Since news dropped of an alleged sexual assault at Red Rock Canyon last week, conversations and social media commentary seem to have focused on two main questions. Why didn't law enforcement inform the community of the incident? And why was it taking so long for the victim to tell her story?
What I'd like to know is: Why are these still the types of questions we're asking when it comes to sexual violence?
Blame law enforcement all you want, but this incident isn't abnormal. It just got attention because someone who identified herself as the alleged victim's aunt posted the story on Facebook. Since then, another woman has come forward to talk about a March escape from a man in Garden of the Gods.
Last year in Colorado Springs, victims reported 338 sex assaults to the Colorado Springs Police Department, and 55 to the El Paso County Sheriff's Office.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, only 46 percent of these types of incidents are reported each year, which means we can comfortably assume at least 850 cases are happening in our area annually.
That's two every day. And despite the recent emphasis on these two parks, they happen all over town.
Let me give you a rundown of where female friends have told me they were sexually assaulted in Colorado Springs: a downtown bar's bathroom; on campus at Colorado College and the Air Force Academy; a shopping center parking lot; a North Academy nightclub; on post at Fort Carson (while held at gunpoint); in the backyard of an old Victorian on Nevada Avenue; along Monument Valley Creek; and in one woman's own west side apartment, after being roofied by a friend of her roommate's.
Women in the United States are not only raised, but culturally prompted, to walk through their world as victims. Sign up for this self-defense class. Carry mace or a gun to protect yourself. Watch out for your friends and never put your drink down.
This isn't making women stronger. This is telling them, repeatedly, that men don't respect you, so you have to protect yourself. (I'd add that this also sets up men to continue to feel empowered to wield control over women.)
As a result, most women I know, myself included, spend a lot of time considering how to keep safe.
Ask a woman what she does before she goes for a run; likely she'll give you a checklist. Take her dog (the bigger, the better). Invite a friend. Make sure someone knows when and where she's headed, that her cell phone's charged, and her ID and some cash are in her pocket.
Ask a man? There's a good chance he'll tell you that he laces up his shoes.
As for that question of why this particular victim has taken so long to come forward — why would she want to come forward? Not only has she just been physically violated, and is probably afraid, she also knows many people won't believe her, or will blame her.
Our culture still wants to know if the victim was drunk, dressed "inappropriately," or somewhere she "shouldn't have been." In reference to the Red Rock Canyon victim, I've heard at least twice, "Why was she hiking off-trail? She should have known better."
She should have known better?
How about this? The man should have known better than to attack her.
As long as we ask the wrong questions, we'll never get to the root of the problem. Sexual violence is an issue of power and control that's been a societal matter since the beginning of time.
And yes, here's where I acknowledge that assaults do happen to men as well, though at significantly lower numbers. And that, yes, a very low percentage of women cry wolf. And that, obviously, lots of men don't rape.
That said, all of us need to work on changing the culture. We should talk about OK and not-OK touching with our young children. Have conversations about mutual respect in relationships as those children become tweens and teens. Discussions about healthy sexual boundaries need to take place around our dinner tables, in locker rooms and during commercials for Glee.
Starting young is key. As is returning to these topics throughout our lives — both as women who refuse to continue to live as potential victims, and as men who already understand that sexual violence is wrong and are tired of being demonized by a minority.