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Taking Back the Power Stolen Through Sexual Violence

<i> Amy Zucchero is a staff member of the Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence</i>

Sexual assault victims and concerned citizens together illuminated the darkness of all victims as they marched Wednesday night, fighters and survivors at Ventura County’s first Take Back the Night rally.

The event, held in downtown Ventura to promote community awareness and education about sexual assault, empowered women who have experienced sexual violence. The most powerful part of the evening was a candlelight march down Main Street. One sexual assault survivor commented, “For all the sleepless nights victims suffer reliving the trauma, and for all the dreams the nightmare destroys, such an event is validating and healing.”

Events like Take Back the Night are imperative, especially in Ventura County where in 1997 a total of 173 people reported forcible rapes. In Oxnard alone between 1996 and 1997, the figure jumped from 57 to 61.

Disturbing statistics show that 9 out of 10 rapes and sexual assaults go unreported. In fact, one out of three women will experience a form of sexual assault in her lifetime. Most of these women’s assailants will be people they know and trust, making it harder for them to come forward and report the crime. Society itself does not make it easy for a woman to tell her story. She may be blamed for her attack because of her sexual history or what she wore at the time of the assault. People, uneducated on these issues, make remarks like, “If she had not drunk so much, maybe the assault would not have happened,” or, “She should not have invited him back to her house.”

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For too long, women have taken the blame for sexual assaults committed against them. The community needs to focus on the fact that no matter what a woman does or says, she does not deserve to have her body violated. Rape should be compared to nonsexual assault or battery. If a person is robbed while walking down a street, that person’s credibility is not questioned. Why then do we question a woman’s story? Society needs to understand that rape and sexual assault are not about sexual gratification. The primary motivation for rape is to dominate, control and humiliate the victim. We must not blame these women who are assaulted, but rather give them back the power they lost over their own lives during the crime.

How does assault affect a woman’s life? One coalition client describes her experience: “With every grab of my body, my shame grew, and my sense of safety and worth diminished. As he manipulated my body, he twisted who I was and left me confused, betrayed and damaged; most of what he took will never be replaced. The man who raped me stole a piece of me that was sacred and will forever be contaminated with his handprints. That piece of me that helped me to walk into a room with head held high.”

And even that is not all. Rape also affects family members and friends of survivors who are left to pick up the remnants of a shattered soul.

We at the coalition hope that the Take Back the Night rally has given assaulted women an avenue through which to start their healing process. For those women and children: Please know that you are not alone.

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The Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence offers a variety of services to survivors. Our 24-hour crisis hotline number is 656-1111. The coalition can provide 10 free counseling sessions to survivors of sexual assault and their family members. A rape survivors support group is offered from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursdays at our main office in Ventura, at 2064 Eastman Ave., Suite 104. In addition, we have a variety of other support groups throughout the week. If you would like to report an assault, the coalition has trained crisis advocates who will accompany you to the police station, hospital or district attorney’s office.

Remember, you do not have to go through this alone; there are people who will provide you with the emotional support you need to start your healing process.

For more information, contact the coalition office at 654-8141.


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