This column was submitted to LebTown. Read our submission policy here.
Rape, sexual assault, and child sexual abuse are common experiences in our community. Each year, SARCC works with hundreds of survivors, providing thousands of hours of direct service support to children and adults from all backgrounds, genders, and geographic regions of our county. Our mission is to prevent sexual violence and promote healing.
Every day we educate our community on the importance of using accurate and accountable language when it comes to sexual victimization. The Department of Justice defines “rape” as “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
Using the word “rape” to describe anything other than what it is has a negative impact on survivors. It also depletes prevention efforts. Many in our community not only experience rape but face the long-term negative consequences of not being believed when they talk about it.
In education programs from middle school on up, we educate young people and adults on the harmful impact of rape jokes. It is never ok to joke about rape. Very few people in our community commit sexually violent crimes. When we banter, joke, use inappropriate associations, stand silent, or brush off allegations related to sexual violence, we give permission to the people that rape to continue to rape.
Informed consent and body autonomy are incredibly important. They are the foundations of the work that we do at SARCC, and frequent topics in both counseling and prevention programs. So too are boundaries, accurate language, and responsive, accountable communities.
Survivors in our community have a right to be believed, find support, and begin their healing process. If you or someone you know has been impacted by sexual violence, rape, sexual assault, or child sexual abuse, know that you can speak with a trained sexual assault counselor 24/7 by calling 717-272-5308. Healing services, including groups, counseling, and trauma therapy, and prevention and community education programs are available at no-cost.
Finally, if you see or hear someone who is using the word “rape” inappropriately, remind them that what we say about sexual violence matters. Survivors are watching, listening, and deciding whether their community is safe enough to get help in. We all have a role to play in prevention and healing.”
Ali Perrotto is CEO of the Sexual Assault Resource & Counseling Center (SARCC).