Sexual Assault Awareness

Apr 26, 2022

What are common misconceptions about sexual assault? What does sexual assault really look like? What can you do when you have been assaulted or know someone who has experienced sexual assault? As April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, this episode of the Lady Lawyer League podcasts focuses on signs of, preventative measures for and proper responses to sexual assault. We hear from Tia Manning and Nick Zadina, who work with victims of sexual assault; they share their experiences and expertise on a topic that, unfortunately, is clouded with misconception.


Susan: On today’s show, we’re talking about Sexual Assault Awareness Month and how sexual assault impacts Nebraskans, with our guests Nick Zadina and Tia Manning. 

Intro: Welcome to the Lady Lawyer League podcast. They are a league of lady lawyers in an all-female law firm in Omaha, Nebraska, called Hightower Reff Law. On this podcast, you’ll hear stories of what it’s like to be a lady lawyer and an entrepreneur. Now it’s time to talk about the law, share real-life stories about representing clients and discuss the current events of the week. It’s the Lady Lawyer League podcast with Susan Reff and Tracy Hightower-Henne. 

Susan: We have two bonus episodes where you can learn all about Nick and Tia and their organizations, both the Women’s Fund and the Nebraska Coalition. But Nick, tell us what you do at the Women’s Fund. 

Nick: Yeah, I am the Freedom from Violence Coordinator at the Women’s Fund of Omaha. And we work every day to end gender based violence in Nebraska, specifically focusing on domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. 

Susan: Awesome. And Tia, what is it that you do at the Nebraska coalition? 

Tia: So the Nebraska coalition I’m the sexual violence program coordinator. And so what we also do is working to end sexual and domestic violence for all genders. 

Susan: All right. Well, April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and it’s a really important topic. I think that a lot of people don’t really think that this affects Nebraskans. So I want to hear from both of you about why it’s important that we talk about this in Nebraska and what ultimately we need to take away from this topic. 

Nick: Yeah, I guess I can start. I think one of the reasons it’s so important to talk about sexual assault and like with any topic, you can’t solve a problem unless you talk about it. And it’s so hard to talk about sexual assault. It’s a vulnerable topic for a lot of people. I think there’s a lot of misunderstandings out there around it. We know that most sexual assaults occur between people who know each other. It’s not the stranger thing. The stranger thing happens, but that’s definitely the minority. And there’s a lot of victim blaming language out there that we still see today. It’s hard to come forward as a survivor of sexual assault and talk about what happened to you because of the pressure and that stigma. And so like having a discussion like you’re not going to solve a problem unless you talk about it. And with the way that secrecy just revolves around all things related to sexual assault and honestly, sex, that’s not helping. And so awareness is like it’s a first step. It’s not like the end all be all. We need to have other things in place as well, but if we can’t even talk about it, we can’t do anything about it. 

Susan: Right? And talking about it can lead to good advocacy work as well. I think another thing that helps is to create a safe space for survivors to even think about reporting to. 

Tia: Yeah, I agree. And I think like figuring out what that means, right when we say reporting because it’s going to be different for all survivors. I think we live we’re talking about sexual violence and having those uncomfortable conversations that oftentimes realizing that it doesn’t fit a certain mold. And so when that survivor is coming to talk to you, meeting that person where they are and having allowing that survivor and empowering that survivor to lead that, what that means for justice and for healing for that person, which oftentimes we have guided them toward other modalities of healing. 

Nick: So in sexual assault doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And so when we talk about like the way sexual assault looks like, sometimes sexual assault is correlated with sex trafficking. Sometimes sexual assault is correlated with domestic violence, sometimes sexual assault is correlated with intimate partner violence. It can look so many different ways. And I think that there’s some narratives out there that say even sexual assault survivors must do blank. So, for example, sometimes I’ll hear, well, sexual assault survivors needs to report it to protect other survivors. It’s not their job to protect other people. They’re the it’s the job of the person doing the sexual assault to stop doing it. That’s where we need to be focusing our attention, not on telling what survivors they should be doing, because we also don’t know what the implication means for that survivor. 

Tia: Right. 

Nick: Who assaulted them? How much power and control do they have over them? It’s not as black and white as some people think it is. It’s complex and complex. Complex problems require complex, complex solutions. And one thing I do want people to know is that in Nebraska, there’s a number of ways to report sexual assault and sexual assault dot org talks about how you can report anonymously or not anonymously. There’s three different options that are laid out there. And I just. There are options for people who want to report and there are options for people who want to report in different ways. 

Tia: And Nick, I think you bring up a good point, because oftentimes what we see is, well, why didn’t that person tell somebody? Why didn’t they report like what was happening? And so looking at the whole picture, because sometimes people don’t report because the person that is harming them is keeping them, keeping a roof over their head, providing them food and all of those things, too. So when we’re having those conversations, again, looking at the whole person and looking at where this person is coming from and not judging on why they didn’t report, it’s coming from a place of How can I support you now? 

Susan: And I think the other thing, too, is it’s never too late to report it. Tia, I’m interested in your background as a clinician. What is the best way if you are being the listener of someone reporting for the first time, what’s the best way to communicate with that person? 

Tia: Coming from a place of empathy, I think is going to be really, really important and empowering them to lead that discussion. I think we come oftentimes what happens is it’s like, okay, I’m a fix it and then I’m going to tell you all the things to do and realizing oftentimes in those dynamics, it’s already been that power in control and that person may not necessarily feel like they have control over this current situation, too. So walking alongside of them will be really, really important as you work with. 

Susan: Somebody and allowing them to make those decisions. Absolutely, yeah. Nick, you have a huge background in working with children, victims of sexual assault that can be quite different than working with adult victims of sexual assault. What’s what are some pointers that you have on on that? 

Nick: Well, so the laws are different. So with children in sexual assault, we’re all mandatory reporters in Nebraska, every adult is a mandatory reporter of child abuse and neglect. If you know of a child who has been sexually assaulted, you are a mandated reporter. That is not true with adults. Adults should have a say in when and how reporting looks. And another thing kind of just to build off what Tia is saying if if you’re sitting if somebody is telling you that they were sexually assaulted, that is very, very hard. But I also want you to know that that is such an important point in that person’s life and like how amazing that they came to you. And I think one thing that can be really, really hard is if that ever if you ever are in a situation where somebody tells you they were sexually assaulted, believe them. Yes, believe them. Believe them. Believe them. Yes. Because the damage that can be done if you don’t believe them is so much greater than the damage that would be done. If you believe them and they’re not telling the truth, which, by the way, doesn’t happen like we were talking earlier about, like people don’t lie about getting mugged. People don’t lie about these other crimes. But for some reason, when it comes to sexual assault, we always have these questions of, Yeah, but did it happen? And we suddenly get very entrenched in this like idea of innocent until proven guilty. And all of a sudden we all feel like we need to be the lawyers. And I don’t know where that comes from, but I think it has to do with the discomfort that we feel when somebody reports something really vulnerable to us, because then we have feelings about it and maybe we want to fix it or rescue them. And if we don’t feel like we can fix it or rescue them, we just minimize it because it makes us uncomfortable, which does incredible amounts of harm. 

Susan: Yeah. 

Tia: And there’s that stigma piece, right? Like I feel like stigma plays into that. But then also when you watch Rape Culture Is Real and I feel like we live in a society that will perpetuate that by shows we watch on a daily basis. You can turn on your TV and have that moment where you’re just like, I mean, is that okay to have on there? And so I think that also fills in feeds into that narrative of making having an uncomfortable conversation of certain things that we watch, certain things we ingest into our own mind, if you will. 

Nick: So and I think having awareness around those things like so if you’re a parent out there and you have kids and you’re watching a show when something kind of gross happens, don’t ignore it. Talk about it. Absolutely. Because kids are taking all of that in and trying to make sense of the world around them. And one of the things that we talk about at Women’s Fund all the time is the huge importance of sex, comprehensive sex education, which isn’t just about sex, it’s about relationships, it’s about consent. It’s about all of the things around sex. And if kids aren’t getting lessons about relationships from school or from somewhere else, from anywhere else, they’re going to figure it out by going to media or other places that might not be sending messages that are clear. 

Susan: And when we talk about child sexual assault to using correct names for body parts becomes very important. 

Nick: It’s so important to use the correct names for body parts. So one thing that we talked about at Project Harmony a lot was when I would do training on mandatory reporting and we got to the part on sexual abuse, I would always say. So if you want to protect your kids, make sure that you teach them the proper names of their body parts because the way child sexual assault works. So 90% of the time that we have a child sexual assault, the child knows the person assaulting them. And what we see with grooming, which is a word that’s being thrown around now and I think not the right context. Grooming means grooming a child to be sexually assaulted. We actually don’t even like the word grooming anymore. We prefer the word manipulation because grooming, that’s what you do to your dog, right? That’s what you do to your dog to to make sure they look okay. We use the word manipulation and this manipulation is done in secret. And secret is a big part of this, too, which once again gets back to we need to have the conversations, because when there’s secrets that breaks that communication and isolates it. So the way that we see this manipulation usually working is that people who are looking to sexually abuse children first, they find vulnerable children because they have an end with that. So for example, if a child doesn’t get a ride home after school, somebody will notice that and then say, hey, I can give your kid a ride home after school. And they build relationships with the family and the child. And then after they build those relationships, eventually they’ll maybe seek alone time with the child. 

Nick: And then after they seek a long time with the child, they’re going to sexually abuse them right away. They’re going to have they’re going to have a great time. They’re going to show the kid a great time and build that relationship more. And then they’ll slowly start introducing sex and kind of probing for how much they know about sex. And they might say something like, Do you know what your body parts are called? And if a child says, Yes, I know I have a penis or Yes, I know I have a vagina, that’s going to be a cue to that person that somebody talked to that kid about sex, which is actually very protective. But if the kid doesn’t know what their parts are called, then they say, Oh, I can teach you that. And we heard of kids who had names for their body parts that were given to them by the people of using them, which and then they would say it’s a secret and they would say, this is how sex is everywhere. And they would basically build what sex is for this kid. And they were the only resource they had. Comprehensive sex education in schools and in a public setting is super important. And one thing we hear all the time is that parents should be doing this education, and I agree with that. But I also know that at Project Harmony, which is the Child Advocacy Center in town, which deals with sexual abuse of children, 37% of their the cases that they have, they’re the perpetrators, the parents. And so we need to have places other than parents as well, because not all parents are safe. 

Tia: And I think you bring up with that point, too, right? So I have two little girls. They’re ten and seven. And my partner and I what we do is we use the words penis vagina, right? But when they go to grandma and grandpa like place, it’s not those words. And so even having those conversations with extended family members to let them know, like, this is what we’re doing, this is what we’re teaching, but also uplifting, too, with other folks that may make them uncomfortable. But it’s important to have these conversations with all folks that are involved as well. 

Susan: The same messaging. 

Tia: Absolutely. 

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