Congrats to Abigail Zwicke on Winning our 2023 Scholarship!

You can read her essay below on what can be done to raise more awareness of sexual abuse in America:

Sexual abuse is one of the most traumatic events that a person can experience. The pain inflicted can reverberate for a lifetime. This is especially true when survivors face a culture of shame and silence, which inhibits them from speaking out against their abusers and the institutions that enabled them. While we have made great strides in our treatment of survivors in recent years, there is still much work to be done. Raising awareness about sexual abuse through education, survivor empowerment, and legal reforms are a few ways that we can help facilitate the healing of survivors.

Education, in many different forms, is crucial in changing societal attitudes towards sexual abuse and creating a supportive environment for survivors. Public campaigns are also useful to dispel harmful myths and encourage an open dialogue and reduce the stigma around the subject. Social workers, healthcare workers, law enforcement, and educators must also receive comprehensive training to recognize and respond appropriately — and sensitively — to signs of abuse.

On similar note, we must also ensure that members of the media are educated on how to report on these sexual abuse cases responsibly. All too often, victim-blaming narratives can still be seen in the press, which is unacceptable. The media’s role in these cases should not be sensational or critical, but rather they must stick to the facts and promote empathy towards survivors.

Next, we must work to empower survivors by encouraging reporting. To report sexual abuse is a difficult thing due to feelings such as guilt, shame, or fear of retaliation or of not being believed. We can make the reporting process easier and safer by improving mechanisms, reducing barriers, and ensuring confidentiality. We also need to provide easily accessible resources to survivors as they go through this difficult process and beyond. Helplines, support groups, therapy, and counseling services are vital to help survivors regain control over their lives and rebuild self-esteem.

Lastly, a key part of the healing process is holding perpetrators accountable through our justice system. Policy and legal reforms are crucial to creating a legal system which prioritizes rights of survivors. Possible changes include lengthened statutes of limitations, enhanced legal protections, and increased accountability for institutions and individuals responsible for perpetrating or enabling abuse.

In the end, the experience of reporting and seeking justice against one’s abuser is never going to be easy. However, we can always seek to make the process better for those impacted by sexual abuse. By increasing awareness through education, improving services which empower survivors, and reforming our legal system, we can create a culture that supports survivors and allows them to begin healing and achieve justice.