This is a safe space for survivors to meet each other, share their feelings, express themselves, provide support, and seek support from others in healing and in their participation in the justice system.

A recent report by the National Women’s Law Center found that “31 percent of girls [age 14-18] reported being a survivor of sexual assault or violence,” which prevents girls from completing school. (2017) Read the full report here. In addition, the World Health Organization estimates show that 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetimes. (2016)

Girls and women who have experienced sexual violence face barriers to quality of life attainment, including academic, career, health, mental and social. These barriers are from both external and internal factors, which are integrated through sociocultural norms of gender roles and behavior.

Externally, girls and women are prevented from full quality of life attainment by being forced to be around perpetrators that they often personally know, if they choose to remain in their social groups, schools, and communities as a result of lack of punishment or accountability for sexual assault, harassment or violence. If they request their perpetrator to be held accountable for their actions, they often face isolation, bullying, and victim-blaming as an automatic response from many around them who continue to deny the unpredictable nature of sexual violence and to deny perpetrators should be held culpable. If women and girls choose to leave situations where their perpetrator is not held accountable, they face isolation as well.

Internally, the mental and health effects of experiencing assault on women create internal barriers for girls and women pursuing careers, health outcomes, personal relationships, and social activities. Trauma has long-term effects on the brain, including dysregulation of norepinephrine and cortisol systems (adrenaline and stress processes), and areas of the brain including the hippocampus, amygdala, and medial prefrontal cortex. (Brenmer, 2006)

Sexual violence is not only a crime, but it’s also an issue of economic, social, and health equality. Survivors of rape are the largest group of victims of violence or crime affected by PTSD, including war. In addition, around half of rape victims exhibit PTSD symptoms indefinitely without treatment, affecting quality of life and career attainment (Petrak, 2002).

The issue is that we don’t talk about it, and reduce the shame and stigma of experiencing sexual violence, and reduce the stigma of the effects of trauma on survivors’ lives. Holding perpetrators accountable is primary social well-being, for both survivors, those around them, and their wider communities.

SASS engages sexual assault survivors and their supporters in activities toward empowerment and policy change, in Washington, D.C.

Submit your story or find out more about SASS here.