Sexual Violence: Issues & Needs

Issues & Needs — By on February 1, 2011 1:00 am

We wanted to hear from advocates, organizers and service providers in the field to learn what issues most need to be addressed.  So in January 2010, the Taskforce surveyed 56 representatives of organizations across Chicago in an anonymous online survey, and held a Roundtable discussion of organizational representatives, to identify gaps in the field. We asked respondents to identify the unmet needs of girls and young women who experience sexual violence, as well as neglected issues impacting these young women that we need to address.

The vast majority of the responses we received focused on the need to continue and expand existing services to young women. Clearly, there is a dearth of services for young women who survive sexual violence. These are some of the key needs identified:


The number one need identified by respondents is counseling. As one participant succinctly stated, in identifying the greatest need facing young women who experience sexual violence: “Girls have no one to talk to.”

Many spoke of the need for individual counseling for survivors. Comments included:

“Girls need someone to talk to so that they can understand their roles in decision making, self-confidence, and that the act of sexual violence is not their fault.”

“The girls who are sexually abused are not helped enough. They don’t know how to deal with their problems in a way that doesn’t hurt them further. They need help so that they can see that their lives don’t have to be awful because they were sexually assaulted.”

Some respondents pointed to the need for community-based support networks, beyond individual counseling. For example, one person suggested that we need to establish “support networks that teach girls and young women who experience sexual violence how to live out their lives going forward. Support groups to teach those who have experienced sexual violence how not to have a victim mentality for the rest of their lives.” Schools and community centers were identified as locations to create and expand support services for survivors.


The second area for expanded services identified by respondents was education. This includes education and training about rape culture and defining sexual violence; outreach efforts to inform survivors of existing resources; and specific efforts aimed at engaging young men.

School-based education about rape culture and sexual violence: Respondents identified a need for education and training about rape culture, the definition of sexual violence, and information about resources. Most respondents specified that these workshops should take place in schools, and some stressed that they should take place when girls are at a young age.

“There are trainings available through some Sexual Violence organizations in Chicago, that should be implemented at the school level early on, for boys and girls to learn about what sexual violence is and where to go if they experience or witness sexual violence.”

“Education pertaining to what constitutes sexual violence and clear direction on options regarding post-assault resources (medical, crisis-intervention, legal, for example)

“Not enough schools and folks talking about the problem – destigmatizing it”

The lack of information available to survivors about existing resources was also identified as a factor: “Outreach is important because these people are human beings that have gone through a tough experience.” One respondent described her own experiences of childhood sexual abuse, and stressed the urgency of creating school-based programs that engage children at a young age: “If in kindergarten it had been talked about, and solutions were offered, that abuse would not have gone on for as many years as it did.”

Education for Young Men: Several respondents pointed specifically to the need to educate not only young women, but young men as well, if we are to end sexual violence:

“Men understanding that we contribute to rape culture. Outreach and education to men is of utmost importance.”

“I believe what many are calling ‘violence prevention’ is actually risk reduction. Men and boys are more often than not perpetrators and need to be educated on this important issue. We should be gendering the conversation about sexual violence.”


Respondents identified a need for safe spaces for young women who experience sexual violence to heal and to address their trauma. For example, when asked to identify needs of survivors, responses included:

“Access to safe and healthy places for physical and emotional healing and resistance / resilience.”

“Safe spaces that educate, empower survivors and address the trauma experienced.”

“a safe space to go when faced with the issue of sexual violence”

In addition, several respondents stressed a specific need for shelters to provide emergency housing for young women. For example:

“Shelters for girls to escape abusive situations… and safe, confidential space where girls can get medical attention they need without being judged.”

“IMMEDIATE and safe housing”

“Ways in which to stop the cycle of sexual violence, and a safe space and time to heal or to get out of their situation where the sexual violence is occurring.”


A common theme throughout the responses we received was the need to develop both programming and new models that work for marginalized groups of young women. One respondent issued a general call for programming that looks beyond more privileged young women, to address those most lacking access to education, organizations and services:

“We need unique models that reflect the DIVERSE needs of young women and girls who experience sexual violence on a regular basis. I feel our sexual violence community focuses on ‘activists’ or formally ‘educated’ women and can exclude women and girls who are not necessarily connected to those communities.”

More specifically, respondents pointed to the need for programming for LGBTQ youth, for young men who may commit acts of violence, for homeless girls, and for girls in juvenile detention.