Sexual assault affects every individual differently and can have a range of both short and long-term impacts. The decision to report a sexual assault is extremely difficult for most victims and is often far from their minds immediately following an assault.
In recognition of the debilitating trauma experienced by victims of sexual assault a new pilot project began on April 1st of this year (2012) providing a third option for reporting. Prior to this, victims of sexual assault had two options when they presented at a hospital and accessed the sexual assault response team (SART) within 72 hours of an assault – they could report to police or not report to police.
In recognition of the distress victims experience immediately following an assault, a third option has been implemented. The third option allows survivors to have their forensic evidence collected and wait while deciding whether to release that evidence to police.
This new policy represents the beginning of a shift in how sexual assault is dealt with in our community. It is important to recognize that everyone experiences trauma differently, and to place such time restrictions, as would be inherent in the original policy, does not give victims all the time they may need to consider such a decision. The third option recognizes this, and gives control back to the survivor over their own decision making process, and ultimately the journey towards healing.
At the heart of the issue of sexual violence is the imbalance, and abuse of, power. While these power imbalances pervade seemingly every aspect of life, it is important to empower and recognize an individual’s experience as being the authority on how sexual violence is dealt with by the community. Whether or not one wants to seek legal retribution for a sexual assault is a completely personal decision, and the third option places power back in the hands of those who deserve it. Our ultimate goal at Youth4Change is the total abolition of the culture of domination and violence to which we are all subject. The third option is perhaps a small step towards this end, but one with extremely important implications. Liberation from oppressive power structures, overt or subtle, begins always with the empowerment of those who are oppressed. By placing survivors in the driver’s seat of their own healing process we take a step towards a culture in which personal power can not be misused or disenfranchised, a community of mutual support and an end to the epidemic of sexual violence.