Typically, I discuss mental illness in the context of clinical depression, anxiety, or addiction, but mental health includes everyone, and over half of all American’s have an added stressor which can harm their mental health.
We currently live in a society (at least those in the United States), that due to many factors, does a poor good job at preventing or punishing sexual assault. Every woman I asked confirmed that they stay on high alert while walking outside in the city. Some make eye contact with everyone they come across, while others side eye those around them. Some women will only go places in a group, and some won’t go anywhere without their pepper spray.
These self-protective behaviors did not come out of thin air. Women have a multitude of reasons to be apprehensive, if not scared, when they find themselves alone with an unknown man or group of men.
I know many good men, and I am not saying that every man a woman comes across necessitates fear, but the thing is that there is no way to know if in front of you is one of the many good, or one of the few bad. Rapists don’t walk around with a sign on their forehead, a giant red “R”, a scarlet letter of their own.
We have a president who was recorded lightly talking about sexual assault. There are new stories coming out left and right of celebrities being victim to sexual assault or harassment. The “me too” campaign showed a staggering number of “me too’s”. RAINN reports that one in six women are victims of sexual assault; and of 1000 rapes, only 6 rapists are incarcerated.
This abundance of sexual assault causes many to experience significant trauma in their life. Hearing about sexual assault can cause a good deal of anxiety as well. One does not need to be diagnosed with a mental illness to experience fear and anxiety associated with sexual assault.
I had what should have been a minor encounter when I was recently headed to the gym. I had parked in the parking garage and was walking through the somewhat narrow hallway to leave the garage. There was a security officer walking towards me. I moved all the way to the right-hand side, even squishing myself against the wall in order to try to avoid a collision. This man did not move an inch away from me. He continued down the center of the hallway and his hand touched the front of my hip, all the way around to my rear end as he passed. I continued on, quickly exiting the hallway.
During my workout I had so many questions tumbling though my head. Was this man simply an inconsiderate asshole who didn’t think he had any part to play in avoiding a collision? Was this man intentionally touching me? If it’s the latter, then did he do so to intimidate me? Did he do it to get some sort of pleasure by touching an unwilling stranger? Or, was he just so oblivious to the world around him that my presence didn’t even register as existing?
In an ideal society, I would not need to ask these questions. In an ideal society he would have shown me the same respect I showed him and moved over a bit. In an ideal society, even if contact occurred, I would not have felt fear of what many potential things could have gone wrong. In an ideal society, I would not need to write this.
That night I tried to share my feelings about this with my husband and brother-in-law, but they just didn’t get it. “So what, someone brushed against you.” They, however, do not need to wonder if they will ever be in a situation in which they feel violated in some way. Yes, men can get sexually assaulted, but it has a low enough prevalence that the vast majority do not walk around with that fear.
Women have a higher prevalence of anxiety disorders. For some the anxiety is there no matter what, for others, it is brought on by gender related fears.
I wish that I could end this post with an easy solution. The thing is, I can’t. Because the solution is one that is so obvious, yet has still yet to occur. Punish those who sexually assault at a higher rate than 6 out of 1000. Teach boys that they need to respect women just as they do other men. Don’t tell girls what to wear or not wear, tell boys what to not do and what not to say. Elect officials who do not have a history of bragging about getting away with walking in on half naked women in a pageant changing room. When it is discovered after election that non-consensual groping took place prior to election, make sure there are consequences. Until society changes, women are going to continue thinking the worst when someone grazes them, because the worst is happening every day; every 98 seconds an American experiences a sexual assault.
Why is this okay?