Despite the fact that the majority of Americans know someone who’s been the victim of sexual or domestic violence, most people don’t actually talk about those topics, according to a new survey funded by the Avon Foundation for Women.
According to the Avon study — which is based on interviews that were conducted in February — about 54 million Americans report they’ve been a victim of domestic violence, a figure that includes a third of all the women in the country. And about 32 million report they’ve been a victim of sexual assault, which includes about one in five U.S. women. The group’s estimations about the prevalence of domestic violence echo previous findings in this area. A 2010 report from the Centers for Disease Control found that about one in three U.S. women have experienced some type of intimate partner violence, and the World Health Organization estimates that one in three women around the world will be the victim of sexual violence at some point in their lives.
But that doesn’t mean it’s being widely discussed. Avon’s survey found that while 60 percent of Americans say they know a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence, 57 percent have never actually discussed either issue with their friends. When it comes to parents, a staggering 73 percent of them said they had never had a conversation about domestic violence or sexual assault with their children under the age of 18.
And when the survivors of these crimes try to initiate those conversations, they’re not always well-received. Fifty eight percent of the victims who told someone about their experience with sexual or domestic violence said that no one made any attempt to help them.
“The data shows us that conversations about these issues simply are not happening,” Carol Kurzig, the president of the Avon Foundation for Women, noted in a statement. “That silence leaves victims trapped by the shame, stigma and fear that these crimes carry. If we can encourage more people to start talking, we can end that cycle and bring these issues to light in a new way.”
According to the survey, 64 percent of Americans agree that talking more about these issues would make it easier for them to step in and try to help someone. The Avon Foundation for Women, which has been overseeing a “Speak Out About Domestic Violence” project since 2004, advocates for increasing bystander standing trainings to help raise awareness about the issues of sexual violence.
The culture of stigma and shame around sexual violence often has big societal implications. Too often, rape survivors who decide to speak out are simply told that it was their fault. And if victims are dissuaded from talking about their assaults with family and friends, they’re perhaps less likely to tell law enforcement about them, either. Sexual assault cases are notoriously under-reported in the United States, and many of the victims who do choose to report end up facing additional trauma as they attempt to navigate the criminal justice system.