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Shifting Conversations About Rape in San Antonio: Support vs. Stigma 

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  • U.S. EPA
Less than a week after a 27-year-woman reported she had been raped while jogging in Phil Hardberger Park, more than 200 people gathered in the north side park's indoor classroom to learn self-defense.

“My hope is to create a crowd of very, very dangerous people so that any predator will think twice about coming back to Hardberger Park,” District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez told KENS5 at the free Sunday training.

Pelaez has led the city's public response to the September 12 assault, and was the only council member to issue a press release on the mid-morning attack. In the release, however, he shared a list of tips for park visitors on how to avoid being assaulted in the park — and did little to offer support to the victim, or other rape victims who could be re-traumatized by the news. While unintentional, the statement veered toward a victim-blaming narrative — one that focuses on what a victim could have done better to avoid the assault, rather than decrying the crime itself.

"We don't need to be making a list about what she could have done," said Deana Franks, interim director of San Antonio's Rape Crisis Center. "Why aren't we talking about how people shouldn't jump out of the bushes and rape someone?"

Some news channels followed suit, offering instructions on how to fight off an attacker, giving the public the idea that this kind of attack is inevitable. Others shredded the victim on social media, saying she should have "known better" than to run alone through the park.

Franks said her organization's rape crisis hotline was flooded with calls from sexual assault victims after the attack. Many had been emotionally triggered by the city and media's off-balance coverage of the incident. Franks was especially concerned for the survivor.

"Can you imagine how she felt watching this on TV? People saying that she had done something wrong?" Franks asked.

That's why Pelaez was extra careful in choosing how he spoke to the crowded room Sunday. Instead of framing the self-defense class as a tool just to prevent rape, he and officers with the San Antonio Police Department said the skills would be helpful in everyday life. Franks went over Pelaez' comments with him before the training.

"He was nervous, he really didn't want to say anything wrong. But he did a great job," Franks said. "Everything he said was spot-on."

But she wished this had been his initial response.

"We need to be asking, 'What can I help you with? What can I do for you?' from the start," she said. "We aren't asking those questions."

A lot of that may have to do with the community's general lack of knowledge about sexual assault and rape.

"The intention is there, we just need the education to back it up," she said. She urged Pelaez to share what he's learned with his fellow city council members — especially because these kind of assaults don't always make the nightly news. Franks believes that this attack got the kind of attention it did because of its location: a wealthier pocket of District 8 that rarely reports sexual assaults.

"If this happened in another part of the city, we may have not heard about it," she said. "Which is infuriating."


San Antonio Rape Crisis Center's 24-hour hotline: 210-349-7273

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