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Sat., Feb. 8, 2014, midnight

Guest opinion: Bar drink’s play on words not funny because sexual violence never a joke

As the director of Victim Advocacy and Prevention for the Sexual Assault and Family Trauma Response Center at Lutheran Community Services Northwest, I implore you to speak up on behalf of the 837 survivors of sexual violence my team provided service to in the last year. Please stand up for the thousands of children, women and men we have stood by during medical exams, reporting to police, countless hearings, brutal trials, support groups, and many traumatic breakdowns in my program’s proud 34-year history of advocating for survivors of sexual violence in Spokane.

Sadly, though we do reach many people through our work, there are many more who will never call for help: People who are told the worst thing that ever happened to them was just a misunderstanding, just a joke, like “Date Grape Koolaid.” For this reason, they may never seek needed health care, needed justice, or hope for their own future. This happens because you and I allow it to happen. Just last month, the White House Council on Women and Girls reported: 

“Sexual assault is pervasive because our culture still allows it to persist … violence prevention can’t just focus on the perpetrators and the survivors. It has to involve everyone. And in order to put an end to this violence, we as a nation must see it for what it is: a crime. Not a misunderstanding, not a private matter, not anyone’s right or any woman’s fault. And bystanders must be taught and emboldened to step in to stop it. We can only stem the tide of violence if we all do our part.”

 On April 2, I will have been working at LCSNW for 13 years, and every day I learn something new. Every joke told about sexual violence does two very harmful things that no community or individual should tolerate.

 First, it makes rape more socially acceptable; perpetuating the problem, the prevalence, and the impact on each of us as neighbors, friends, co-workers, parents, siblings and citizens.

 Second, it minimizes every survivor’s experience. It takes a person who often already feels small, damaged, frightened, disrespected, shameful and alone, and it reinforces those feelings.  Each time we laugh or turn a deaf ear to these so-called jokes we validate a crime victim’s worst fears. It lets them know that we too find them to be insignificant, damaged, not respectable, and that they deserve to feel ashamed and alone. Our community should be coming to the aid of people who have been harmed in this deeply personal way. Anything less is simply unacceptable if we value health and justice. 

Sexual violence is a very real problem in Spokane. In 2013, our confidential sexual assault crisis line received nearly 1,500 calls. These calls are placed in private, by people in their darkest moments. Usually, the only other person who knows is the one picking up the other end of the phone. Being an advocate, I am faced with the scope of violence in Spokane on a daily basis, and it breaks my heart. This joke, this play on words referencing date rape, didn’t happen in private. It happened in public, and it’s up to each and every one of us to step up to the plate. 

It is my sincere hope that the community I love to be a part of will continue to support my neighbors who have been victims of one of the most disturbing crimes I can imagine. Spokane is home to many great restaurants and nightclubs. We should support those that make Spokane a better place. We should ask our friends to do the same. To quote President Obama: “We’ve got to keep saying to anyone out there who’s ever been assaulted. You are not alone. We have your back. I have your back.”

If you are a survivor, we are here to help you 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our confidential advocacy services are always free. Just call 624-7273.

The next opportunity to participate in one of our community events in support of survivors is on Feb. 14 at 3 p.m. in River Park Square. As part of the international V-Day movement to eliminate violence against women, we have organized our annual One Billion Rising event.  Now more than ever, I hope to see many of my neighbors there.

Erin Williams Hueter is the director of Victim Advocacy and Prevention for the Sexual Assault and Family Trauma Response Center at Lutheran Community Services Northwest.

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