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Silence on the Eastern Plains

By Michelle Wolff
I sent out a request in rural America via Facebook asking young women under the age of 25 to answer a few questions about sexual assault.  The questions were if they knew where to go if they’d been assaulted, if the topics were being covered in their schools, would they feel ok to tell the Sheriff about an assault given that we all live in a town of less than 1,000 people?   I think it’s even less than 750 people actually.
I sent this to the talkative ones. The young women who blabber, change their pictures and statuses a dozen times a day and generally fill my newsfeed with entertaining bits about their lives and the dramas of the young, all day long.  I expected a huge response maybe even a knock on my door.  We all live within a mile of each other.
My questions were met with resounding silence. Not. One. Response.
What does this mean? Admittedly, I didn’t give them much notice, about a week to respond.  However, I’ve rarely had an email not be delivered through Facebook, so I don’t think that’s it although I will do some follow up work on the issue.
What I suspect happened is what typically happens when the subject comes up: shuffling of feet, averted eyes and mumbled excuses to escape the person forever bringing up uncomfortable subjects.  Nervous laughter abounds and subject changes are quick.  Exits stage left, if possible, are just as swift.
I’ll come back to this blog with more information on rural American rape issues, but for today let me switch to generalities.  Our young adults listen to what I call “musical porn” on a daily basis.  Music that is so graphic I can’t bear to listen to it for long.  Music whose lyrics make light of the most violent of acts, but because the beats are good, and they ARE good, we ignore the words. 
They see rape and sexual exploitation a zillion times a day.  That’s right…a zillion.   Yet some direct questions in person regarding the reality of rape are almost always met with sudden intakes of air without exhales of answers and questions through email are easily ignored.
I’m worried about this silence. I’m worried about the lively and talented young women who live all around me.  I’m worried that they are ignorant of the importance of this issue and that their discomfort may inhibit the rectification of said ignorance.  Is it ignorance or the silence promoted by our culture?  We should know these answers and since we don’t we should be finding out.
I’m worried about this numbness and checking out of intellect that’s created by the lyrics, the images, the seemingly increasing jokes about how hilarious it is to sexually violate someone or to be violated.  What a crack up, right?

I’m worried enough to take my introverted homebody self and go put people on the spot in my community face to face.  If they really don’t know this has to change and it has to change soon.  What about your communities? Have you asked the young ones around you what they know? Do they know anything at all about sexual assault?  Next time you get the chance, ask. I’m very curious to see what kinds of answers, if any, you get.  I’ll keep asking and I’ll report back to you all later.

Michelle Wolff is the Sexual Assault Response Team Coordinator for the 17th Judicial District.  She is working with a team of professionals dedicated to creating a seamless system for reporting and receiving services for sexual assault. She’s also an artist and blogger who frequently gets riled up about something and writes about it.  You can find her at www.wolffdenpress.wordpress.com.

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