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Guest Voz: Sexual assault hits Latina survivors hard without culturally relevant support

By Cecilia Knadler

I came to the United States from Peru when I was 17 years old. I was undocumented and didn’t speak a word of English. Talking about sex is very taboo where I come from, and “consent” wasn’t something I even had in my vocabulary growing up.

In fact, it wasn’t until my women’s studies course at Fresno State that I learned that consent means communicating a clear and enthusiastic yes before engaging in any sort of sexual activity, in which both parties are excited about what is happening and not just letting it happen.

It’s not that I’d never heard of sexual assault; it’s just that I pictured it as a woman in a dark alley being attacked by a stranger. No one told me that you could find yourself alone in a room with a friend pushing himself onto you against your will, the way I did. And no one taught me that it was wrong.

Because we never spoke about these types of issues at home, I began to piece together my own definitions of what was right and what was wrong, and so I came to assume that this was the way it was — men push for sex until women give in.

Until I started working to end sexual assault on our campus as a part of POWER, our women’s studies student group, I had no idea how many people experienced assault and how few resources they had access to. I also started to notice that on my campus, which is to a great extent Latino, certain challenges were specific to the Latino community when it comes to sexual assault.

First, like me when I first arrived in this country, many of the survivors I spoke to in my community didn’t speak English. I had an incredibly hard time finding resources in Spanish that I could point them to.

I also kept hearing over and over again the advice that victims of assault should go to the police. No one seemed to realize that many survivors are not ready to report immediately — and for those who are undocumented, like I was, they are far too afraid of being deported to ever willingly go to the police about anything.

And unfortunately, this fear is not specific to Fresno. Recent data from the No Mas campaign — dedicated to addressing these very challenges — found that Latinos believe that fear of deportation is the top reason Latino victims of sexual assault may not report their assault to police.

When I see the barriers preventing many of us from getting the help we need and the recourse we deserve, it’s hard not to be frustrated that we weren’t given the opportunity to learn about consent, that we didn’t have access to sex education that includes these topics, and that the specific needs of our community have been overlooked.

But there is good news too.

This same study found that compared to the general population, Latinos are more likely to report intervening to help a victim. It also found that Latinos have already begun to address these issues and are ready to do more, with 54 percent of Latino parents talking with children about sexual assault and six in ten Latinos willing to get involved in efforts to address sexual assault.

As a parent myself, I’ve started talking with my 4-year-old daughter, teaching her the difference between a good touch and a bad touch, and the importance of asking permission to play with someone else’s toy. I know that with access to sex education that teaches her about healthy relationships, communication, and gender norms as she gets older, she will be better equipped to communicate and ask for consent when she starts to explore romantic and sexual relationships.

But as I look to my daughter and the fearless leaders on our campus who have joined me in leading the charge for better, culturally appropriate resources right here on our campus, I’m nothing but hopeful for the future of our community.

I truly believe that the more young people are educated about consent and sexual assault, the more likely they are to teach their future children these crucial communication skills and the less sexual assault we will see with each generation. This work can’t stop at the gates of our campus.

That’s why our Fresno State student group, POWER, has joined with Planned Parenthood Generation’s national network of activists to push for better policies that expand comprehensive sex education and provide better support for Latino survivors of sexual assault across the country.

I’m proud of the work we’ve done and are doing. I know we can make a difference for survivors of sexual assault — all survivors, no matter who they are or where they come from, but especially those who come from backgrounds like mine.

If you’re interested in joining the fight against sexual assault, please join me this summer at Planned Parenthood Generation’s National Conference. To sign up and learn more details, please see:

Cecilia Knadler is a senior at Fresno State and vice president of POWER, Fresno State’s Women’s Studies Club and Planned Parenthood Generation Student Group.

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