Trigger warning for discussion of rape and sexual assault
If I were to ask a room full of people to voice what they understand about what a person goes through after they have been sexually assaulted, it would be so quiet that we could hear a pin drop. I know, however, that if I could read the minds of everyone in that room, there would be an overwhelming amount of people thinking, “Me, I know, I get it, I have lived it, I am still trying to cope.”
The sad reality is that many of us are survivors of some form of sexual violence, and many of us aren’t ready to share that with someone else. Many of us are afraid to remember, afraid to begin healing. While we think we are alone in this pain, we are not. As survivors of sexual violence, we rarely have support, we rarely have validation, and more often than not, everyone is concerned with the embarrassment or pain of our abuser/s. A survivor is expected to live through the rape. They are maybe allowed to let it affect them for, say, a couple months before those who once “supported” them begin saying that they should be over it by now, that they need to move on, that they are doing themselves more harm than good, etc.
No one takes the time to understand how a survivor feels, or what really happens to them after. We rate their experience and their pain based on how horrific or severe it all turns out to be by our standards. A victim of a surprise gang rape is allowed more time to process than the victim of a gang rape who was too intoxicated to know what was happening. The abusers of the surprised gang rape we want hanged, but again, only if by society’s standards, the victim was a “good” girl. If she was a sex worker then what did she expect? We feel sorry for the abusers of a girl who was raped and was too intoxicated to say anything, because clearly her inebriation was a sign of consent. Clearly she is not the victim here, but the young men who decided that intoxication is a substitute for a verbal “Yes.”
We sympathize, not empathize with those who have been attacked sexually. We rate every assault and use that to dictate how a survivor should act, react, and feel, and for what length of time. It was only an attempted assault? Oh well, nothing actually happened, so get over it. Oh wait, he was your boyfriend? Well, I’m sure you liked it rough. Oh wait, it was two guys? Well, better than it being five, so I’ll give you two months to get over it. What about the young woman/man who is assaulted by someone in the family? We tell them that it was innocent sibling/family playing, that they are blowing things out of proportion, that they hold the family’s reputation in their hands.
We ask them to forgive their brother, father, mother, sister, aunt, uncle, cousin, grandmother, grandfather or step-parent. We ask them to sit through family gatherings with their abuser. We ask them to do what’s best for the family. We tell them to think about what their abuser is/was going through. We insinuate that this is something that can be turned off and put away and never opened. We insist that this is something that can be gotten over in no time.
In “The Newsroom,” Will McAvoy says a perfect answer to anyone who sits back and tell us, survivors of sexual violence, what to feel how to act and how to react. “I am tired of people telling me it’s Just A Get Over It Situation. F…. You, you don’t know what it’s like in my head.”
They don’t know, and they don’t even want to know, they want to pretend sexual violence doesn’t happen, and that when it does, the victim caused it. Because to sit and accept that people constantly force themselves sexually on other persons against their will means that they have to face one of two things: They are a survivor to who has been trying not to believe what was done to them, or someone they know is a rapist. Someone they know thinks it’s OK to sexually assault people.
We would then have to rethink so much of what we have accepted as truth about the world. I understand that it is easier to blame the survivor, but that doesn’t make it right. So when someone confides in you, and you find yourself wanting to blame them, take your mother’s advice: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
The truth is that no survivor wants to deal with the aftermath of their assault, no survivor wants the flashbacks, the triggers, the trust and intimacy issues, the fear that it will happen again. They don’t want to deal with the body image issues, the constant self-sabotage, the issues of addiction, the issues of sexual intimacy. They don’t want to have to tell their friend that the reason they may come across as difficult to get to know is because their faith in humanity was shattered the moment their sexual assault occurred. Many survivors would say that if they could, they would lock this away and never think about it again, but they can’t. Their body, their mind will not let it disappear until dealt with.
Speaking as a survivor of sexual violence, there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t wish that I didn’t have the truckload of issues that I now have. I always find it very disrespectful when someone insinuates that my pain or suffering should be less because my type of assault wasn’t as damaging. Who determines what is damaging where sexual assault is considered? Should that be left up to you, the individuals who have never lived it and have no idea what we are dealing with? Should I take advice from you on my healing and where I should or shouldn’t be, or how I should feel or not feel because you deem yourself an expert? NO.
We don’t go a cardiologist and listen to their opinion when an issue is really a neurological one. Who gets to tell you how you should or shouldn’t feel? Who gets to tell you that what you went through wasn’t horrific or severe enough because it was only “incest,” only an attempt, only a unwanted touch or kiss? A violation is a violation and we don’t get to decide how one feels or how they should act.
Survivors of sexual violence cause themselves enough pain. They don’t need any additional pressure coming from a society that constantly fails to protect them, a society that excuses and releases rapists on a near daily basis. To the survivors: Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, how to react or act, no one knows what’s in your head, no one sees your scars. They don’t know what your deal with, they don’t see the patches that have been placed on the open wounds in an attempt to appear normal.
Surround yourself with people who genuinely care, not those who pretend to care. Know that it doesn’t matter what form of sexual assault or the duration that you were violated and you have every right to feel violated, hurt and angry. We often let people who are ill-equipped to judge us do just that. I want to remind you of how strong you are, and you deserve a happy and full life. It is possible. The road to get there is difficult, but I have to believe that it is all worth it.
Written by Souyenne Dathorne