Police officers, prosecutors, victim advocates and social workers rang bells outside the Waupaca County Courthouse Thursday, April 12, during a rally to raise awareness about sexual violence.
“A bell is present in many ways in people’s lives from cradle to grave. It is an acoustic accompaniment to the most important events in people’s lives,” said Sue Mueller with CAP Services and the Waupaca County Sexual Assault Response Team. “It warns of calamities, has been used to drive away evil forces, provides community protection, marks boundaries, signals time, accidents, danger, the start of the school day, the end of the work week, a symbol of victory, a joyous occasion and the solemness of our departure in death.”
Mueller, who was among several speakers at the rally, said the bells were being rung at the courthouse “as a protective symbol of hope and to communicate our vision that the world would be more intolerant of sexual violence.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there are an average of 207,754 victims of sexual assault each year.
“Every two minutes, another sexual assault is perpetrated in our country,” said Rebeckah Ripley, a sexual assault victim advocate with CAP Services. “Seventy percent of all victims are age 15 or younger.”
Ripley said her office served 71 victims of sexual abuse and assault in Waupaca County from Jan. 1 through March 31 this year. Staff at Riverside Medical Center in Waupaca collected forensics evidence on four sexual assaults in the first quarter of 2012.
“Not only is sexual violence an issue in our country, but it is an issue in Waupaca County,” Ripley said.
Ripley noted 90 percent of rape victims know their assailants.
“The most common site of a sexual assault is in the survivor’s or the perpetrator’s home, because the perpetrator is often known and trusted in the victim’s life,” Ripley said.
She also stressed that sexual assault is not a crime of passion.
“Sexual assault is about power and control. The perpetrator usually chooses a victim for their vulnerability. At greatest risk are those people who are at a power disadvantage with those around them, such as children, elderly, employees, students, and people with disabilities,” Ripley said.
Victims often believe they are responsible for the sexual violence that they have survived.
“The trauma of a sexual assault is so overwhelming, so dehumanizing, so inhumane that a victim typically searches for reasons why such an atrocity could have occurred,” Ripley said. “Victims blame themselves, because blaming myself is so much easier for me to wrap my traumatized brain around than holding someone else accountable for stripping me of my dignity and right to be respected as a human being.”
The Department of Justice reports that only one in 10 rape victims come forward.
“A victim often thinks therte is no way any rational person could believe this completely irrational story of what someone else has done to them,” Ripley said. “Sexual assault robs an individual of their dignity, of their personhood.”
Several speakers stressed the importance of not only greater community awareness of the extent of the problem, but of the need for professionals serving victims and for the general public to help restore a victim’s sense of dignity and humanity.