How Did Society Fail Them?

nikko macaspac via Unsplash

A college age girl walks down her dorm hallway, the fluorescent lights are dim, uncannily flickering. The clock at the end of the hall marches on with its monotonous ticking. She’s scared, scarred and terrified. But she keeps on walking. As she gets closer to her room she starts throwing terrified glances over her shoulder. She breaks into a run, panicking as she fiddles with the key to her door and finally, slipping inside, slams it shut in relief. She can’t think about why she’s scared, scarred or terrified. Processing wasn’t possible, or maybe even tolerated. All she can think of is how alone she is, how it may have just been her fault.

“I’m so sorry that happened to you.” she was told.

“He didn’t seem like that. I’m so shocked!” was another one that makes her stomach churn.

“I don’t believe you.” Is the worst.

How did society fail her?

That story is one we’ve all heard too many times, or even lived. Rape, sexual abuse and assault plague our society like a viral infection; spreading like wild fire with no apparent cure. Carried down from parent to child, generation to generation, this disease preys on the young and vulnerable, with no ends to its twisted means. And for the most part, the ‘innocent’ who stand by become not so innocent. We have an inkling of a doubt, a slight thought of ‘maybe’, but we never follow through. Never check in on him/her, never ask what we can do to help. And in some ways we are utterly confused.

A common theme in social work is “not everyone can fix everything”. We play a weird game of prioritizing oppression in our minds, trying to make sense of how much (or how little) we can help. Once on the track of helping in a particular issue, there isn’t much resistance from the outside. This isn’t a money making game (it definitely shouldn’t be), but rather a challenge for those that undertake it to find possible solutions and try to implement them. And know well that there will be no worldly reward at the end.

Other topics I found interest in included global famine such as in Yemen, stabilizing access to vaccines in West Africa and the emergence of viable replacements to the current financial institutions status quo. All of those areas are already saturated fields, with countless organizations and several proposed solutions.

I chose to write on this topic due to the lack of improvement within in. We’ve found a viable cure for cancer, but haven’t begun seriously looking for a cure to the emotional disease that is sexual assault and abuse. If there ever was a ‘time’ for new ideas and action, it’s now.

And the solution isn’t found in the victim, how could you possibly begin to blame them for what happened? It all begins with the perpetuator. How did this person even think of committing these acts? How were they not helped before they acted on these thoughts? Where did the disease come from…

Why do sexual assault and abuse exist? Similar to asking why people commit murder, it would be hard to answer. Though yes, biological imbalances in person with violent tendencies can cause them to perpetrate harm against others, the environment they grew up in is very responsible. Desensitization to gore, violent sexual acts, and degradation of human beings has never been as wide spread as now. There is such an easy access to the most gruesome of images, even authorities are overwhelmed with the disgusting spread of such images that has occurred over the past 10 years.

annie spratt Unsplash

These seems no end to the content that feeds this festering disease. First planting in the mind, then fed by progressively more vile content, the disease often becomes synonymous with the individual’s natural state of desires. Masks are worn, personalities are created, and now walks amongst society an individual obsessed with the most some of the most repugnant of acts. They’ve seen the acts do so many times, why can’t they do? We hate the ‘thing’ we’ve made. And worst of all, we don’t know how to stop it.

Most problems have some realization of a solutions. Wildly complex global trade agreements, transistors capable of billions of computations a second, and putting a man on the moon all have been solved. So why can’t we eliminate sexual assault? As with all things, there is no ‘solve all’ solution. In a certain sense the solutions for the victims are completely case by case, but the prevention for the perpetrators can we wide sweeping.

Is there a problem? Most definitely, that’s agreed upon. Socially we are fed up with this long persisting issue, exhausted with the long lasting emotional impact it has on us in the longer term. Economically, when this problem is solved not only will be see growth (as more people will feel safe living and working in varying environments) but also an evident increase in quality of living. And we have all the technological resources we need to build it. So what’s taking so long?

This is where work has and will continue to be done, trying to change our global language and thinking related to sexual assault. It isn’t the responsibility of the individual to find the cure to this holistic ailment of society. More times than not our emotional capacity is at the point of overflowing. Sometimes we ourselves can’t help in the individual sense, and feel guilty of not being strong enough to be a support person. And in the back of our minds we think “Hmm, maybe an institution can help with this.”

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Organizations hail mission statements akin to biblical verses. Promises of grandeur and heavenly reform, rarely realized with the limited resources they have. WomenForWomen, UNWOMEN and Pathfinder International all have resources and programs that have been built up over decades, with thousands of individuals behind them. Yet these organizations focus on other aspects of the bottom tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: food and shelter in times of war and displacement. Though these resources are extremely vital to women around the world and extremely praiseworthy, they are not meant to change our global societies interaction with and response to sexual assault. They don’t claim to be an antidote to the disease but rather a cast for a broken arm. But back to the girl in the hallway.

See how easy it is to forget her in the grand scheme of things? She’s still here, trying to figure out how to figure it out.

Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, the availability of individuals for user research is very limited. I was privileged to hear from a small group of people on the subject. One had lived in a women’s shelter, and spoke about how it wasn’t meant to be a permanent residence. They are built to get women out. It almost seems to them an antithesis of what someone in that situation needs. Rather than to be pressured to leave, they should have a place to belong. Women who go through this system have access to resources meant to ‘get them back on their feet’: job/resume workshops, budgeting seminars and improvement of certain social skills is great, but for them it lacked the depth needed for survivors.

What we need is a cohesive, nurturing living environment for women. A completely self-sufficient mini-society that integrates services for those that want to live both temporarily and permanently. Dramatic isn’t it? Cause it is. A problem this wide spread needs a solution that outruns it. It costs a lot, and requires a lot of work. But so does everything worth having as a society.

200,000 square feet. Thats around 1/4 the size of Salesforce tower. With 10 of these living communities around the globe you create hotspots of hope, available to the tens of millions of women who are abused every year. Equipped with mental health and medical facilities, as well as built in college, women would never have to leave the safety of that environment unless they wish to. A co-op living space means costs are kept to a minimum. Individuals are kept engaged with adequate responsibilities, and feel part of a community by having a direct vote on decision making and organization direction.

a copy some of my initial notes. the originals are very messy 🙈

When onboarded into this community, you are assigned a mentor, someone who looks out for you and begins to record trackable growth and improvement over weeks and months. Emphasis is on stabilization, bringing back a state of normalcy as soon as possible. Other programs completely lack this. You come in, and get out as fast as you can, regardless of your results. Here, rather than just a couple week stay, the environment provides a place to regrow what was attempted to be thrusted away: their safety. This community will be able to proudly and confidently state:

“We help survivors of sexual assault achieve a return to wellbeing through healing community and a true sense of safety.”

a cross-section (wireframe) for an example center

In addition to the resources for the victims is the potential cure for the perpetuators. Education, interventions and integration with school systems will provide the prevention that is needed. It starts from the beginning of the problem, and education from a young age is the best method to curtail future wrong doings.

Only after all this is built up: a structure made to nourish those within it, will the girls in the hallways begin to close doors on an old world. One that didn’t care, one that turned a blind eye. She will walk into a room of understanding, love and compassion. She deserves that world.

Lizzie via Unsplash

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