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How have we come to show more concern for an injured reputation than for an innocent injured victim?

Jeff Joy, Dennis Hastert, colleges, Bill Cosby the Catholic Church and countless others consumed with preserving the precious illusion of reputation.  And we the people concerned for their injured reputation.  Why?

Their careers are ruined? Their legacy tainted?

So much time and effort is spent protecting this reputation that victims are blamed, shamed, bribed, hidden and condemned.

Is this how we want to treat victims?

Blaming the victim is an insidious secondary wounding for victims. Secondary wounding is the trauma experienced by victims in the aftermath of their victimization. It is the parent who calls their daughter a slut after her rape (yes this happens frequently). It is the seemingly benign questions that are asked that are like daggers to victims. What was she wearing? Why did she let him in? How come he didn’t tell anybody? Was she drinking?

Victims are not responsible for their victimization. So why do we minimize the victim’s trauma and explain away the offending behaviors?  It has been said that character is what you are and reputation is what people think you are.

So let’s speak to the character of Mr. Joy and Mr. Hastert. Mr. Joy and Mr. Hastert:

You both have used your power to prey on others to fulfill your own needs. You have sexually violated members of your community. This is your character.  No, you are not good men. You have not served your community. You have violated and exploited your community.

Too harsh?

What makes a scale back our condemnation? Is it that they don’t look like or fit our pre-conceived notions of what a criminal looks like? What do we think they are supposed to look like? Would you leave your daughters and sons with them unattended?

Sexual predators are typically men and come from all racial/ethnic groups, age groups, socioeconomic classes and geographical regions. Victims of sexual assault also come from diverse backgrounds.

Why am I enraged?

You see, I look into the faces of victims each and every day. I witness how they are blamed and injured by those closest to them and their community. I know their deep loneliness and see the barriers they must transcend in their often painful recovery process. Barriers the victims experience are the barriers that we create in the absence of our empathy and disregard.

I know as a result of sexual assault many victims inherently experience shame, powerlessness, a sense of betrayal and a core feeling of being broken and damaged. We know that victims often have life-long consequences resulting from their sexual assault. We also know that false claims are extremely rare.

I see the victim’s recovery process and the heroic journey that leads them to better days and a brighter future. I know there are setbacks, challenges and tremendous pain.  But many still move forward. They are inspiring.

This is the character that should be supported and acknowledged. How will we ever extinguish the epidemic of sexual violence if we choose not to give the issue the gravity it deserves?

One in 4 girls will be sexually assaulted before their 18th birthday and 1 in 6 boys will sexually be assaulted before their 18th birthday. One in 5 girls will be sexually assaulted on a college campus in the U.S. but only 20 percent of them will ever report their assault.

What if this happens to your family? Let us not sensationalize these situations but rather seek to understand. Let us not be voyeurs to violence. These crimes are real and victims deserve our greatest compassion.

We should aspire to be the community and society that cares most for those who are victims and demands justice. I encourage you to challenge our community to place blame where blame is deserved and compassion to those who find themselves alone as a victim.

And today I wish (as I do every day) that not another individual will be lured in and sexually assaulted by those who seek to meet their own selfish needs. But tomorrow will bring a brand new day and with it hope and promise and likely a new reputation to talk about.

The Victim Assistance Center Hotline is 1-800-422-3204. All services are free and confidential. For over 35 years, the Victim Assistance Center has been York County’s helping agency for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and other violent crimes.

— Rick Azzaro MSW, LCSW is  chief services officer of ACCESS-York/ Victim Assistance Center/ YWCA York

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