Sexual Violence & COVID-19: Believe Survivors

by Jessica Caccavallo, Northwest CASA Guest Writer


Photo courtesy of Jessica Cacavallo and the Northwest CARA Team

Trigger warning/ Content warning: General Discussion of Sexual Violence is written in this post. Before COVID-19, statistics showed that every 73 seconds a person living in America is sexually assaulted, and every 9 minutes that person was a child. 55% of sexual violence occurred at or near the victims’ home and many victims will know their abusers — about 93% of child sexual abuse victims and 77-80% of adult victims (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 2020). These statistics show the prevalence of sexual violence in the United States, pre-pandemic. We do not clearly know how these statistics have been and will continue to be, impacted by COVID-19. The World Health Organization reported concerns about increased sexual and domestic violence during this time due to the virus and quarantine. "Quarantining" has caused a disruption of social and protective networks, potential economic and job loss, virtual learning and child care burden, and decreased access to services, resources, and basic needs (World Health Organization, 2020).  The isolation and restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, although beneficial for our physical health, have created a dynamic for many survivors to be in an on-going cycle of sexual and domestic violence and grooming (in person and/or online). Perpetrators of abuse may use social distancing restrictions due to COVID-19 to exercise power and control over their victims. This further reduces access to support services from both formal and informal networks which allows the abuse to continue. Ways we can help support survivors and help prevent future sexual violence: 1. Believe survivors. BELIEVE survivors. BELIEVE SURVIVORS.   When a victim tells someone of the experienced abuse, the likelihood of it being true is 90-98% accurate. Only 2-10% of reported sexual assaults are found to be false, and that is out of only the 1 in 3 survivors who actually make reports. There is no gain for a survivor to report sexual violence besides making the violence end to ultimately regain safety and start to heal from their trauma. It can be challenging to report due to the likelihood of knowing your offender. Additionally, if you are the first person a survivor tells about their abuse and your reaction is not validating and/or is a victim-blaming statement- you have scientifically impacted that survivors ability to trust someone is going to help, that someone is going to believe, and created a barrier to connecting them with the services they may need (therapy, legal, medical attention, sexual health support).   Things you SHOULD NOT say to a survivor || Things TO SAY to a survivor 2. Support an open and honest conversation at home and at school about body autonomy, consent, and sexual health. It is never too early to start having a conversation with a minor about their body and boundaries. These conversations can be held no matter someone’s race, gender, sexual orientation, culture, or religious affiliation. Why? Because these conversations aid in the safety of our young people. Sexual violence does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone. Here is a great list of books by ages and categories to support this conversation. Consider encouraging comprehensive sex education curricula in the local school districts. Inclusive discussions about reproductive health, consent, healthy/unhealthy relationships, and LGBTQIA+ affirming language HELPS provide students with an opportunity to ask questions, reduce stigma, improve sexual responsibility, and of course, reduce sexual violence perpetration and victimization.   3. Don’t be a bystander when you see or hear sexual harassment or sexist jokes being made. Create a culture of consent and respect among your friend groups, schools, and communities. Check out evidence-based curriculums on Bystander Intervention or request a presentation or collaboration of ideas with Northwest Center Against Sexual Assault (Northwest CASA)’s prevention team.  We want you to know there are many ways to receive support and connection even during this time of COVID-19. Northwest CASA is a rape crisis agency providing free services to survivors (any gender, any age) of sexual violence and their families in Northwest Cook and McHenry County. Their no-cost services include Bilingual Trauma-Informed Individual and Family Counseling, 24/7/365 Crisis Hotline (888.802.8890), Legal and Medical Advocacy, Prevention Education, and Trauma-Informed Yoga (seasonal). Services are mostly virtual during this time of COVID, however, some in-person support may occur. If you’re not in Northwest CASA’s service area, please connect with www.icasa.org to find your local rape crisis agency in Illinois to Contact www.rainn.org to find a center nationwide.   References: Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). (n.d.). Statistics. https://www.rainn.org/statistics. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from https://www.rainn.org/statistics World Health Organization. (2020, April). COVID-19 and Violence Against Women: What the health sector/system can do (WHO/SRH/20.04). https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/vaw-covid-19/en/ Learn more from our team!  Let’s Talk Consent Sex Education Needs to Include LGBTQ+ Youth! A Guide to Love on the Spectrum Getting Ready to Find Out if I’m Ready


650 E. Algonquin Rd., Ste. 104
Schaumburg, IL 60173
(847) 496-5939
CPYD.coalition@gmail.com
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Funding provided in whole or in part to the Kenneth Young Center by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the Office of Adolescent Health (OAH).