How It Felt to Watch the Kavanaugh Hearings as a Sexual Assault Survivor
If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
“I bet he dumped her and she was pissed,” the officer jokingly said. His partner chuckled back in confirmation.
As I wait in my living room to give my statement about my rape, I hear the two male officers that have been dispatched to take my statement discredit me before they even step into my house.
It took me months to utter the words to another human that I had been raped. I held back as long as I could. I knew, inherently, what I’d be up against once the words rolled off my tongue. Harboring the silence had become more painful than the scrutiny I anticipated coming face-to-face with.
Three months of sleeping curled up on my closet floor because my bed, where I had been raped, I could no longer touch.
Three months that no one noticed me dying inside from the pain I was holding in.
Three months of living in my own crime scene.
“That’s why we have rules about bringing boys over when I’m not home,” was my mother’s first response when I was able to tell her I had been raped. But all I heard was that I, singlehandedly, was at fault. I failed. I did something wrong. The reaction from my own mother only reaffirmed the narrative that had kept me silent for months. As I went through the process of telling my story and reporting, no one, including my own parents, gave me any reason to believe otherwise.
I was 15. It was my first sexual experience. The first impression I’d have ironed into my mind about what it felt like to have sex used as power. A connection that my body was not my own. A predication that I was an object first and a person second.
As I listen to all the headline stories bombarding me right now, I feel a very clear message is being overlooked completely. The notion that we, as the victims, have anything to gain from reporting rape, at any point in time afterward, couldn’t be anymore obtuse. When in fact, we have everything to lose.
Imagine, if you will, living through just one of the stories you’ve heard about in the news. Imagine holding onto the shame. Imagine being told by society that whatever happened, you must bear some responsibility. Imagine summoning the courage to come forward in a world that puts the burden of proof on the woman. A world where far too many that find the courage to step out of the shadows of their shame and guilt have to watch people point fingers at them. Or, for the 11 out 1,000 reported cases that go on to trial and seven that result in conviction, having to go through the agony and re-traumatization of prosecuting their attacker only to watch them walk away unscathed by the law.
This is our reality. We not only have to survive the abuse, but we also have to survive the world’s reaction to it. We have to muster the strength to withstand the pressure from all angles that a victim, by reporting, has somehow become the victimizer.
“But it happened X amount of years ago, why can’t you just let it go? Why bring it up now?” It may have been decades ago, or days — just an insignificant moment in time that he can hardly recall.
That same moment is burned into our minds. It plays over and over. Its effects are stamped on all aspects of our life from that moment forward. For what was just a day for him turns into a lifetime of pain for us. A pain that isn’t respected or handled with the care it deserves.
It’s difficult to recover from assault when we live in a world that seems more accepting of protecting the offender than seeking justice for the victim. When these men aren’t held accountable for their actions, it sends such a clear message to society that women are still less than. When seven out of 10 victims never report their rape to police, it isn’t difficult to see why.
I watched this week as yet another victim was torn apart publicly. All while the people attempting to discredit her allegations crow loudly about what she’s gaining from deciding now was the time to come forward. Watching it all pulls me right back to my own living room floor 18 years ago. Everyone I placed confidence in as I shared my story with echoed the same message — that I’m responsible, that I’m to be shamed, that I’m to be silenced. It all still rings in my ear and lingers heavy on my heart as I continue to heal from what was “just one night in high school.”
Regardless of whether you were blamed, shamed and overcame it all to report: you are brave. If no one believed you or was willing to listen: you are courageous. If your attacker was prosecuted or walks free: you are strong.
To anyone that has kept their story a tightly guarded secret: I see you and the strength it takes to hold on. If you never found the safety to speak to your pain you are still just as brave and courageous.
Reporting does not erase the suffering. It won’t heal the wound or redirect a lost path. Reporting is an attempt to hold someone accountable for their actions, with no guarantee of justice. We have nothing to gain from it but the freedom of releasing ourselves from the shackles of silence. When you report is a personal choice not an agenda. Whether you report your rape or decide not to does not take away the truth of what you survived.
If you’re reading this and have been triggered by the barrage of coverage on a subject you are still hunting down your own peace for, I’m right there with you. So many other survivors are right there with you, struggling with the same inner turmoil. It may feel like I’m the only one experiencing this but I know I’m not alone in this and neither are you. When tears well in your eyes as you hear another headline, they fall down my cheeks too. I’ll take that hurt and use it to speak up for myself and anyone else that is still silenced.
As survivors we are many things; strong, fearless, heroic. But never alone.
Screenshot via Politico Twitter