Sexual Violence: Words Have Power

by Holly Seymour Jasinski, MS, RYT 
Resilient Spaces Program Facilitator & Public Policy Liaison

Each year during the month of April, community-based organizations, government agencies, businesses, universities, and individuals across the country plan activities and host events to raise awareness about sexual assault. Sexual violence is a widespread public health, criminal justice, human rights, and social justice issue. Despite the increased attention placed on sexual assault in recent years, particularly with the explosion of the #MeToo movement in 2017, somehow there are still some folks who haven’t gotten the memo.  

In February, Robert Regan, a Republican nominee for the Michigan House of Representatives, gained international attention when he compared the 2020 presidential election to rape. During a Facebook livestream he joked: “I tell my daughters, ‘Well, if rape is inevitable, you should just lie back and enjoy it.’ Regan’s horrific and insensitive comments caused outrage. Instead of apologizing, Regan defended his remarks. The host of the livestream event, Adam de Angeli, stood by Regan, downplaying the inhumanity inherent in the comment. de Angeli claimed Regan “misspoke,” saying that it was “maybe not the best analogy, but he was speaking extemporaneously.”  

Regan apparently regrets what he said, but only because he now knows “how vicious my attackers could be.” Interestingly, Regan seems to consider himself victimized. It is worth noting that Reagan’s own daughters, Stephanie and Natalie Regan, have used Twitter to implore Michigan voters not to support their dad.  

Regan is not the only Michigan candidate to gain widespread attention for comments regarding sexual assault recently. Garrett Soldano, a Republican candidate for governor in Michigan, faced intense backlash after he argued against survivors of sexual assault getting abortions, because “we must inspire women who have been raped to understand how heroic they are in giving birth and see that ‘God put them in this moment’. They don’t know “that baby inside them may be the next president.” Soldano took to Twitter to defend himself, only burying himself deeper by referring to rape as a “sacred source of life.”  

But these are just words, right? Words that were spoken “extemporaneously.”  

Why can’t we all just get over it? 

Because words have power. How people frame and talk about something influences others to think about it in a specific way. Words have even more influence if the people using them are in the public spotlight. These kinds of comments cause damage, not only to women but to all survivors of sexual assault. When rape is talked about flippantly, it adds to the widespread minimization of sexual assault. Every 68 seconds in America, an individual chooses to sexually assault another human being (RAINN.org). Chances are, that person will never spend a single night in jail. When we talk about rape like it’s no big deal; when we dehumanize victims and proclaim they should be denied personal agency, we add more fuel to the fire. During the month of April, and throughout the year, we hope you will stand with us in holding perpetrators accountable, supporting survivors, and calling out public figures who make damaging remarks. Sexual violence is not inevitable. It is learned behavior that can be prevented. Resilience: Advocates for Ending Violence has been supporting and advocating on behalf of survivors of domestic and sexual violence since 1977. If you need assistance, help is available. If you have help to give, we would welcome your support. 

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References:

https://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/jezebel/

http://forge-forward.org/wp-content/docs/do-no-harm-8-tips-addressing-violence-FINAL.pdf

https://www.lgbtmap.org/file/understanding-issues-facing-lgbt-americans.pdf

https://pcar.org/sites/default/files/resource-pdfs/poverty_and_sexual_violence-_building_prevent ion_and_intervention_responses.pdf https://www.vox.com/2015/7/13/8913297/mass-incarceration-maps-charts

https://www.vox.com/identities/2016/8/13/17938186/police-shootings-killings-racism-racial-disparities

https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/overcoming-stigma-of-sexual-assault-know-the-facts-0622187

https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/how-language-and-cultural-barriers-prevent-some-victims-accessing-sexual-assault-exams

https://www.endabusepwd.org/problem/outofreach/exploring-the-barriers-in-victim-services/

 

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