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According to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), about 207,754 people become victims of sexual assault each year. That’s just the figure in the United States that have been reported. Imagine the number of women, girls, boys, and even men who are sexually assaulted in developing countries.
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Many of us have heard about women being raped and tortured by paramilitary groups in sub-Saharan countries, such as Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, but what about the voices that have been suppressed in other places–those that don’t receive as much attention from the mainstream media?
Though the U.S. and U.K. obviously have their share of sex crimes, at least there are governmental institutions and NGOs in the West that help support these women. In many oppressive countries, where machismo culture is still very much ingrained in society, women and girls don’t have the proper channels to report sexual abuse. In addition, laws in some developing countries are substantially more lenient toward rapists than the U.S.
Morocco recently came into the spotlight when a 16-year old girl, who was raped, swallowed rat poison and died. A law in Morocco, Article 475, states that someone who rapes a minor is able to escape punishment if he marries the victim. Many activists in the country have spoken loudly about abolishing this law, because it allows rapists to get away with their crime. The penal code wouldn’t have applied to the 16-year old victim, Amina Filali, anyways. The legal age to marry in Morocco was raised to 18 years old seven years ago.
This case also sheds light on the most vulnerable victims of sexual assault: children. Though there have been progress, at least on paper, in combating child prostitution and international human trafficking, just recently a man in Washington, D.C. was busted by the FBI for forcing minors into prostitution. In Bangladesh human traffickers pay impoverished families $250 to give up their daughters to put them in the sex trade. The minors are then given a form of steroid to make them appear older.
Outside of the sex trade, minors who are sexually assaulted are usually victimized by those close to them, such as a member of the household. They are afraid to tell an adult, because they are afraid of physical repercussion and believe that they will be blamed for “breaking up the family”.
This is a factor you have to consider when dealing with victims. There is a tremendous psychological impact that comes with sexual abuse. In both developed and developing nations, victims are less likely to report assaults due to perceived negative social stigma. The key component in breaking this barrier of fear and silence is the availability of resources for the victims, and creating an environment of trust. You can only change a culture–defined in the Oxford dictionary as “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society”–by stopping the cycle and implementing new ways of doing things. On top of that, the mentality has to change within both the victims and the society which they are a part of. Those who are sexually abused in any way should always keep in mind that they are the victim and not the one at fault; but also a victim that has a voice and a choice.
There needs to be a change in how the local and federal governments of all countries handle these cases. This is an urgent and worsening crisis that is not usually addressed by political revolutions sprouting around the world. Human rights and bringing justice to the invasion of those human rights, and I believe sex crimes fall into that category, is just has important as political freedom and economic opportunities.
I urge all victims to come forward–discreetly if you prefer–and not let the heavy weight of centuries of silence from past victims stop you from breaking the history of violence.