Empowerment

Complicit and Complacent. Covering up Sexual Assault is Just as Bad

People's complicity when it comes to sexual assault allows abusers to believe their actions are okay.

Growing up, I never really knew what I wanted to do with my life. High School is where I found my passion and became the person I am today. I went to a private, all-girls, Catholic school.People are always shocked when I tell them I loved high school. There weren’t any cliques, all the teachers were nice, and there was more freedom than you would think. It was a largely important part of my life and I’ve always looked on it with fond memories. And then a news story broke in my area.

A teacher sexually assaulted not one but two girls at my school. One he had assaulted years before and the other was my friend. And those were the only two we knew about. I was speechless that this had been happening to my friend for months and I had no idea.

What made me furious was not the fact that it had occurred. Of course, it made my blood boil to think that a man we all trusted would betray us like this. It made me see red that this poor girl had to suffer like this for months and she didn’t say a thing.

But she did say something. And the girl from years ago also said something. And the principal, a woman who inspired me, who preached solidarity with women, doing what’s right, and Catholic values, swept it under the rug.

She convinced the girls to not say anything and that this “situation” would be handled internally. Nothing happened until the girl who had graduated years ago published a story about her assault. It was her article that caused actual change to finally happen.

I used to love those walls. I sang my alma mater with pride. And I thanked that school for giving me the self-confidence to do what I wanted. And now just looking at the school makes me sick.

Of course, I was angry about the actions of that teacher, but I couldn’t even comprehend the actions of the woman I admired for so long. Every organization will have a couple bad apples, and there’s only so much a background check or an interview can do.

What matters more to me is how it is handled by that organization.

They need to send a message that what happened is not okay and they are doing whatever they can to prevent this from ever happening again.

The Catholic church is notoriously guilty of this. The series of articles from the Boston Globe and the award-winning movie Spotlight which covered their story only scratched the surface of the amount of sexual assault the church is guilty of covering up.

Every time a member of the clergy was accused of sexual assault, he was sent away to another church, on sick leave for up to a year, or even be sent out of the country.

The New York Times recently released an article about the thousands of victims of several dioceses only in Pennsylvania. They exposed the church for looking the other way, sympathizing more with the abusers than the victims, and covering up for the abusers instead of helping their victims.

The New York Times article recounted horrific sexual acts a group of priests did to children which the Catholic church covered up. Not doing anything only encourages abusers and allows them to believe that their actions won’t have any consequences.

The #MeToo movement showed how it’s not just the abusers who get scrutinized, but how the leader of the organization handles it. When celebrities, students, or anyone is sexually assaulted, we wonder “why didn’t anyone stop this? Why didn’t they do anything?”

Part of the healing process for a victim is having the abuser admit their wrongdoing. It doesn’t erase the event or return the victim’s innocence, but it’s one more thing that can help them heal.

When the confidante of a victim asks them to ignore what happened, to pretend like it didn’t happen, or to just get over it, it’s like taking five steps back for the victim.

Even if someone has the courage to go to the authorities about their sexual assault, according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, RAINN, only 57 out of 1,000 reports lead to an arrest. Only 11 out of 1,000 cases get referred to prosecutors. Only 7 will lead to a conviction and only 6 felons will be incarcerated.

With these statistics, it’s no wonder only 310 out of 1,000 cases are reported. Having to go through a trial, scrutiny from the public, and being judged for what they were wearing or drinking might not be worth it if the odds point to nothing being done.

The issue with sexual assault is not only the fact that it occurs, it’s the fact that people continue to try to save their company or organization from public scrutiny by hiding it. We’ve seen from the media that a company will receive even more scrutiny if they try to sweep it under the rug.

According to Forbes, the company should ask for legal help, notify their board of directors, treat the victim with respect, do a thorough investigation, and then take appropriate actions. It’s time more companies treat “appropriate action” as punishing the abuser.

Sexual assault has always been an epidemic in this world, and we are beginning to see how widespread the problem is. Prevention and education do not always work, and when it fails, it is up to those in positions of power to take a stand against it and show the world a zero tolerance policy for abuse.

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Jen Garg is a student at Arizona State University studying Journalism and...