I'm Only One Person, What Can I Do?

I'm Only One Person, What Can I Do?

You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
— Mahatma Gandhi

This quote, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world," has inspired me since the first time I heard it. If you follow this page you probably know that I'm an advocate for ending sexual violence. You could also say I'm an activist in the movement to end sexual violence. Why? Because I'm horrified that this continues to occur, day after day, and rather than sit in my horror and helplessness, I've decided to do my part in changing that reality.

If you are dissatisfied with how things are, get involved! You can make a difference. I posted an article earlier today in which the author suggested that if you're outraged at Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer who was caught in the act sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, getting out of jail after serving 3 months of a 6 month sentence, you can do something about it. And you can! I can. We can together and individually.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has!
— Margaret Mead

Because while what he did is reprehensible and completely unacceptable, it is not only what that one rapist did and the inadequate punishment he received that is the problem. If that were the only problem we'd all be outraged that this thing happened this one time and it was such an unusual situation. But it's not that unusual. Neither his actions nor the punishment he received are all that unusual - other than the fact that he was convicted at all. I wonder if he would have been, had two men not witnessed the attack and physically intervened to stop it. As gross as it is to say that, it's true that many survivors report assaults and are not believed. I know this is true. I have talked with hundreds of survivor who haven't been believed. I've sat in courtrooms hearing offenders admit their actions and still be found not guilty. Turner's disgusting actions are a huge part of the problem but there are many other problems with the way our legal system handles reports of sexual assault which cause re-victimization.

Triumph of evil

Often when someone reports a sexual assault, there is skepticism and disbelief - from friends, loved ones, law enforcement, university administrators, prosecutors, judges and juries. Often survivors decide after telling the first person what happened that they do not want to report the crime to authorities, based on the very real awareness that the process of convicting the offender is likely to be extremely difficult. This is why sexual assault is still the most underreported crime - see statistics here. If the person who reports the assault is believed enough by enough of the decision makers along the way to participate in a judicial process, his/her/their actions are questioned in much more depth and with less respect for personal dignity than the perpetrator's. When convictions are obtained in criminal court, many jurisdictions mete out minor sentences like Brock Turner received. 

So what can we do?

You must be the change you wish to see in the world.

What I have written above may be very discouraging. It could make you feel like there is no point in trying to end sexual violence, because it's too pervasive, too complicated, the problem is too big. You might be thinking, I'm just one person, how can I make a difference? Well you can make a difference! And yes, you're one person but there are thousands more like you who believe that we can be the change we wish to see in the world. Those people who have been fighting to end sexual violence for decades know that things are getting better. Too slowly, but change IS happening.

Without the power of social media Brock Turner's conviction and sentence would just be another day in the courtroom. But a great number of people are shouting out that this is wrong. That is different! 20 years ago I wonder if this would have even been considered newsworthy. Call me cynical, but I'm a realist. And even though I realize we have a long way to go, I know we can get there! You CAN make a difference.

So what can we do? Let's get specific. Here are four ways you can start NOW to end sexual violence.

1. Use your voice.

never doubt change the world
  • Speak out on social media. Tell people why this matters to you. Share articles that get people thinking. Share some of the statistics I've included in this article.
  • Challenge rape myths. When you hear someone saying "how do you know [the survivor] didn't consent?" point out that someone who is passed out, asleep or unconscious can't legally consent to sexual activity. Or answer "because she/he/they said they didn't consent and I have no reason to doubt it." Break out your stats on how unlikely it is that people lie about being sexually assaulted. You can find info here.
  • Support a survivor. If someone tells you they were sexually assaulted, just believe them. It's not up to you to decide what happened. Treat them how you would want to be treated if you experienced a traumatic event.
  • Know how to help someone following a sexual assault. There are specific steps to take following a sexual assault, especially if you want to preserve evidence. Knowing this information can make a big difference for a survivor. Get info here. 
  • Let your legislators know you support legislation at the local, state and national levels which protects the rights of survivors of sexual violence. Did you hear about the bill that my state, Maryland, can't get passed to limit rapists' custody rights when a child is conceived through rape? In spite of national outrage, our legislators can't seem to agree about it. But Maryland's not the only state with this problem.

2. Put your money where your mouth is.

3. Volunteer your time.

4. Fight rape culture.

  • Visit the One Billion Rising website. You will find opportunities to get involved and learn more.
  • Teach your children about consent beginning at an early age. Learn how here. 
  • Don't laugh at rape jokes. Believe people who say they were sexually assaulted. Get educated. Get involved. 

I hope this has inspired you that you can be the change you wish to see in the world. You can. I can. Together, we can. What will you do? Leave a comment below letting me know how you plan to make a difference! 

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

Therapy Chat Podcast Episode 27: Sexual Assault Is Not Someone Else's Problem!



Welcome! Trauma therapy became my passion after I volunteered at a Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Virginia starting in 2002. I got great counseling experience and went through extensive volunteer training before I became an employee in 2003. I learned a lot about trauma, and even though sexual assault is not something we like to talk about, it’s a common problem. Statistics show that one in four women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but I'm focused on ending sexual violence every day.

What you’ll hear in this episode:

  • Two types of sexual assault are Childhood Sexual Abuse (listen to Episode 30 for that) and Sexual Assault/Rape not involving a child. The latter is our focus today.
  • If you are sexually assaulted, you have several options to consider. To help you make sense of what to do I recommend the following:
    • Call a Sexual Assault Crisis Hotline. Visit the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network at www.rainn.org for the national phone number which will connect you to your local Sexual Assault Crisis Center. You will speak with a trained person who knows your local area's policies and procedures and can help you understand your options.
    • Be aware that many hospitals provide a forensic evidence exam at no cost to you, within 120 hours of the assault. You can also get checked out by a doctor, but that type of medical exam is not the same as collecting forensic evidence which will be needed if you plan to report this crime to authorities. Your local sexual assault crisis center can provide information on which hospitals have forensic nurses to collect evidence, and most will offer you an advocate to accompany you and help you know your rights in the process when you're making decisions about having a forensic exam.
    • Whether or not to report the assault to the police or other authorities is a very personal decision, and you have options. If you are in the military you have another process you can choose to participate in, and if you're a college student your school will have a non-criminal reporting process you may elect to use. 
    • Reach out for support to someone you believe will be supportive. For friends and loved ones wanting to be supportive, visit www.evawintl.org (End Violence Against Women International.) Check out their “Start by Believing” campaign.
  • Keep in mind that the civil legal process is another option outside the criminal investigation; a lawsuit can be another way to hold offenders accountable even if a criminal prosecution is unavailable. 
  • The Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA) is an outstanding resource for survivors, and has information on survivors' legal rights as well. www.mcasa.org .
  • Find a Sexual Assault Crisis Center using the Directory at www.centers.rainn.org.
  • There are some common reactions of victims following sexual assault/rape. Find a comprehensive list at www.musc.edu
  • There are many community events across the country in April to bring awareness to sexual assault. The events include The Clothesline Project, The Monument Quilt, Vagina Monologues (www.vday.org), Take Back the Night, and Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.  Although April has ended, events may go on throughout the year and it's never to early to plan your participation next year!  
Click on the image above to listen to Therapy Chat!

Click on the image above to listen to Therapy Chat!

Nobody likes thinking about sexual assault but until the day there is an end to sexual violence, we need to be aware of how to get help and what options are available.  And that day, when there is an end to sexual violence, will come if we all get involved to make a difference. Imagine a world without sexual violence. It is actually possible and I'm working with many others to make this happen. I hope you'll get involved too. Visit www.rainn.org to find your local Sexual Assault Crisis Center and find out how you can help.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you liked this episode, please visit iTunes to download episodes, subscribe, rate and review! You can also listen on Stitcher and Google Play (available now!). And for more of what I'm doing, please  sign up for my newsletter, and follow me on TwitterFacebookPinterest, Instagram & Google+If you're a trauma therapist you may be interested in my new Trauma Therapist Community, forming now. Click here for the info. I look forward to connecting! 


Laura Reagan, LCSW-C