A Call To Action In The Midlands

I can’t identify the first time I felt scared simply because I was a woman. As young girls, we are taught and observe that we are constantly at risk. We hear the whispers about avoiding being alone with this teacher or that coach. We know not to go down that hallway at the church. Later, we hear which parties, bars, floors of the library, or dorm bathrooms to avoid. Now, that same whisper network tells me which elected officials, media reporters, and business people to avoid meeting with alone.

I’m overwhelmed every day when I open social media and see friends pouring out heart wrenching stories begging their families and loved ones to believe that this happens here, too. Sexual violence is the most costly and common violent crime in America. The rate of rape in South Carolina has exceeded the national rate since 1982.

Consider these facts. Please note that I’m citing easy to access websites and graphics, but the original sources are from the FBI, CDC, and other reliable research institutions.:

Why don’t survivors report? Take a look at your social media feed or the comments on any news article - it should be pretty clear. We know that you will doubt us. You will look for ways to believe that we are making it up. In some ways, I understand this and recognize it as a self-protective instinct. If you can discredit me or my story, you can believe that the world is slightly less horrible.

Our stories are true. You don’t have to understand how, why, when, or any of the thousands of details around an assault. We, as survivors, are just asking for you to believe us. If that’s one step too far for you, then you can start by supporting us. 

When I was in college I dated a man who prior to our relationship was accused of raping someone. Knowing that he was accused of rape didn't match my understanding of his character. Last year, someone I know and trust told me that a mutual friend had assaulted her. This didn't match my understanding of his character. We can love and care for people who are perpetrators of sexual violence. The uncomfortable reality is that someone can rape someone and still appear to be what society as a whole considers a decent person. This in no way absolves any person of their behavior.

Sex and relationships are portrayed in the media, political discourse, and in our culture in a way that undervalues and undermines the importance of consent and healthy relationships. It doesn't have to be that way. If you expect better, now is the time to act. 

Sexual violence is not an issue resolved by STSM employees, volunteers, or board members. We are here to support and facilitate whatever role you decide to take in our shared vision of healthy survivors thriving in a community free of sexual violence. Please consider this an open request to either advocate for change, volunteer to support survivors, or make a contribution to support this work. We need your help and leadership to successfully eradicate and address this heinous crime.

Advocate for every school to teach primary violence prevention like STSM's Youth Violence Prevention Curriculum©. Start talking to youth about healthy relationships from birth through adulthood in a regular, ongoing and developmentally appropriate way. 

Ensure your faith community is providing trauma-informed pastoral care. 

Support the perpetrators in your life in acknowledging and taking responsibility for their actions.

Most importantly, support the survivors in your life who face so much adversity in sharing their experience. Support the people in our community who will never have the backing they deserve to publicly share about their assault.

Mary Dell Hayes

Mary Dell Hayes rejoined the staff at STSM as Development Coordinator in 2013, Director of Development in January 2015, and Executive Director in February 2016. Her job is to help the community achieve the vision of healthy survivors thriving in a community free of sexual violence and engage people to end sexual violence through philanthropy and advocacy.