Taking Action Against Sexual Assault

Angelina Jolie gave a powerful opening speech during the Global Summit to End Sexual Assault in Conflict this last week. Her words were compelling and translucent, inspiring as well as urging the international community to take charge against sexual assault in areas of conflict.

She propelled others towards change as she acted as Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees with Foreign Secretary William Hague. The conference lasted from June 10-13 this year in London.

Jolie reflected on rape, not as an inevitable act of violence, but as a weapon of war used to hold power. She reminded the audience that we are lucky enough to live in a society that encourages people to find and receive help for unjust crimes.

Image via Flickr

Investigations into university rape culture have become a large topic. Splashed across news headlines and posted on media pages, it felt inescapable. It made me consider just how many young women and men around me had hidden or denied these harmful experiences, reasons for which I did not know and mostly likely would not know.

In the United States, at least one sexual assault occurs every two minutes according to the U.S. Department of Justice survey data from 2008 to 2012.

Picture you’re meeting someone for the first time. It could be a potential friendship or relationship, but you start out with the usual conversation topics: likes, dislikes, experiences. Maybe they traveled this past summer, or played a new sport; it’s something positive that relays the characteristics they value and appreciate in themselves.

But, what happens when they bring up a negative experience, like a sexual assault incident? How would you respond?

Unless you have experienced sexual assault in one form or another, you can not sympathize with this person; you can only acknowledge these negative experiences.

Now imagine how much harder the process becomes when this person comes from a culture where seeking justice for sexual assault is considered a crime of its own: the kind of culture where sexual assault victims are dealt a further dose of emotional abuse.

“Other survivors live in countries where war is over but the peace has brought no justice,” Jolie said.

It’s hard to understand the depth and emotional complexity a sexual assault victim goes through, let alone to realize that some who call out for help are faced with denial and retribution.

Society has inflicted unnecessary guilt and shame on the innocent instead of the accused, allowing as Jolie said, “… the rapist to get away with it.”

Jolie’s words rang true and simple:

“We need to shatter that culture of impunity and make justice the norm, not the exception, for these crimes.“