COLUMN: Silent abuse makes the most noise

Angela Oliver

A few years ago, I listened closely, and uncomfortably to be honest, as a good friend revealed to me that she had been sexually abused. She struggled for years with keeping it a secret. But she finally decided that concealing it would only hurt more than it would help.

Many women, including an overwhelming demographic of college women (women 16-24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence), suffer in silence.

The scenario plays out in many hip-hop lyrics from Nas’ “Reason,” to Ludacris’ “Runaway Love,” to Tupac’s “Brenda’s Got a Baby.” Though the artists’ delivery and music somehow seem to make hearing stories of sexual abuse more tolerable, once the track stops and the words really sink in, the subject matter is just as appalling to think about.

And it’s even more appalling that in so many instances, sexual abuse and domestic violence is ignored.

This season holds some irony. March is designated to celebrate women’s history; April follows as sexual assault awareness month. Yet the respect for women in the relationship and sexual aspects continues to hinge on abuse in thousands of cases. This is not to say men don’t suffer these abuses as well, but in honor of March, I should highlight the long-oppressed gender.

Among college campuses, one in four women have been victims of rape or attempted rape. Of those, 42 percent told no one about the assault and only five percent filed police reports, according to the National College Women Sexual Victimization Survey.

The underreported incidents probably result from the high use of drugs or alcohol at the time of attack, leading many victims to blame themselves.

I firmly discourage irresponsible alcohol and drug use for this reason, but intoxication is no excuse for committing a crime. We are all old and conscientious enough to distinguish between right and wrong.

Another factor may be that 90 percent of all victims of sexual violence know their attacker – boyfriends, classmates or co-workers. It’s frightening to think that those closest to us usually cause the most harm.

But there are campus and community resources available for those in need.

The Counseling and Testing Center offers individual, confidential sessions with licensed counselors. Contact Elizabeth Madariaga at 745-3159 for help or other resources.

As college students, many women suffer abuse because they do not have as much experience with relationships to know that abuse is unhealthy. Because many of us are away from our families, our usual support system, victims may feel isolated. That is when being a good friend is highly important.

The WKU Police’s 2010 Campus Security and Fire data states that there have been 16 forcible rape reports and one attempted rape report from 2007-2009 on the main campus. But even one is too many.

So I encourage you all to speak up for yourselves or your friends if sexual assault or verbal or physical abuse in any relationship is encountered. The most valuable thing you can do for yourself is to contact the police.

And the most valuable thing to do for a friend is believe them. Then reassure them, empower them and help them find professional guidance.

Domestic violence and sexual assault are not issues we should run away from. We should confront them fearlessly. It could be the difference between life and death of a friend, whether by an attacker’s hands or by depression and guilt that could lead to one taking their own life.