Recently, our media feed has been flooded with news surrounding Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predatory behaviors towards women, the mass shooting in Texas where the shooter had a history of abusing his wife and child, and the allegations of child sexual abuse against Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore.
Sexual violence, domestic violence and child abuse are three issues Hopeful Horizons encounters every day as we work with victims of these crimes to provide support, safety, healing and justice. These recent events have gained attention because someone powerful and famous was involved in a crime, or it was a mass casualty event.
However, most of the time, these crimes happen within a culture of silence.
The reality is that one in every 10 children will be a victim of sexual abuse by the time he or she turns 18. One in four women and one in seven men will experience severe physical violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime. One in five women and one in 71 men will experience rape during their lifetime. South Carolina ranks fifth in the nation for the number of women killed by men because of domestic violence. We rank 39th out of the 50 states in child well-being, and our state’s rape rate has exceeded the national average since the 1980s.
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We, as a community, must resist the urge to sweep all of this under the rug until another powerful or famous person is accused of a crime, or to blame the victims of these recent events. Instead, let us focus on what we can do.
First, let us refuse to politicize child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault. These crimes affect all political parties and ideologies, and you can find politicians from all the different parties who are guilty. Our standard should be zero tolerance, regardless of who commits the crime. These crimes are rooted in power and control. Therefore, it should not surprise us that powerful people have more opportunities to abuse their power. When victims speak out, they have more to lose when going up against someone more powerful.
Second, let us understand why domestic violence victims stay. Research shows that domestic violence can be lethal for victims, their families, and our communities. While perpetrators of domestic violence account for only about 10 percent of all gun violence, they accounted for 54 percent of mass shootings between 2009 and 2016, according to the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. Our legislature, judiciary and law enforcement are starting to recognize this pattern and paying attention to this link. We should too, lest we forget that South Carolina ranks fifth in the nation for the number of women killed by men in domestic violence incidents. This explains why women are often too afraid to leave.
Next, we need to recognize that no one agency has the answer for stopping and preventing these crimes. The prevention of these crimes requires a multi-disciplinary approach and collaboration. Hopeful Horizons, our local children’s advocacy, domestic violence, and rape crisis center, continues to work closely with other agencies to help lead these efforts with a Multidisciplinary Child Abuse Response Team, a Domestic Violence Coordinating Council and a Sexual Assault Response Team. You can help too. Use your voice, hold our leaders accountable, and make sure that ending abuse remains a priority.
Lastly, the most useful step we all can take is to make sure that when victims disclose abuse, whether they be a friend, family member or an acquaintance, believe them, support them, and tell them it’s not their fault. Victims of child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault can and do heal. Please tell them about Hopeful Horizons and how we are here to help. Every time you help pave the way for a victim to get help, you are choosing to become a part of the solution.
Shauw Chin Capps is CEO of Hopeful Horizons, with locations in Beaufort and Bluffton.