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This article was published 4/1/2010 (2783 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
WHAT were you wearing? What did you drink? Who were you with? Why couldn't you sense a potential attacker?
Those are the questions, not always spoken but rooted firmly in the attitudes of many, that women face after they're raped, says Nadia La Rosa, a sexual assault counsellor.
La Rosa, a counsellor with Klinic Community Health Centre's sexual assault crisis program, says there's still social mythology around rape that wrongly blames victims for the circumstances of their sexual assaults.
She said that, due to shame and confusion, some victims do not come forward for counselling at Klinic for weeks, months or years after their attack.
Klinic offers a large program to help both male and female adults who are sexual assault victims, though the vast majority of victims are women.
When a victim shows up at hospital, there's a Klinic volunteer beside them while they begin their journey, both medically and legally.
From January to November 2009, Klinic volunteers went to the Health Sciences Centre to meet with 260 sexual assault victims.
"There are way more happening out there we're not really aware of," said La Rosa.
She cited statistics that say only six to 10 per cent of sexual assault victims report the crime to police.
About 98 per cent of perpetrators are men, she said. Half of them are married or are in common-law relationships, she said.
The low reporting rate means sexual violence is a largely invisible issue, said La Rosa.
"I think what it does is that people don't recognize the seriousness of the crime and how pervasive it is in our society," she said.
"Pretty much being born female puts (women) at risk for something like this to happen, for sexual assault to happen. It's one of the crimes that's really misunderstood."
La Rosa said rape can be seen inaccurately as a crime of "sexual passion" by a person who can't control himself, instead of a violent act based on degrading someone else by using force.
"It's about humiliating and degrading and violating somebody, but because it's played out in a sexual nature, I think that really confuses people," she said. "The majority appear... normal, self-confident, likable; they represent every class, every race, every religion, every profession, personality type."
Most sexual assaults are done by people the victim knows, said La Rosa, like a family member, friend or an intimate partner.
"There's a lot more silence around it because people may have a tendency to blame themselves more or maybe not even really name it sexual assault because they're so confused about what's just happened," she said.
Klinic also operates a crisis phone hotline that received about 3,500 calls from January to November of this year by sexual assault victims or people close to them seeking advice.
She said victims are often silenced because of myths still surrounding sexual assaults, such as what the victim was wearing or who typical perpetrators of sexual assault are.
"There are a lot of myths out there that get perpetuated over time by the media, through our culture, through warnings from our parents, through things that our peers may say," said La Rosa.
She pointed to clothing turned over by victims to police for forensic examinations.
"It's not about clothing. There's definitely this idea out there that it is," she said.
"It's not about (the victim) being sexy, and somebody who can't keep their hands off of you. It's about somebody making a choice and decision to act in a violent way... if it was about clothing, if it was about finding somebody sexy, then we wouldn't see people who traditionally in our society have not been identified as 'sexy' being sexually assaulted."
La Rosa pointed to mainstream examples of ads and music that objectify women as sexual creatures.
She said these create a social environment where there's a perception consent to sexual acts by women is not required.
For example, a recent Top 40 song called Blame It On The Alcohol by Jamie Foxx talks about an inebriated woman who has sex with a man in his car after doing shots and drinking different types of booze.