Today, a 49-year-old, 6-foot-3, muscular, African American man sat in front of a bunch of important people in the US and told his story of surviving sexual assault. It was told to support a bill, giving more protection to survivors in the US. But it’s a story we all need to hear, because, yes, sexual assault can happen to anyone.
Here are 5 things we can learn from Terry Crews‘ powerful speech (video below):
Sexual assault can happen to anyone:
“A lot of people don’t believe that a person like me could actually be victimised.”
Terry is smashing all stereotypes about who sexual assault survivors may be. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how big and tough you are, where you are from, what you do for a living, what you’re wearing or whether you’re alone, (he’s 6 foot 3, was wearing pants and was at an industry function with his wife) because it can happen to anyone.
And it does. Every 98 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted in America. That’s over 17 million women and girls and close to 3 million men and boys in the past 20 years*.
Sexual assault is about power:
“The assault lasted only minutes but what he was effectively telling me, while he held my genitals in his hand, was that he held the power. That he was in control. I’m not a small or insecure man, but in that moment, and in the time following, I’ve never felt more emasculated.”
Terry’s words remind us that sexual assault is not about sex. It is about power, intimidation and in many cases violence. He wants to see the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights enacted in all 50 US States because the power would essentially be returned to survivors – for example, by subsidising rape test kits to remove any financial obstacles to reporting assaults.
Toxic masculinity needs to be addressed:
“This is how toxic masculinity permeates culture.”
Terry described how others tried to tell him what he experienced wasn’t abuse. How some men tried to silence him in order to protect their friends or their own interests. How abusers protect abusers. How quite often, the assault was brushed off as “a joke” or “horseplay.” But as Terry so eloquently put it today, “one man’s horseplay is another man’s humiliation.”
There are many reasons why survivors don’t speak out sooner:
” I know how hard it is to come forward, I know the shame associated with the assault. It happened to me.”
Terry described how humiliated, powerless and ashamed he felt in the weeks that followed his sexual assault. Like many survivors, he also feared the consequences. In his case, would he be ostracised? Would he lose his job? Would anyone believe him? Fast forward a few months and he is now one of the few high-profile men to speak out about sexual assault since the #metoo movement began gaining momentum last year.
There are many reasons why survivors don’t fight back
“My first reaction was to be violent and I immediately held back…As a black man in America, you only have a few chances to make yourself a viable member of the community. I’m from Flint, Michigan. I have seen many, many young black men, who have been provoked into violence. They’re in prison or they were killed. And they’re not here.”
For Terry, it was a decision he made because resorting to violence as “a black man in America” was not an option. But there are thousands of reasons why people don’t fight back. Studies show a common response to sexual assault is temporary paralysis – not being able to fight back or even scream.
*figures according to RAINN.