Thank you, Serena!

Serena Williams at French Open in Paris. Photo from Rolling Stone Culture (Julian Finney / Getty Images)Yup. She said it.

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, currently ranked #1 in the world and 16-time Grand Slam Champion Serena Williams let it slip. Unfortunately for her, she said aloud what many people often “think” in cases of sexual assault.

(From Rolling Stone) “We watch the news for a while, and the infamous Steubenville rape case flashes on the TV – two high school football players raped a drunk 16-year-old, while other students watched and texted details of the crime. Serena just shakes her head. ‘Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don’t know. I’m not blaming the girl, but if you’re a 16-year-old and you’re drunk like that, your parents should teach you: Don’t take drinks from other people. She’s 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember? It could have been much worse. She’s lucky. Obviously, I don’t know, maybe she wasn’t a virgin, but she shouldn’t have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that’s different.’”

Serena’s off-the-cuff remarks underscore a societal apathy and common tendency to place blame for sexual assault not on perpetrators, but squarely on the shoulders of victims themselves.

Rather than questioning the 16-year old girl’s judgment about drinking too much… or whether she is a virgin or not… or whether she should have “put herself in that position”… society as a whole should instead ask:

•What makes those boys think it’s okay to have sex with someone who obviously isn’t in control of her faculties?
•What makes the bystanders think it’s okay to record and text details of a crime in action?
•What compels those present at the scene to NOT stop the assault?

I think we owe Serena a big “thank you” for bringing this all-too-common attitude to the international spotlight. Sadly, she isn’t alone. Countless people share her same perspective. Collectively, we must begin to think differently about cases of sexual assault. Victims are NOT to blame… those inflicting harm or coercing power over another are at fault. Let’s get it right.

There are organizations around the country dedicated to educating children, tweens and teens about sexual abuse and dating violence. These programs aim to raise sensitivity and awareness of how one should and should not act in various real-life situations. One such program I’ve recently stumbled across is The Date Safe Project, based out of Greenfield, Wisconsin. Founder Mike Domitrz was compelled to start this organization after his own sister fell victim to date rape. The Date Safe Project’s primary objectives are to:

•Dramatically improve society’s approach to healthy dating
•Create a better understanding of how “consent” is obtained in intimacy
•Reveal the keys to effective bystander intervention with alcohol and sexual activity
•Teach how to properly support survivors of sexual assault

So, thank you, Serena, for raising this issue. To her credit, she has made several apologies. My personal hope is that she will seize the opportunity to continue this international discussion by proactively heightening social conscientiousness and empathy for victims of sexual assault. If she does the right thing, Serena could turn out to be a real star in the eyes of sexual assault and abuse survivors.

About Ginger:
Raising awareness of the world-wide epidemic of child abuse has become Ginger’s life mission. An impassioned child advocate, trainer, speaker and child forensic interviewer, Ginger is also an avid animal lover who is blessed with two loving pets: Lexi and Chance.

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