By Chris Karenbauer
Editor’s note: The following story contains material related to sexual violence that may be disturbing to some people.
The Rape, Abuse & Incest Network (RAINN) defines sexual violence as a “non-legal term that refers to crimes like sexual assault, rape and sexual abuse.”
It’s On Us is an organization that helps combat campus sexual assault. According to It’s On Us’s website, between 20-25% of undergraduate women are victims of sexual violence. Ninety percent of victims do not report the crime to law enforcement.
“I don’t think we have educated ourselves enough to get the significance,” said Shannon Berkheiser, the Title IX Coordinator at Cedarville University. “We don’t fully understand how often sexual violence occurs. So we tend to focus on other issues instead.”
The first step in responding to victims of sexual violence is being educated on the subject. Sexual violence isn’t only sexual harassment, rape and sexual abuse. It also includes stalking or any unconsented sexual act.
Berkheiser works to educate people about sexual violence and teaches them how to respond appropriately to victims.
“I’ve always been very passionate about how people of faith lack the resources and education to come alongside a victim of sexual violence when we are really the ones who should have all the answers,” Berkheiser said.
What are the best ways to come alongside and support a victim of sexual violence?
One way is to appropriately encourage them to report it and provide the support they need to do so. But this is easier said than done because the victim may face obstacles to reporting the crime.
As previously stated, less than 10% of rape victims report the crime to law enforcement. Why? One obstacle can be victim blaming.
“I think that in our Christian circles, we too easily fall into victim blaming,” Berkheiser said. “This diminishes the responsibility of the offender and places the burden of the crime on the victim.”
Imagine you’re going to the bank to cash a check. Once you receive your money, you put it in your wallet. As you leave the bank, someone mugs you, stealing your wallet.
In this situation, most people would say that the blame is solely on the offender, not the victim. No one would say, “Why did you go to the bank to cash your check? You must have known that someone could rob you at any moment.”
However, a victim isn’t always blamed by a third-party person. Many times, an offender will manipulate their victim into thinking that the abuse was their fault.
“They may feel that it is partly their fault because the offender is manipulating them to feel that way,” Berkheiser said.
Sexual violence occurs far more often between two people who already know each other, whether within families or between classmates or dating partners.
With children, they may not want to report to law enforcement because they don’t want their family member to get in trouble.
“While they don’t want the bad stuff to happen, they often still love that person, especially if they’re one of their caregivers,” Berkheiser said.
For example, an offender could be that really popular teacher everyone likes. Because of this, a victim may fear that their friends will not believe them.
Moreover, an act of sexual violence can leave victims feeling ashamed or embarrassed. Consequently, recounting the event is often difficult or distressing.
“Most of us would not want to sit and share with a stranger details about an intimate experience,” Berkheiser said. “But that is what we expect a victim of sexual violence to do in reporting.”
It can be very challenging for victims to talk about their experiences to complete strangers, and if they do, they’ll have to repeat their stories to advocates, law enforcement or in a public court.
You may never have to go through this kind of experience. But if you do, know that someone will believe you.
But what do you do if you know someone who has been sexually violated?
The best thing for you to do is be a supportive friend to a victim. It’s not their fault they were violated. And it’s not your job to investigate for the truth.
Before she moved to Cedarville, Berkheiser worked in upstate New York as an advocate for victims.
“In advocacy you walk alongside that person and help them navigate the systems they need to interact with, such as medical care, law enforcement and the criminal justice system,” she said.
The best way to be supportive of a victim of sexual violence is to listen if they want to talk or go with them if they need to go to the hospital. Be the friend that they need. Be someone who will believe them.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NRSVC), only between 2% and 10% of any criminal accusations turn out to be false. It’s safer to believe a victim rather than to dismiss them. Support them in any way you can.
Don’t pressure a victim to talk about what happened. Don’t confront the offender. Don’t pressure them to report it to law enforcement. But do encourage them as much as you can, and let them decide what to do.
But the important thing to remember is to educate yourself on the matter. Understand that victims didn’t ask to be violated and support those who have been.
Berkheiser said, “I just really challenge people to educate themselves about the issues surrounding domestic violence and sexual violence.”
If you or someone you know has been sexually violated, there are several resources you can look into.
Find an advocate whose job is to walk alongside victims of sexual violence. If you want to talk, they’ll listen. If you need to go to the hospital to report to law enforcement, they’ll go with you.
RAINN is an anti-sexual violence organization. It operates the Department of Defense’s Safe Helpline. You can visit their website at https://www. rainn.org, or you can call them at 800-656-4673.
It’s On Us is another organization that combats sexual violence. They focus specifically with college-age women and men who have been sexually violated. They provide resources for victims of sexual violence, such as education tools and contacts to call. Their website is https://www.itsonus.org.
National Domestic Violence hotline at 800-799-7233. National Human Trafficking hotline at 888-373-7888 or text at 233-73.
Suicide Prevention hotline at 800- 273-8255.
Chris Karenbauer is a junior Journalism major and the Campus News Editor for Cedars. She enjoys reading and writing, hanging out with friends and jamming out.