5 Things to Remember If the Weight of All This Sexual Assault News Is Crushing You
Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Jordan Davidson, The Mighty’s News Editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.
I was going to start this article with a story about how I was sexually assaulted by someone almost 30 years my senior when I was 21.
But then I remembered, I don’t owe anyone my story. And neither do you. That’s my choice. That is the power I have.
It’s the power you have, too.
Since the Harvey Weinstein allegations last month and the viral “me too” campaign that’s had more than one million people sharing that they’ve been the victim of sexual assault or harassment, it feels as though not a day goes by without a mention of sexual assault.
On Friday, comedian Louis C.K. replied to five allegations of sexual misconduct noting they were all true. Not once did C.K. say the words, “I’m sorry.” Instead, he focused on how he took “advantage” of how “widely admired” he was by the comedy community and the women he hurt. His “apology,” as many have called it, may satisfy some. But if you — like me — are a sexual assault survivor who has spent years processing a trauma, seeing people praise C.K. for acknowledging actions that shouldn’t have occurred in the first place can be difficult.
When you lose autonomy over your body or your right to consent, your story’s narrative is forced out of your hands and into someone else’s. In the aftermath, this chapter you didn’t write is yours — and yours alone — to share. Whether you want to tell everyone or a select few, only you get to make that call.
And just like you get to decide if you want to share your story, you can pick whether you want to keep up with the news. You can read how Louis C.K. justifies his “sexual misconduct,” or you can go about your day. You can share your opinions, or you can log off social media for the weekend.
As the news cycle continues and more stories come to light, here are five things you should remember.
1. You Have the Power
You have the power to forgive, to listen, to ignore and to process your trauma in a way that promotes your well-being.
You get to address your trauma on your own terms, not just because a hashtag is trending or a celebrity did something deplorable. If you need to unplug and ignore the conversation, go for it.
2. You Don’t Have to Justify Anything
Maybe you filed charges, maybe you didn’t — you don’t have to justify your decision-making to anyone. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), approximately two out of every three sexual assaults go unreported. There are a number of reasons why people decide not to report — from fear of testifying or concerns their attacker might retaliate — all valid concerns considering that out of every 1,000 rapes only six perpetrators will go to jail.
When sexual assault cases are in the spotlight, people are often quick to weigh in with their “take” on social media. If hurtful comments about the victims or questions of “truthfulness” are clogging your newsfeed, you can block, unfriend, unfollow or mute any of those voices. You don’t owe anyone an explanation.
3. Your Experience Is Valid
When people think about sexual assault, we may jump to dramatizations like we see on “Law & Order: SVU,” where the abuse is often clear and violent. In real life, sexual assault takes many forms and is more likely to occur close to home than it is to be a violent attack that conveniently leaves behind DNA evidence. Seven out of 10 rapes are committed by someone you knew beforehand, be it an acquaintance or romantic partner.
But it’s not just rape that is traumatic. Any type of sexual assault or harassment can cause significant distress. You shouldn’t compare your experience to someone else’s or those you see on TV or in the news. All experiences count. That includes yours.
You also don’t have to identify as a woman for your experience to be valid. While RAINN estimates that 90 percent of adult rape victims are female, men, trans folk or people who are nonbinary can all be victims of sexual assault and harassment, too.
4. You Deserve as Much Time and Space as You Need to Heal
No two paths to recovery look the same. It doesn’t matter if your assault was 10 years ago or 10 days ago — moving past trauma takes time and space. There is no standard amount of time in which one becomes “healed.”
Following sexual abuse or assault, some people experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while others face anxiety, depression, panic attacks, etc. These after-effects can persist long-term or lay dormant for years and resurface later in life.
Don’t judge where you are in your recovery with where someone else is. And if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it.
5. You Are Not Alone
While you have the choice to share who gets to hear your story, you shouldn’t feel you have to keep it to yourself. If family and friends aren’t receptive to your needs, look for a local support group in your area. You can also work with a therapist one-on-one if you prefer a more private setting.
If you can’t afford therapy, RAINN offers free, confidential crisis counseling for trauma survivors. Or you can text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.
If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
Header images via Elayseah Woodard-Hinton, Xerxesirl.