The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV) and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) urge all Pennsylvanians to demand that their elected officials uphold the laws that govern the Commonwealth.
Victims of harassment, stalking and physical and sexual violence, and all people in the Commonwealth, must trust our leaders not only to promote public policies that protect victims, hold offenders accountable and enhance community safety, but also to conduct themselves in ways that demonstrate those values and commitments.
We’ve seen over and over again the devastating effects of domestic violence and sexual assault. The #MeToo movement has exposed the serious and widespread problem of sexual harassment and abuse in our communities and demonstrated that perpetration and victimization are common across all social divisions. PCADV serves nearly 90 thousand domestic violence victims in the Commonwealth each year.
The costs of domestic violence and sexual assault are significant —victims often lose educational and employment opportunities as well as income; they suffer from emotional and physical ailments including post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse disorders and struggle with suicidal thoughts; and experience strained relationships with friends, family and children.
It’s time that we start believing individual victims when they come forward. The #MeToo movement has demonstrated that to do anything less only gives perpetrators the permission to continue to harm others.
Most victims of sexual and domestic violence do not disclose or report their experiences right away — not to friends and family, nor to authorities. Delayed reports are normal and should be expected. Many victims eventually decide to tell what was done to them in an effort to protect others from enduring similar abuses.
We must no longer require multiple victims of a single perpetrator to come forward before we are willing to believe the allegations might be true. One person’s experience should be enough to warrant our attention. The well-documented pervasiveness of sexual misconduct and assault, and domestic violence, in all of our cultural institutions is enough to lend credibility to individual complaints.
As long as domestic violence and sexual assault are allowed to continue, and those who have perpetrated those acts are allowed to serve, we send a clear message to victims of domestic violence, rape, sexual abuse, and exploitation that they will not be taken seriously.
That’s a truth we should not continue to accept. We all have a role to play in making our communities safer and more supportive of survivors — including our elected officials. Only then will survivors find real justice.
Karen Baker is CEO of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.