For over 25 years, healingSPACE has been working toward the elimination of sexual violence in Bergen County, NJ. As the largest Sexual Violence Resource Center in New Jersey, we are at the forefront of the fight to end these crimes. One of our proudest achievements is our Clothesline Project. The Clothesline Project, a collection of over 3,000 t-shirts created by survivors of sexual assault, is exhibited in the county to help raise awareness educate communities on how to prevent sexual violence.
healingSPACE recently displayed a portion of the Clothesline Project at a Felician University. This event was covered by a television program that airs on stations in NJ, NY, and PA. After highlighting the important healing and awareness aspects of the Clothesline Project, the discussion in the newsroom depicted in the segment veered into a debate about statistics, with one reporter stating the opinion that sexual assault is vastly over-reported, occurring much less often than portrayed in the media, and that this may encourage false reporting.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Sexual assault is the most under-reported crime in the United States. According to the US Department of Justice (2015), 2 out of 3 sexual assaults go unreported. In fact, only 344 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are ever reported to law enforcement.
Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted (US Department of Justice 2015).
At healingSPACE, we meet survivors of sexual violence every day. Whether we are responding to the emergency room of a local hospital, answering our 24/7 hotline, speaking with students in a school, or facilitating an outreach event, individuals impacted by sexual violence will come forward. These brave women and men disclose their experiences, seeking help and guidance as they move forward on their journey from victim to survivor. There is no exaggeration or overstatement of sexual violence in our community.
Sexual assault happens – and happens often – in Bergen County.
Sexual violence does not happen in a vacuum. It is fueled and spread by a set of societal narratives and beliefs that continue to challenge the authenticity and veracity of the survivor’s experience. Statements such as “Awareness events push more women to report things that actually didn’t happen” are indicative of these beliefs. This pattern of denial and minimization of facts allows for the perpetuation of the misogynistic attitudes that continue to foster an unsafe environment where violence is permissible. Ultimately, by disempowering the sexual assault victims a second time, by denying their truths, these dynamics continue to fuel the culture of sexual violence.
These beliefs and the myths surrounding sexual violence impact the way society views these crimes. It influences the media and impact the judicial system. It makes it tougher for survivors to come forward and speak out about a crime because they fear that no one will believe them. It makes it more unlikely that sexual predators are convicted and incarcerated since juries are also influenced by these beliefs.
These myths around sexual violence impact us all and they have to stop.
The only way to fight these misguided beliefs is to challenge them, to speak up when they are expressed, to continue to educate the community, and to eliminate sexual violence together once and for all.
The violence will stop only when we all say: “One is one too many.”
We at healingSPACE will continue working every day to eliminate sexual violence in Bergen County, but we can’t do it alone.
Reach out and ask us how you can make a difference. Help us work toward a world free from sexual violence.
Dr. Stephen Oreski, LCSW is the clinical director of YWCA Bergen County healingSPACE. healingSPACE—the only Sexual Violence Resource Center of its kind in Bergen County—is a safe and welcoming place for survivors of sexual assault/abuse, their families, and friends. Our 24/7 crisis intervention hotline (201-487-2227) provides free and confidential assistance, and trained advocates provide counseling and accompany survivors through medical, legal, or other proceedings associated with sexual violence. Support is available to anyone who has experienced sexual violence, whether it happened hours or years ago. healingSPACE offers support groups, volunteer training, and educational programs for schools and businesses, and sponsors activities to raise community awareness about sexual violence.