Sexual assault happens here; what do we do about it?

“It doesn’t really happen here, does it?” is something I’ve heard either directly or implied so many times when people talk about sexual assault in Christian communities it almost seems to be true. Almost.

But after spending some time with SAPT and Safer Spaces at Calvin, I’ve become aware that sexual assault most definitely occurs within the Calvin community, and much more often than I had previously thought.

Our perception of it is made foggy, however, by the fact that most victims of sexual assault don’t talk about it, and it remains one of the most under-reported crimes in the world, so we don’t have a complete picture of how pervasive it is.

Roughly one-third of students who experience unwanted sex do not report the incident to anyone, including friends or family. Within the Calvin community, 10 percent of students disclosed an unwanted sexual experience in the past year in the Campus Climate survey created by social work professor Rachel Venema last year.

If it appears that nothing is going on, we need to take a closer look. This isn’t an issue at the margins of our campus or something that few people will run into during their time at Calvin. It is something that we or someone we know, whether it be a friend, co-worker, classmate or floormate, will likely encounter before graduation.

Sexual assault is incredibly difficult to address as a community, I won’t deny it. It brings up a whole hornet’s nest of complicated, interconnected issues that we don’t feel equipped to deal with, but downplaying the existence and the deep impact of sexual assault is a betrayal to victims and survivors.

At its root, sexual assault is about power. It asserts one person’s control over another and cuts them to the core, strips their dignity, sense of autonomy and control. It violates more than their body, but their entire sense of self, which can be devastating.

As a community, we cannot stand in silence and allow victims to experience these things alone. Becoming aware of the prevalence of sexual assault and validating the stories of those who have been sexually assaulted is a first step in becoming a community that listens, one that doesn’t run from difficult conversations but addresses them head-on.

Today marks the beginning of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a time set aside to recognize the pain that victims carry with them, to come together as a community to say, as we will say together in a liturgy in chapel on April 12,

“As a community of faith we will not forget those who are hurting. We will listen carefully. We understand there are those among us who suffer in silence.”

This is why we recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and I welcome you to join.