EDITORIAL: HAVEN serves important role

Apr. 17, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

HAVEN, Lee County’s domestic abuse shelter and support organization, has served families in need for decades now. But part of the reason its services are still needed — particularly in its self-stated role of Helping Abuse & Violence End Now — is the fact that the number of victims of sexual abuse and assault is, unfortunately, growing.

In a recent interview, HAVEN executive director Susan Swan King told The Herald that rape is the fastest-growing violent crime in the United States. Sexual assault — particularly among children, and particularly at the hands of someone familiar — is prevalent, and among the more underreported crimes in our country. The stigma attached to sexual assault — which includes the shame and embarrassment of the victim and the fear of and threats from the perpetrator — keeps many victims from confronting their attackers.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which means it’s a time set aside to acknowledge that sexual assault is an underreported crime that impacts a staggering number of people in the United States. By definition, according to King, sexual assault includes rape as well as other forms of assault, such as sexual harassment. Rape is not rare: one in every four girls and one in every six boys will be victims of sexual abuse before age 18. Children and adults are at the greatest risk of being sexually assaulted by someone they know, King said.

So how can sexual assault be eradicated?

It won’t be, but one key to reducing it is with education.

“Many crimes go unreported because people believe societal myths about rape and sexual assault, such as ‘s/he asked for it,’ ‘look what s/he was wearing,’ ‘s/he was drunk,’ ‘s/he was in the wrong place,’ etc.,” King told The Herald. “The truth is anyone can be sexually assaulted or raped, and no one asks for it, regardless of the circumstances. People who could support victims by encouraging them to report these crimes often do not because they believe these myths. Sometimes they even use these myths to dissuade victims from reporting a rape or sexual assault.”

When crimes like sexual assault go unreported, it allows offenders to victimize other people. In order to reduce its occurrence, everyone must recognize the myths and fallacies surrounding the crime and help victims report rape and sexual assault.

As King succinctly stated: “Rapists and people who perpetrate sexual assault must be held accountable.”

And along the way, HAVEN will continue to offer many forms of support through its hotline ((919) 774-8923), support groups and resource/referral information provided by trained volunteers and staff.

We wish HAVEN didn’t have to exist, but thank goodness it does.