Opinion » Editorial

President Trump reminded us that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

by Sue O'Connell
Thursday Apr 12, 2018

The trauma of sexual assault is serious and long-lasting. But it's hard not to laugh at the absurdity of President Trump, who's been publicly accused of sexual assault by at least 16 women and who gleefully confessed to it, recognizing April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Newsweek's Onion-esque headline perfectly encapsulated the weirdness: "Facing sexual misconduct allegations, Trump declares sexual assault awareness month."

Maybe we'd all be better off if Trump just ignored Sexual Assault Awareness Month-just as he ignored LGBT Pride Month last June, but I digress. The Donald's disdain for the LGBT community is a subject for another editorial.

Though the #MeToo movement has dislodged many a predator (hello Harvey, Kevin, Steve, Charlie, Matt, etc.), it has yet to catch up with the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief. We can't force him from the White House just yet, but we can keep taking action to change the culture in which sexual harassment and assault thrives.

First, some background. With a few exceptions, the #MeToo story has been framed almost exclusively as one in which women are the victims. But this problem is ubiquitous. The LGBTQ community experiences sexual harassment and assault at alarmingly high rates. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey revealed that 47 percent of transgender people are sexually assaulted at some point in their lives.

The US Centers for Disease Control's 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey revealed that 61 percent (!) of bisexual women have experienced rape, physical assault, or stalking by a romantic partner, compared with 44 percent of lesbians and 35 percent of heterosexual women. Thirty-seven percent of bisexual men, and 26 percent of gay men, experience rape, assault or stalking by an intimate partner, compared with 29 percent of straight men.

Additionally, there are factors that can make it harder for LGBTQ people to report these crimes to police, or to receive the support and treatment that survivors need to heal from sexual assault. First and foremost, there is the fear of outing oneself to an employer, family members, or faith community. There is also the fear of being further victimized by law enforcement officers or health care providers who are transphobic or homophobic or both. (I know people find this hard to believe but, yes, health care providers can and do harm people in need of care due to bias. A 2014 study by Fenway Health found that 25 percent of transgender people in Massachusetts reported having been harassed or assaulted by staff in health care settings.)

Meanwhile, we need look no further than the allegations made against Kevin Spacey, former Fenway Health executive Dr. Harvey Makadon, and political spouse Bryon Hefner to see that men-gay and straight-are vulnerable to the same type of workplace sexual harassment and assault that women experience-along with the same trauma and rollercoaster of emotions that comes with sharing one's story publicly. In fact, the Washington Post reported this week that men account for nearly one in five complaints of workplace sexual harassment filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The article also notes, not surprisingly, that men are more hesitant than women to report the harassment, in part because of stereotypes that men shouldn't be bothered by such behavior or that they should be able to protect themselves from it. After reporting sexual violence, male survivors often don't know where to turn for support or treatment. The reality is that in many regions, their options are limited.

There are three things you can do to change the culture to make it truly unacceptable to sexually harass or assault someone.

First, don't do it. If you ever find yourself wondering if you have behaved inappropriately or crossed a line, you have. Stop it.

Second, speak up when you see it happening. Be an active bystander. Last year, the MBTA and the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) ran a public service campaign about how to be an active bystander and safely intervene when seeing someone being harassed.

Third, support BARCC. The Cambridge-based center is ground zero of culture change in Massachusetts regarding sexual assault. It has a 24-hour crisis hotline and offers free services to sexual assault survivors and their families including mental health counseling and help navigating the legal options available in the aftermath of an attack or a period of abuse. It's led calls to keep Steve Wynn's name off of the casino now being built in Boston. And its executive director, Gina Scaramella, frequently offers commentary for news coverage of sexual assault and writes regularly for The Hill and WGBH on the issue. Perhaps most important, BARCC is explicitly welcoming to LGBTQ survivors of sexual assault.

Since #MeToo swept the nation, though, BARCC has been under siege. As reported by Boston.com in February, calls to BARCC increased 110 percent this past December and January after the stories about Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey broke. Calls to the hotline are up more than 30 percent and requests for counseling services are up more than 40 percent.

You can support BARCC by participating in its annual Walk in the For Change on Sunday, April 22. Registration is $30. If you don't want to do that, just donate.

You've got choices on how to make a difference. It doesn't matter what you do. Just do something.