This is not the first time in its 47-year history that the (formerly) Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center has undergone a name change. Since our inception in 1971, we have grown and evolved, working to meet the needs of survivors throughout our service area, changing our name to reflect that growth. While our doors have been open to everyone for years, we as an agency (and indeed, even the larger movement toward ending sexual violence) have not been intentional about getting everyone through those doors. That was, is, and will always continue to be completely unacceptable. If we are not supporting and engaging everyone, then we aren’t doing our work. And so, we have become the Ampersand Sexual Violence Resource Center. The relevance of the name “Ampersand” has already been explained in this blog post, so I won’t repeat that here. But if you haven’t read it yet, go do that; the rest of this will make a lot more sense once you have.
Go on. Read it. I’ll still be here when you get back.
Okay. So we’ve addressed Ampersand. What does that have to do with this post? Everything. You may or may not be familiar with the “standard” statistics. While the numbers may vary by source, we know that generally 1 in 5 women experience an attempted or completed rape at some point in their lives. For men, that number is 1 in 33, and that is just rape. Those numbers don’t include other forms of sexual violence, such as unwanted sexual touching or being forced to watch or look at pornographic material.
Numbers like 1 in 5 and 1 in 33 are, on their own, enough to show that rape, and sexual violence as a whole, are problems, but what about the problem with these numbers? These numbers treat people as only women or men. There is no “both” or “either” or “neither” or “somewhere in between”. There is no account of race, religion, class, or geographic area. There is no space in those numbers to account for the survivors of violence who live with disabilities. In short, there is no intersectionality. (New to or only vaguely familiar with the term “intersectionality”? Check out this brief article by AMP Global Youth explaining it.)
People of color experience higher rates of sexual violence than do their White counterparts. People with disabilities experience higher rates of sexual violence than do people without disabilities. People who identify as LGBTQ+ experience higher rates of sexual violence than do heterosexual, cisgender individuals. And if you have multiple intersections? Your risks increase even more.
“But Taryn!” you might be thinking, “Isn’t sexual violence bad regardless of who experiences it? Shouldn’t we be helping everyone who experiences it?” Yes, Susan, we should, and that is precisely my point. (Shout out to my Aunt Sue. Love ya!) This movement of both supporting survivors of sexual violence and working to prevent it has, at institutional levels, been centered around the experiences of white, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied women. Are their experiences important? Absolutely. That’s why we serve them and work in their communities. What we’re saying is that statistically speaking, people who have other identities are at greater risk of experience rape and other forms of sexual violence, so we have an obligation to be intentional about making our services available to them, as well.
Taking everyone into account is absolutely essential to our work. If we aren’t carrying out our mission to support individuals and engage communities with intentional intersectionality, then our only success is our hypocrisy. In the past, we haven’t always gotten it right. To be perfectly honest, sometimes we haven’t even tried. Moving forward, we are changing that narrative. We’re going to stumble along the way, but we won’t stop learning and growing. We will continually welcome and seek out feedback from the communities we serve, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with feedback or questions. This work will take all of us: me & you.
This post is the first in a series of posts addressing how different identities can affect one’s experience(s) with sexual violence. If you would like to contribute or be interviewed for a post in this series, please contact Taryn Henning at email@example.com.