Back in 2008 I was fortunate enough to work as a National Peer Educator for a not for profit organization called One in Four. It was one of the most special and adventurous things I have ever done and I have to say I am mostly certainly a better man for it. This time of year, I am even more conscious of the time I spent living aboard an RV traveling the United States. April is Sexual Assault Awareness month.
Initially called No More Rape, One in Four was started to educate men how to be helpful when someone has experienced a sexual assault or rape. For me, the program is revolutionary because it views men as potential helpers instead of perpetrators of assault. What has historically been described as a “women’s issue” has begun to reach many men because of One in Four and other programs like it.
While I toured the United States as a National Peer Educator, I did a lot of growing both personally and professionally. Living aboard an RV with three other guys for an academic year is no easy task considering the tight quarters (and my being a little finicky too), however I made great friends, experienced new places and met sexual assault survivors (both direct and indirect) around the country. There are some faces and some stories that touched me so deeply I will never forget them. I am thankful that I had such a great opportunity to bear witness to the courage and resiliency of the human spirit.
Personally, I grew as a man on the trip as it was really a departure from my normal experience. I learned patience and fortitude as I opened myself emotionally in ways I never had before. Professionally, I grew confidence as a speaker and presenter and tapped into my natural empathic abilities that now help me better serve my clients on a regular basis.
However, the greatest gift I received was probably a greater sense of awareness and understanding of the scope of sexual assault and it’s impact on male and female survivors across the country. I realized that as a man, it is my duty to not harm and to help prevent assaults from happening in the first place. That experience and education has helped me intervene in threatening scenarios since my time with One in Four. My hope is that you can become a bystander who intervenes instead of a well intentioned guy who thinks feeding your date large amounts of alcohol is the best way to score. And for both men and women if you’re out with your friends and witness some sketchy behavior, please intervene in whatever way you can. It’s better to anger your friend for the night if you can potentially prevent a traumatic experience from happening. You CAN help. Whether you use humor to divert attention or you prefer a more direct approach, just do it.
Years ago FBI statistics reported that one in four women have experienced rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. Today that number hovers around one in five or six. The chances are you know more than six women, so consider how wide the scope of this crime is. And this is just for women who choose to report. As you can imagine, under-reporting is absolutely a concern of researchers. I’m grateful there is a decline in those numbers, but this is a totally preventable statistic.
Numbers for male survivors of rape or attempted rape are even more scarce and often inaccurate due to low funding for research and lower reporting amongst men and boys. As of 2003, 1 in 10 rape victims were male (National Crime Victimization Survey, U.S. Department of Justice). Other numbers out there suggest that 1 in 6 males have experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18 (1in6.org). These numbers are unacceptable. We all have a responsibility to take care of one another and make sure we ourselves are not contributing to a culture where sexual assault is seen as acceptable in any fashion.
To all the survivors out there, please reach out to someone you trust. There is help and support for you out there. Hospitals, college counseling centers and community agencies offer supportive services and counseling. There are support services for friends and family members of survivors as well, which can be crucial to fostering an environment of safety and healing. For more information and support please visit RAINN.org.