9 'Person of the Year' Moments You Might Relate To If You're a Sexual Assault Survivor
When TIME magazine announced its choice for Person of the Year, the national conversation about sexual assault that started with the words “Me too” seemed to come to a climax. Calling them “The Silence Breakers,” TIME’s coverage featured some of the more prominent voices in the movement, including Tarana Burke, who started #Metoo back in 2006, and Ashley Judd, whose story brought down Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein and served as a catalyst for other prominent figures to speak out against men in power.
But what’s important about TIME’s coverage is that it doesn’t solely feature women with a claim to fame but women (and men) from all walks of life — from field workers to people in the tech industry. It also gave a nod to those who weren’t in the position to speak out about sexual assault, acknowledging those whose stories aren’t in the spotlight but still matter.
In the article and video accompanying the announcement, there were moments you might be able to relate to if you’ve experienced sexual assault. We’ve listed a few of them below:
1. Sometimes it’s hard to define what “counts” as sexual harassment or assault.
“If something feels wrong, it is wrong – and it’s wrong by my definition and not necessarily someone else’s.” — Ashley Judd
We all have different thresholds with what makes us comfortable and should be allowed to express our boundaries, even if they’re different than somebody else’s. Just because people are able to tolerate certain behaviors doesn’t mean you need to “suck it up” when you feel like someone has crossed the line. As Ashely Judd says in the TIME piece, if something feels wrong, it is wrong. This is an important message for anyone worried their sexual assault experience doesn’t “count.” This conversation is inclusive of a whole range of experiences — and you shouldn’t feel like your story doesn’t matter just because somebody else had it worse.
2. You realize there’s no “kind of person” who experiences sexual assault or abuse.
“From a distance, these women could not have looked more different. Their ages, their families, their religions and their ethnicities were all a world apart…But on that November morning, what separated them was less important than what brought them together: a shared experience.” — Time magazine
Sexual assault and harassment don’t discriminate, and those who experience it cross socioeconomic and racial lines. It’s also important to remember how this issue affects minorities. In TIME’s piece, they write that 47 percent of transgender people report being sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. There’s no “type” of person who experiences sexual assault, which is why coming together on this issue is so vital.
3. After the assault, you have moments when you blame yourself.
“Almost everybody described wrestling with a palpable sense of shame. Had she somehow asked for it? Could she have deflected it? Was she making a big deal out of nothing?” — Time magazine
It’s important for us to understand that self-blame is a common experience so we can recognize it when it happens to us. Even though you would never tell a friend they did something to cause their sexual assault, when it happens to you, it’s easy to point a finger at yourself. A woman who was interviewed anonymously for the piece said she remembered thinking, “What just happened? Why didn’t I react? Why couldn’t I force words out of my mouth?” But sexual harassment or assault is never excused by a victim’s behavior. You didn’t do anything wrong, and a big part of a healing journey can be accepting this.
4. You’re afraid of the consequences if you speak out.
“Nearly all of the people TIME interviewed about their experiences expressed a crushing fear of what would happen to them personally, to their families or to their jobs if they spoke up.” — Time magazine
Deciding whether or not to report a sexual assault is both an emotional decision and unfortunately for some, a practical one. Emotionally, it may seem easier at first to try to pretend like the incident never happened. Reporting means telling the tale, and telling the tale to someone — especially if you don’t know how they’re going to react — takes a toll. In a piece about why people hesitate to report when they experience a sexual assault, Mighty contributor Monika Sudakov wrote:
Most of us feel deep shame about it. We question what we did wrong. Why didn’t we stop it. We must be bad. We must have deserved it. If our bodies responded the way they are programmed to we feel even more shame because obviously we must have enjoyed it or our bodies wouldn’t have reacted that way. So we pack that shame so far away and under so much heavy armor that we don’t have to feel it because it’s overwhelming.
Those who are abused by people in positions of power might not feel like they have the option to report. Maybe reporting would put their job on the line or ruin a potentially important relationship. It’s a hard decision, and if this conversation about sexual assault has proven anything, it’s that we need safer avenues for survivors to tell their stories. It shouldn’t take going to the press for an abuser to experience consequences. Not everyone has that luxury, and our justice system needs to make sure more voices are heard.
5. If you do speak out, people may judge you instead of the perpetrator.
“I experienced a little bit of victim blaming, victim shaming – people digging into my Instagram and pulling up sexy photos, as if that discredited me from speaking out against sexual violence.” — Blaise Godbe
Another issue in reporting is the risk in putting yourself in the spotlight. To defend the perpetrator, all too often those who speak out are thrust under a microscope, their history used as “evidence” they couldn’t possibly be a victim of sexual assault. Going through such a character assassination can be re-traumatizing and turns many away from speaking up about their abuse.
6. You feel anger – but perhaps it took you awhile to get there.
“I am here to give you permission to be angry. People are afraid, especially women, who were conditioned since birth to be polite.” — Rose McGowan
Here’s something women often aren’t taught: It’s OK to be angry when someone has violated you. It’s OK to feel fury when justice isn’t served. Part of giving power back to victims of sexual assault is letting them feel however they need to feel, and that includes anger. As Taylor Swift said in TIME’s piece, when discussing a court case in which she countersued a person who violated her for $1, “This man hadn’t considered any formalities when he assault me… Why should I be polite?”
8. It’s also OK if you don’t speak out.
“Me too can be a conversation starter, or it can be the whole conversation.” — Tarana Burke
As powerful as the #MeToo movement is, it also puts a lot of responsibility on the survivors to tell their stories, instead of asking perpetrators to change their behavior. If you’re someone who chooses to keep the details of your experience to yourself, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It still counts. Everyone processes trauma in their own way, and as long as you’re seeking support in other ways, it’s OK to not “go public” about your story. You don’t owe it to anyone.
9. There’s power in numbers.
“You have to address it head on and as a group. It’s hard to call 147 women liars. We can’t all be crazy. We can’t all be sluts.” — Adama Iwu
If there’s one singular takeaway from the “Me too” conversation and from TIME’s subsequent decision to make “Silence Breakers” the Person of the Year, it’s that we are not alone in our experiences. Change only happens when we refuse to be silent, and everyone who chose to be a little brave this year has made an impact, no matter how much you spoke up. Conversations in person and online, in articles and between friends or therapists, turn into change when we band together, say enough is enough and let our voices be heard.
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.
Lead photo of Lindsey Reynolds, a food blogger, and Blaise Godbe, a director, both featured in TIME