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Editorial: A commonwealth of silence

05/17/2016 01:39PM ● Published by Richard Gaw

The Chester County Press is a news organization dedicated to the reporting of local news, and rarely do we step outside the boundaries of our comfort zone. But on the issue of sexual assault and rape, there is no comfort zone, and there are no dividing lines that separate this newspaper from commentary.
The most recent allegations concerning former Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno and his alleged failure to take disciplinary action against his former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, back in 1976 are merely the latest powder keg blast.  And while Sandusky is serving decades in prison for the sexual abuse of 10 boys -- and allegedly many more -- his story is loud and ugly and terrifying and it will remain locked in our conscience.
As recently as 2014, statistics kept in the commonwealth reported that there were 2,787 victims of forcible rape that year -- about 21 persons for every 10,000 residents. But these are just the reported cases.
What is the sound made when the stories of sexual assault and rape are never told?  
In its 2010 report, The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) said that most rapes and sexual assaults perpetrated against women and girls in the United States between 1992 and 2000 were not reported to the police. Only 36 percent of rapes, 34 percent of attempted rapes, and 26 percent of sexual assaults were reported. The reasons for this silence vary, but another study pointed to the following emotions that can overwhelm the victim:

・    Self-blame or guilt.
・    Shame, embarrassment, or desire to keep the assault a private matter.
・    Humiliation or fear of the perpetrator, or other individual's perceptions.
・    Fear of not being believed, or of being accused of playing a role in the crime.
・    Lack of trust in the criminal justice system.

Courage is a face that is seldom seen, and has a voice that often resonates at the decibel level of a whisper. It rarely makes the newspapers. It's not the focus of talk radio, and for every posting on Facebook about an act of heroism, there are 10,000 such stories that are never heard about. Throughout the county and the state, there are resources available for victims of sexual assault and rape which can provide that all-important first step to break the silence. 

The Crime Victims’ Center of Chester County, Inc. (www.cvcofcc.org) provides free and confidential services to victims and their family members and significant others who reside in or were victimized in the county. Services are provided regardless of the criminal justice system’s ability, or the victim’s desire, to have the case prosecuted -- and if it is prosecuted, regardless of what court it is prosecuted in. In addition to providing victim services, CVC staff and volunteers present prevention/education programs to children of all ages, adults, community groups and allied professionals to promote community awareness and reduce victimization.

Also, The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (www.pcar.org) works to end sexual violence and advocates for the rights and needs of sexual assault victims. PCAR partners with a network of rape crisis programs to bring help, hope and healing to victims of sexual violence in Pennsylvania.



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