Op-Ed: Dialogue Can Prevent and Heal Sexual Violence

Katrina Pestano April 17, 2013 0
Op-Ed: Dialogue Can Prevent and Heal Sexual Violence

Photo caption: For more resources or information, please visit www.apichaya.org.

Healthy sexuality is not just about sex, and it’s time for us to talk about it.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) and this year, the focus is on promoting healthy sexuality as a way to prevent child sexual abuse. Although talking about sexual violence in our communities and families can be difficult and painful, our collective silence maintains the culture that allows sexual violence to continue.

The statistics are staggering: In the United States, a sexual assault happens EVERY TWO MINUTES (207, 754 a year for those age 12 or older). While many people believe that sexual violence is not a problem in Asian, Pacific Islander and South Asian communities, research by the National Institute of Justice in 2011 shows that 56 percent of Filipinas and 64 percentof Indian and Pakistani women had experienced sexual violence by an intimate partner in a study interviewing 143 women. It is even more alarming if you consider that so much of it goes unreported.

API Chaya, an organization serving Asian Pacific Islander and South Asian survivors of violence and abuse and addresses sexual violence as a community issue. Our communities are complicit to the culture of silence and stigma around this issue. We work within our communities to build the knowledge and skills to talk about, address and ultimately end violence and abuse.

In many communities, including Asian and Pacific Islander communities, the myth remains that rapists and child molesters are primarily strangers. However, abundant research has shown that approximately two-thirds of rapes were committed by someone known to the victim such as an acquaintance or friend, an intimate partner or family member. This makes it even more difficult for victims to come forward, especially within close faith or ethnic communities where victims may be blamed or shunned and risk losing their community connection.

Young people are at a higher risk: 80 percent of victims are under the age of 30, with 44 percent being under the age of 18 and 15 percent being younger than age 12. Girls ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). The public outcry from the brutal New Delhi rape of a college student has been significant, but this is only one of many horrific cases of rape in India and the United States that have happened recently.

Although stories where rapists are unknown to the victim are frequently highlighted in the media, 93 percent of juvenile sexual assault survivors know their attacker. It is crucial that adults know how to support the young people in their lives. One of the ways we can do this is by simply talking about healthy sexuality from an early age. According to National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “It’s important to understand that this is a normal experience we all share. By opening up communication, sharing age-appropriate information with children, and educating one another,we are taking steps toward a safer community.” Talking with your child or youth about boundaries and consent (their ability to say no) from a young age can help establish their sense of power over their bodies. This is a powerful strategy to help prevent child sexual abuse.

To shift cultural norms and eradicate sexual violence, API Chaya engages faith communities and male allies, supports Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) people and provides space for young people to have conversations about safe and healthy relationships.

“People in our communities are scared or feel uncomfortable talking about sexual assault and abuse,” says Sabrina Chen, youth program coordinator and sexual assault advocate at API Chaya. “It’s important to break the silence so that our communities have the capacity to support survivors.”

During this month of April, break the silence around sexual assault and abuse. Talk to a friend or family member about the importance of discussing healthy sexuality and boundaries. It’s not just about sex, it’s about our rights to our bodies, it’s about the safety of our community, and it’s about creating a culture that does not tolerate sexual violence.

For more information or support, please call (206) 325-0325 or visit www.apichaya.org.

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