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No Means No!

Sexual Assault Awareness shows importance of the word ‘no’

 brittany@yesweekly.com

You are at a frozen yogurt shop.

Once you pick out the flavor you want, you walk over to the topping section. The person behind the counter asks if you want the peanut butter sauce.

“No,” you say, “I am allergic, and peanut butter could cause serious health problems for me.”

“But it’s so good,” they say. “I’m going to put it on anyway because I want to, and I don’t care about your health or well-being.”

Imagine that you live in a world that doesn’t respect your decisions. Imagine what would happen if people stopped hearing “no,” and proceeded to do whatever they want just because they can.

Imagine if you were forced to eat that peanut butter even though you knew the damage it would cause.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and it is time to recognize the importance of the word “no.”

In a study done by the U.S. Department of Justice called the National Crime Victimization Survey (2008-2012), there are 237,868 victims of sexual assault and rape every year. According to this survey, someone falls victim to sexual assault every two minutes.

In North Carolina, the term “sexual assault” encompasses a variety of sexual offenses, and while rape is considered a different legal term, they are both a form of assault.

According to the Joyful Heart Foundation, it is estimated that one in five women and one in 71 men are raped in their lifetimes in the United States. That is almost 27 million survivors who understand the importance of the word “no.”

Sexual Assault is a national problem, but it begins locally. From 2000-2012, the city of Winston-Salem has exceeded the national average of rapes per 100,000 people every year. For six of the 12 years, the number of reported rapes in Winston-Salem was nearly double the national average.

“No means no. Period,” said Kenyetta Richmond of Forsyth County Family Services.

There has been a steady decline in reported Winston-Salem rapes since 2009, but as of 2012, the City was still at 31.5/100,000 people. The national average was 27.1/100,000 people.

“It is one of the most under reported and disbelieved crimes out there,” Richmond said. “And people always fear the ‘stranger danger,’ but it is usually somebody that the victim knows.”

The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that since 1993, sexual assault has decreased by more than 50-percent. Some people fear that the crimes haven’t stopped, rather the reports of the crimes have stopped.

You are still at the frozen yogurt shop. Even though you said “no” to the peanut butter sauce, the person behind the counter put the sauce on anyway, and you were forced to eat it. There is no one in the shop except for the two of you, and you are feeling the effects of the peanut allergy with every spoonful of frozen yogurt.

You want the person behind the counter to be held accountable for their actions, but how do you prove that you didn’t consent to the yogurt being topped with peanut butter sauce? You may say that the knowledge of your allergy is enough, but the worker may say that you insisted on having the peanut butter sauce, and if you didn’t want it, you wouldn’t have eaten it, right?

“A lot of times it comes down to consent versus no consent,” Richmond explained. “It could be difficult to prove when it is a ‘he said/she said.”

According to North Carolina law, consent is explicit approval to engage in sexual activity demonstrated by clear actions or words. Non-verbal communication such as moving your body away from a person, si lence, passivity and lack of resistance does not imply consent. Previous participation in sexual activity with an individual also does not imply consent.

Consent is also not obtained if an individual is forced, pressured, manipulated or suffers from a mental or physical disability that inhibits the ability to give consent.

Because most rape victims are between the ages of 16-24, it is important to point out that if an individual is incapacitated by either drugs or alcohol, and they are unable to resist, consent is not obtained. Lack of resistance does not equal consent.

“We live in a culture that often makes victims feel like it was their fault,” Richmond said.

Richmond explained that if we want to see a positive improvement in sexual assault and rape statistics, it has to start with education and communication.

“We have to start believing the victims,” Richmond said. “We have to support them and reinforce that it is not their fault.”

Richmond believes in teaching young people about topics such as consent as well as opening dialogue on sexual assault and abuse.

“We’re talking about it more than we used to, but it’s still not enough,” Richmond said. “Sexual assault happens in schools. We need to change the culture.”

You are back at the yogurt shop. Your reaction to the peanut butter sauce is getting worse by the second, and you know you need help. You know your allergy isn’t severe enough to kill you, but it is going to cause some serious problems if you don’t get it taken care of soon.

“The first thing I always suggest is to seek medical attention,” Richmond said. “Get a rape kit performed, and then decide what you want to do after that.”

Having a rape kit performed at a medical facility is a proactive approach to take if a victim wishes to proceed to the legal process.

“It is evidence of a sexual encounter,” Richmond said. “After the evidence is taken, it is saved for a certain amount of time, and the victim can decide whether or not to pursue charges.”

A rape kit only proves that sexual activity occurred. It does not prove or disprove consent.

According to RAINN, only 46 out of every 100 rapes are reported in the United States. Out of those reported, 12 will lead to arrests, nine will be prosecuted, five will get convicted but only three will serve prison time.

You’re home from the hospital now, you still feel the pain from the peanut allergy, but you know you’re going to get better. The memory of this day will stay with you for the rest of your life, and there is a giant part of you that wants to see that frozen yogurt worker pay for their wrongdoing. You know that it is your word against theirs, and that will not hold up in court. You’re angry that this worker is still a working part of society because if they did this to you and got away with it, they will probably do it to someone else too.

“Your story is yours to tell, and nobody should pressure you to tell it,” Richmond said. “A lot of times the legal system doesn’t get it right, and that’s why we encourage the healing process for victims more than any other process.”

If you or someone you know may be a victim of sexual assault or rape, and you or they are ready to start the healing process, please call the NC Rape Crisis Centers at 919-871-1015 or visit the NC Coalition Against Sexual Assault on the web at www.nccasa.org. !

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