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Sexual assault feature photo

(Photo/Itziarely Demeza) 

Chicago Sexual Assault: Survivors Speak Out

By Itziarely Demeza and Vanessa Escutia

Posted: Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019

 Editor’s Note: Only first names were used for the victims who shared their stories for this piece.

Jasmine faced sexual violence first-hand at age 14. Her perpetrator -- the boyfriend she loved.

“He forcefully pushed me onto the couch as I cried,” said Jasmine, now 21, as she recounted the incident from May of 2012. “He kept saying I was going to be fine and then forced me to have sex with him after I said no.”

Like many survivors, reporting the event was the last thing on her mind, she internalized the pain, she stayed silent until now. She recently attended  a concert with her current boyfriend, where she ran into the man who sexually assaulted her.

“I felt like I couldn't breathe again, and I tried to get away from him," she said. "I remember turning around and he was standing right behind me and I felt his body pressed against me and I had to leave. I felt disgusted for two weeks after that and I tried not to make it real for so long that once I felt him again I realized how I actually went through that.”

Jasmine said the frightening night continues to haunt her today. But she’s not the only one facing the challenges of a survivor.

Each year, an average of 434,000 victims age 12 and older report a sexual assault in the United States, according to data compiled by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. The organization estimates a sexual assault occurs every 73 seconds in the U.S.

Infographic: The costs of investigating sexual assault crimes

Sexual assault can be defined as any sexual contact of behavior that occurs without given consent. According to RAINN some examples of sexual violence would be attempted rape, unwanted sexual touching, catcalls, forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, oral sex or penetration of the victim’s body. RAINN states that every nine minutes’ child protective services finds evidence or receives a claim for child or teen sexual abuse.

Who can be a Perpetrator?

Eight times out of 10 perpetrators are people who the victim may already know. Intimate partner violence and acquaintance rape is also very common, experts say.

But data show that a majority of perpetrators will not go to jail or face prison. According to RAINN, out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, 995 of perpetrators will walk free.

Experts say it can be difficult for a victim, and this type of behavior can ultimately negatively impact the victims well-being: leading them to depression, PTSD, self-harm, sleeping disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse and even suicide.

This graphic shows  reported sexual assaults in different districts of Chicago, from 2001 to 2019. But many cases go unreported. 


According to the Chicago Data Portal, Police District 7, which covers the Chicago’s South Side, has had the highest number of reported sexual assaults at a total of 2,063 from 2001-2019, District 20 located on the North Side, has 561 reported cases. 

According to RAINN, only 230 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police. That means about three in four go unreported and there are many reasons why.  

Impacts of the #MeToo Movement

Many movements are dedicated to fighting sexual assault and violence, notably The #MeToo movement. It was founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke and exploded in October 2017 after there were substantial allegations made against Harvey Weinstein for sexual harassment.

The birth of the #MeToo hashtag blew up, according to The Telegraph, after actress Alyssa Milano tweeted out asking all women to write  “#MeToo” as a status if they have been sexually harassed or assaulted. This tweet received 10,000 replies within 20 minutes. CNN reported that people from 85 countries tweeted #MeToo 2.3 million times by early November 2017.

This movement has encouraged many people to come out and tell their stories. Erinn Robinson from RAINN’s communication team, and an expert in the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, expresses how many people reach out to them per month asking for help.

“Prior to the Me Too movement exploding back in 2017, we had about 15,000 callers per month and now over the last year and a half to two years, we've had steady between 25 and 26,000 people that reach out to our hotline for support each month,” she said.

Experts say that it is important to get help from a professional because survivors tend to internalize a lot of that trauma. Survivors are at a higher risk for suicide and drug use than the general population.

“As a society we should try to find and learn ways that can help out a survivor without being critical, because that’s what can cause someone to keep their stories to themselves," she said.

Educating the public on supportive responses when a loved one comes forward with their experience can also be very helpful, Robinson said.

Supportive phrases that RAINN’s National Sexual Assault hotline recommend:

“I believe you. / It took a lot of courage to tell me about this.”

“It’s not your fault. / You didn’t do anything to deserve this.”

“You are not alone. / I care about you and am here to listen or help in any way I can.”

“I’m sorry this happened. / This shouldn’t have happened to you.”

Jullian’s Story

Millions of men have been victims of rape. One out of every 10 rape victims are male. Transgender individuals and other members of the LBTQ community are at a higher risk of sexual violence.

In late September 2019, Jullian, 27 decided to take a night out and go to club. A man aggressively grabbed him and began to inappropriately touch him, trying to unzip his pants. However, this wasn't the first time he had been harassed in a public space. He, as well as many others has been a victim to catcalls by other men.

“It's weird because I'm a guy but i don't want to feel minimized to what I am wearing,” he said. “People think that because I am a man that  it is OK to grab my ass, but its not and I don't think that people should have to dress down because they are afraid to get cat called. It's not fair, and not your fault when something like this happens.”

Finding ways to cope  has been a challenge for Jullian, and many others are dealing with similar issues. Feelings of discomfort and insecurity may arise and feeling safe enough to speak out is not always easy, experts say.

“I definitely talked to my therapist about it and I didn’t even realize how I had been cutting myself off from experiencing certain things because I was afraid of what could happen,” Julian said. “I don't put myself out there as much as I would like to.”

Being part of the LGBTQ+ community, Julian said, means that “[we are] hypersexualized, causing sexual assault to be normalized, especially if you are a person of color.”


How to Help

It is important to know how acts of sexual violence can deeply affect those who have been victims. There are many negative impacts that a survivor of sexual violence may have to face, that can be both short term and long term impacts. This infographic shares information on sexual assault and the psychological and physical impacts, along with tips on how to recover from trauma.

Organizations in Chicago that Help Survivors of Sexual Assault and want to  Prevent Rape Culture:

This map includes locations of nonprofit Chicago organizations that not only support survivors and work to prevent sexual violence, but also offer free or low-cost services that include medical and legal advocacy, housing, counseling for all ages,  even survivors’ loved ones, from individual, group, or family counseling.

Other resources:

A Long Walk Home

Apna Ghar

Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center

Howard Brown

Mujeres Latinas en Acción


Sexual assault infographic

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