Sexual assault is a devastating experience, and one organization is determined to give back some of the dignity that has been so unfairly stolen away.
“I stood there examining my body beneath the stream of water and decided, I don’t want my body anymore. I was terrified of it. I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.” This profound quote in the New York Post was an excerpt from a sexual assault survivor’s handwritten testimony during the recent and highly publicized trial of Stanford University student, Brock Turner. Turner was eventually convicted of rape, but only sentenced to six months in jail and three years’ probation.
With victim blaming still running rampant, slews of rape kits going untested, and more rapists being slapped on the wrist with sentences so light they’re almost nonexistent, survivors of sexual assault need all the help they can get. But after such life-altering experiences, it can be difficult to do something as simple as look in the mirror without feeling ashamed, much less come forward against one’s attacker. Especially so when the process typically starts with succumbing to an oftentimes invasive rape kit that has the propensity to leave survivors feeling that much more vulnerable and violated.
Some victims have the option of being slightly more prepared before going to a hospital or health facility for a rape kit. However, the survivor from the Turner case, like so many others, reportedly woke up in the hospital after her attack. For the victims who aren’t able to make prior preparations, or for the many who aren’t aware of rape kit proceedings, RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) describes the hours long exam as one which may include genital swabs, blood samples, and photographs of private areas, often ending with the victim’s clothing being confiscated in order to be examined for traces of the perpetrator’s DNA.
For those of you interested in learning more, there’s a detailed, first-hand account of one woman’s rape examination experience here, but I would proceed with caution for its potentially distressing content.
This careful and thorough collection process isn’t ideal, but is designed to preserve potential evidence that may be admissible in legal proceedings. And although patients are able to put a stop to the rape kit at any point in time, unlike the woman in the first-hand account was led to believe, it doesn’t make the process any easier. Unfortunately in the cases for some survivors, this could mean that their only option after having been sexually assaulted and subjected to a rape kit is to leave the medical facility dressed in a hospital-issued paper gown.
After facing scrutiny from every angle, this flimsy, dignity-stealing sheet of nothing can degrade survivors of sexual assault – women, men, and children – even further. However, The Grateful Garment Project, a non-profit organization based in San Jose, Calif., has made it the group’s mission to “ensure that every victim of a sexual crime who crosses the threshold of a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) facility or who seeks medical attention and/or law enforcement involvement is provided with whatever new clothing, toiletries, snacks, and other miscellaneous items that he or she may require.” Having further expanded its horizons to “encompass all victims of sexual violence in California,” this non-profit also provides for children who are sexually exploited commercially and human sex trafficking victims.
Currently active in 25 California counties, The Grateful Garment Project is partnered with more than 60 agencies statewide who also share the organization’s vision of helping victims of sexual violence. Thanks to The Grateful Garment Project and its partnerships, between 25 and 40 women, children, and men, are provided with resources each day in California. In fact, during The Grateful Garment Project’s 2015-2016 fiscal year, the organization donated more than 25,000 items. From a t-shirt to a pair of sweatpants, a little bit of care and respect can go a long way in the effort to provide sexual assault victims with a shred of dignity.
“Every 109 seconds, another person experiences sexual assault,” and although “the number of assaults has fallen by more than half since 1993,” the sad fact is that “only 6 out of every 1,000 rapists will end up in prison.” These statistics taken from the RAINN website are not only eye-opening, but also heartbreaking. Until sexual assault is eradicated, until victims are no longer blamed for being victimized, we should do our part to make the rape kit process as tolerable as possible. Consider donating to The Grateful Garment Project, and if you, or someone you know, are suffering in silence, don’t hesitate to contact the 24/7 National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
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