The ugliness of sexual assault has once again become a popular topic of discussion, as it does at least once in every decade.
The principle reason behind the recurrence of the subject is the mystifying lack of any noticeable progress in reducing or eliminating this devastating plague.
More than 30 years ago, I authored an award-winning series on sexual abuse in British Columbia. In part, I relied on statistics and information obtained from the federal government and personal interviews with victims.
Now, three decades later, the statistics haven’t changed. Nearly one-third of women are sexually abused at some time in their lifetime, whether by rape, or less aggravated means, such as unwanted touching or suggestive verbal approaches.
I refer mainly to sexual assault against women, but men are also subject to some of these abuses. While the numbers for men are insignificant compared to the assaults against women, the end results are often the same.
Victims of sexual assault frequently feel shame and are reluctant to report any abuse to police, parents or close friends because of that shame and feelings of self-guilt.
The incidence of assault against teenage women is many times higher than in older age groups. The abuser of teenagers is commonly known to the victim and is frequently a relative, sometimes even a parent.
In the interviews I conducted 30 years ago, even when the abused reported the abuse to their parents, mainly their mothers, the parent usually voiced strong denial that the father of the abused could do such a thing.
Faced with angry denials and lack of parental support, the victim is left to huddle in silence and is without protection or refuge.
In some instances, abused persons develop a victim profile which makes them excellent targets for future or continued abuse. The damage to a person’s self image can and does frequently manifest itself in promiscuous behaviour or social withdrawal.
Even when incidents are reported, the justice system has proven time and again that sexual abuse is not considered in the serious light it deserves. Pedophiles, rapists and pornographers are all too frequently released on poorly supervised paroles, only to re-offend and create painful chaos in the lives of new victims.
I offer no clinical or professional qualification, but my own observations of sexual abusers, whether rapists, pedophiles, pornographers or just a person making comments loaded with sexual innuendo, the problem frequently begins in early childhood with poor parenting, which could have its roots in the parent or parents having themselves been the victims of sexual abuse in their earlier years.
Most of us at one time or another have made what we thought of as innocent remarks about members of the opposite sex. I’m sure most of us meant no harm, but our attitude was wrong. It has helped create a culture of acceptance for socially unacceptable behaviour. It’s simply no longer morally appropriate to use terms such as ‘hooters,’ ‘packages,’ and ‘booties’ and in reference to others, no matter how innocent it might seem.
I sure as hell don’t want to hear anyone referring to my granddaughters’ or great-granddaughters’ or my grandsons’ or great-grandsons’ private parts. It must become a part of my culture and approach to society to give more respect to others.
As individuals and as a civilized society, we owe it to the victims of sexual abuse to do better, much better than we have in the past.
Sadly, we probably won’t do much better for sexually abused persons until our attitudes change, and that change is manifested in changes to our justice system and the culture of all our citizens.
Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former city councillor.