By Kavya Maddali | Staff Writer

Multiple movements addressing sexual assault this year have directed public attention to the problem. (Courtesy of Public Health Watch)

A hashtag, a sense of solidarity, a campaign, and a worldwide movement. This entire year has felt like sexual assault awareness, and here we find ourselves, in April, a month dedicated to awareness and prevention. All forms of sexual assault and harassment have detrimental effects. Every survivor’s experience is different, and the ways in which we all cope with our pain takes many shapes and forms. I think we can all agree that the self-reflection stage where we try to find fault in ourselves is by far the worst. This is when we need community and use outside sources to give us the confidence to take the next step.

Fortunately, Saint Mary’s has outstanding protocol and community when it comes to the aftermath of sexual violence. Having people on this campus who are dedicated to providing a safe environment for the entire Saint Mary’s community like Erin Osanna-Barba (Director of Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention), Dr. Evette Castillo Clark (Dean of Students), and all the lovely people at CAPS and the WRC create an environment where Saint Mary’s has the resources to prevent sexual violence and have the necessary tools to help those who have become victims of sexual violence.

Although these resources are available, acts of sexual violence continue to go unreported nationwide. Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, concluded from a survey conducted by the Department of Justice that out of a 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators walk away free. RAINN also stated that only 310 sexual assaults get reported to police out of a 1,000 sexual assaults. If only 31 percent of sexual assaults are being reported and only 1 percent of perpetrators are being held accountable for their actions, then justice is not present. The failures of the criminal justice system with high profile cases such as Brock Turner’s, a male student athlete at Stanford who received a light sentence after sexually assaulting a fellow student, deters many survivors from speaking up.

Instead, survivors are using other means to stand up. It is an extremely empowering moment for a survivor to have tweeted #MeToo. But other than some sad feeling of camaraderie among the assaulted, tweeting #MeToo is a disheartening moment. As I sat in the audience at the “Take Back the Night” event this past Wednesday, I was on the edge of my seat on whether I should speak during the open mic. But I couldn’t help but feel depressed amongst the solidarity, as there was no call to action. The event was heavy with sadness, as people relived the most powerless moments of their lives. By no means am I trying to criticize the event. It was very helpful in many ways; it highlighted allyship, and it gave a comfortable and welcoming environment where the survivors felt safe in being vulnerable. These types of events are crucial in a survivor’s process of healing.

As a survivor of multiple sexual assaults, I felt a great sense of solidarity that night. On the other hand, we cannot let the perpetrators get away. A hashtag is not going to bring justice. Making official reports is the only way to properly get justice. Our criminal justice system is flawed because of the burden of proof, but if we stop using it as a means to get justice it will become completely useless. The more we choose to not report these incidents, the more we allow sexual predators to walk freely. I deserve justice, and so do many other survivors. Whether you are a victim of sexual violence or not, no matter what, never forget that you are deserving of justice.

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