No ‘right’ way for rape victim to ‘behave’

As president and CEO of the Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault (GNESA), I am compelled to respond to a particularly troublesome sexual assault case.

A state Court of Appeals judge recently overturned a jury’s verdict that found a man guilty of raping a 24-year-old Fayette County woman in 2010. The victim has Down syndrome.

In its Feb. 26 article, “Appeals court judge under fire for ordering new rape trial,” the AJC reported, “In his ruling, (Judge Christopher) McFadden said when the woman first complained about being attacked the day after the alleged rape occurred, she did not behave like a victim.”

Victims of sexual violence behave in various ways. Just as we are all different as individuals, we all react differently to everyday experiences – most definitely in our reactions to traumatic events.

And because reactions to trauma are so broad, there is no way to narrowly define what is and what is not considered appropriate victim behavior. Some victims may be very vocal. Others will remain silent. Some are visibly distraught. Others will try to go on with regular life as if nothing occurred.

And no one, including a disabled victim, should be boxed into what someone else defines as behaving like a victim should.

Sexual violence is a public health issue. Although girls and young women, ages 16-24, are at the greatest risk, sexual violence affects people of all ages regardless of racial, socioeconomic, educational, religious or occupational status.

Further, research indicates “more than 90 percent of people with developmental disabilities will experience sexual abuse at some time in their lives.” In one year alone, an estimated 15,000 to 19,000 people with developmental disabilities will be raped in the United States.

The developmentally disabled are often more prone to such abuse because of emotional and social vulnerabilities, as well as a reliance on caregivers.

Sexual violence is devastating and can have long-term effects on a victim’s sense of well-being.

Every individual deserves to be safe from sexual violence. Every victim deserves justice. As such, perpetrators must be held accountable, and as a community we must hold each other accountable.

We must be social change agents to challenge the pervasive attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that have perpetuated this crime across generations.

As the sexual assault coalition for the state of Georgia, GNESA is committed to the intervention and prevention of sexual violence.

For more information on how you can become involved in ending sexual violence within your community, please visit our website at www.gnesa.org to locate a center near you.

Jennifer Bivins
President and CEO
Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault
Atlanta, Ga.

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