We are all entitled to our own opinion. We can, and should, make up our own minds independently. We are not, however, entitled to make up our own facts. Before you decide to speak publicly, whether it be to an audience of thousands, or an audience of one, think about what you actually know about sexual violence. Do you have your facts straight? Do you know what you’re talking about? Or are you just making up your facts to suit your opinion?
The facts around sexual violence are notoriously inept. Sexual violence is known to be a vastly under reported crime. As the Australian Law Reform Commission says we have only a limited picture of the rates, nature and impacts of sexual violence. Not only are the disincentives to reporting manifold, therefore making it harder to collect data, but under reporting of sexual violence by authorities (even once a victim has reported a crime) remains a complicating factor. Sexual violence is still notoriously hard to define. Every state in Australia has different laws about what constitute sexual assault, sexual abuse, rape and other sexual offences. There is no consistency in terminology or definitions, let alone in recognition of offences and punishment.
What all this means is that while there is an over abundance of opinion in regards to sexual violence, there is a severe lack of true knowledge, factual data and accurate information. In order to discuss sexual violence responsibly, we need to keep this in mind. We need to be conscious that not only is our knowledge of sexual violence limited, but furthermore it is a field that has for far too long been desperately under resourced and skewed by ignorance, prejudice and insensitivity. Most of the opinion that has accompanied, and that continues to overshadow our knowledge of sexual assault, has been not only inaccurate, unreliable and flawed but, often, simply false. And this false opinion, passed off as fact more often than not, has done immense damage – not only to victims, but to society as a whole.
This all adds up to a few really simple actions we can each take to make sure that we not only avoid falling into the traps of the past, but that we create new and beneficial habits when discussing sexual violence. First of all, if you don’t know something, say so. Don’t just fill in the gaps with opinion or assumption. Secondly, if you don’t know, find out. And make sure you find out before you speak. Much work is going into better resourcing ourselves with data and fact around sexual assault. For example, the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault now have a register on their website of research being undertaken in this field. Lastly, always be mindful that sexual violence is a devastating crime that affects far too many women, men and children. All around you are people who are living with the shattering consequences of sexual violence. Before you speak, consider how they might feel about what you’re about to say. Pause, and if you think your words might be about to cause hurt, perhaps, just refrain from saying them altogether.
Find out more about sexual violence:
- Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault
- ACSSA Register of Current Research into Sexual Assault
- Australian Law Reform Commission, Sexual Assault & Family Violence
- Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA)
- Victoria Police, Sexual Offences & Child Abuse units
- Parliament of Australia, Parliamentary Library, Measuring domestic and violence and sexual assault against women: A review of the literature and statistics