Sexual violence and bullying are major public health concerns for today’s society, especially among Oklahoma youth. High school is a critical time in the development of the future leaders of our communities. It is when we transform from children into young adults. It is also when they are more likely to be a victim of sexual violence and bullying.
Victimization might affect an adolescent in crucial areas of development and can radically change his or her worldview. Teenagers are going through the process of forming their identities independent of their parents and are largely influenced by peers and media. During this already-perplexing, emotionally driven and difficult time, many teens experience sexual violence.
Our state prides itself on our kindness to strangers, our welcoming nature and our spirit of resiliency. However, when students, administrators and leaders in our state ignore and condone what is happening in our own communities, we completely contradict that image.
These factors might contribute to the statistic that Oklahoma ranks sixth in the nation for reports of rape and third in the nation for women murdered by men. In fact, the lifetime prevalence of rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner is greater for Oklahoma women than in any other state.
When a victim of assault faces complacency from those who should be her/his role models, we ignore and discount the gravity of the crime.
Most devastatingly, we re-victimize someone who is already hurt. Our complacency tells perpetrators that they can get away with these crimes.
In light of the recent incidences involving Norman High School students and the international attention it received due to the nature of the student not feeling safe simply receiving an education, it is no wonder that rape is under-reported and that victims often prefer silence. The lack of adequate and appropriate response and resources ultimately affects victims receiving vital services such as those offered at the YWCA Oklahoma City.
The YWCA is the only certified provider for domestic and sexual violence with an emergency shelter in Oklahoma County.
Its Sexual Assault Advocacy and Forensic Exam Program responds to the needs of victims 24 hours a day.
In addition, the YWCA also developed a specific Teen Sexual Assault Program just to keep up with the demand and unique needs of this underserved population. Also, the Prevention Education Program works with schools in the metro and surrounding area and teaches the students to identify healthy dating habits and red flags in dating relationships.
Additionally, students learn how to be active bystanders, people who stand up in the face of injustice, trust a victim of violence and work to implement change.
Instead of educating our youth on “how not to get raped,” we teach them how not to commit rape or let it go unreported.
It isn’t until we can change society’s view on this type of violence that we will have a safe environment for victims of sexual violence to come forward. It is when we hold the perpetrator accountable that we can help protect victims from being bullied and further victimized.
This is not about sex.
Sexual violence is taking power and control over another individual where sex is used as the weapon and bulling is the imbalance of power.
We, as a community, should look at this as an opportunity to change so that we are no longer cultivating a society that blames victims for being victimized.
Janet L. Peery is the CEO of YWCA Oklahoma City. She also serves on the advisory board of Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women and is a founding member of the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition. She is an Oklahoma City University graduate.