teach my own children each and every day: Treat people the way that you want to be treated. Consent is simple. We practice it every day when we ask to borrow that pen rather than taking it from our colleague’s desk. We teach it to our children when we tell them not to take things without asking and to get permission first. It’s simple.

Lately, I have been asked if I am shocked by the number of individuals who have been impacted by assault and harassment. I am not shocked. It is what we see every day at the Julie Valentine Center. In fact, we have made a business of responding to and attempting to end sexual violence for over 43 years. And we are not alone. We are 1 of 16 centers in South Carolina that responds to the needs of victims and works toward ending these crimes in our communities.

What is shocking (in a good way) is the fact that we are now having a national conversation about an issue that has long been kept in silence and secrecy. We are seeing powerful men facing consequences for their violations against women. Now more than ever we are seeing victims feeling empowered to share their stories and find their voices again.

This is only the beginning of the end of the insanity.

Shauna Galloway-Williams, M.Ed., LPC, is the executive director of the Julie Valentine Center and an adjunct faculty member at USC Upstate in the child advocacy studies program.

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