Key message to survivors of sex assault: It’s not your fault
SEXUAL assault survivors often experience self loathing, exacerbated by a tendency in society to blame victims, a frontline sexual assault counsellor says.
Sharon Brodie, sexual assault counsellor at Richmond Sexual Assault Service Indigo House, said the culturally-endorsed assumption survivors of sexual assault were in some way at fault was the biggest obstacle to recovery.
"Part of my work is inviting survivors to recognise that the only people who are responsible for an assault are the people who do it," said Ms Brodie.
"The biggest barrier to recovery is the sense of blame and shame that victims hold. That is increased by our society's tendency to blame the victim.
"We do that because our world view is that we are safe and that we can do things to make ourself safe.
"But the reality is really different than that. I can take every step possible to be safe and if an offender wants to assault me, they can still assault me.
NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics' figures for sexual assault crimes, from January to December 2014. Rates per 100,000:
- Lismore 128
- Richmond LGA 84
- Byron 84
- Ballina 78
- NSW average 65
Over the past two years all Northern Rivers areas were defined as "stable" for sexual assault crimes.
"One hundred people could walk down the street wearing 'provocative' clothing and only one will be targeted. It's not the person walking down the street, it is the person who targets them who is responsible."
Ms Brodie said when victims were asked 'What were you wearing?' and 'Were you drinking?' they could be left feeling they contributed in some way.
"That condemnation in our society is what really needs to change in order for victims to feel safe enough to report crimes," she said.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics' 2006 Personal Safety Survey, only 10% of victims reported sexual assault. Of those, only 2% of perpetrators were convicted.
While Ms Brodie encouraged survivors to find their voice, it was not routine for a victim to confront the offender as the perpetrator was likely to lie and deny the experience.
"This only increases the betrayal and shame."
Ms Brodie said that in the case of the gang rape, the sense of betrayal and violation increased.
FACTS FROM ABS PERSONAL SAFETY STUDY IN 2006
- One in three women will be sexually assaulted before they are 18
- One in seven men will be sexually assaulted before they are 18
- Only 10% of those victims reported the abuse to police.
"In the case of gang rape, men are working together to get what they want. They have entered into that pack mentality where they no longer see that person as an individual but rather as an object. Then it can be so demoralising for the victim - they have stopped being a person that has feelings or emotions."
Ms Brodie said every survivor had their own story to tell and their own ways of managing their traumatic experience.
"There isn't one way to recover. There isn't one therapy that works," she said. "It's really important that individuals have an opportunity to speak about their experiences and to recognise that they are not responsible."
The sexual assault counsellor encouraged offenders to take responsibility for the actions and to acknowledge what they had done.
"That would certainly be a wonderful outcome for survivors. Many survivors say 'I just want them to admit what they have done'," Ms Brodie said.
"But offenders don't do that. It is not in their interest to do that. It's in their interest to be in denial."
Ms Brodie said there was sound evidence to suggest the proliferation of the internet and smart mobile phone technology had led to an increase in sexually harmful behaviours in young people.
However, the successful school-based Domestic and Family Violence and Sexual Assault prevention program, which explores healthy sexual relationships and consent, was a step in the right direction.