5 Reasons Sexual Assault Survivors Don't Open Up About Their Abuse
I’m finding myself increasingly angry the last few days and I’m finding my PTSD symptoms flaring up. Flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, panic attacks. It’s not a random coincidence. It’s being fueled by the reporting and discussion surrounding sexual assault accusations that started with the #MeToo movement, and continue to this day.
As more and more women come forward, more and more details and evidence become clear, the conversation has been less about the pervasiveness of this kind of behavior and its acceptability in a patriarchal culture that accepts misogyny as the norm, and more about why these women waited so long, why they didn’t say “no” and what degree of harassment is considered just “guys being guys” or “locker room talk” versus legitimate sexual assault.
I’m not a lawyer, judge or detective so I’ll leave the legal discussion to the experts. What I am, however, is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and an advocate and friend for those who have been sexually assaulted as adults. The environment of victim blaming and shaming has gotten completely out of hand.
So let me tell you some reasons why people who are assaulted don’t tell — because apparently people don’t know.
1. People who are in the middle of being violated often go into fight/flight/freeze mode.
Logic goes out the window and instinct kicks in to protect oneself as best as possible. Many times this means you actually dissociate and don’t remember the details of the incident at all or they are fuzzy and you can’t give accurate detailed testimony. Sometimes details aren’t recalled until years later when you are finally in a situation where you can tolerate the information or when some other traumatic event triggers the memories to surface.
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.
3. We are afraid nobody will believe us.
Especially if it’s a relative, someone well known or someone powerful. The odds are we will be disbelieved and that’s humiliating.
4. The pain of having to retell the experience is excruciating.
Actually reporting to the police and having to testify in court in front of total strangers is even more excruciating. It was bad enough to experience it once, why would I want to put myself through it over and over again?
5. Our legal system is designed to favor the perpetrator, not the victim.
The onus on proof is so great that it becomes a “he said, she said” situation and that’s not generally enough to get a conviction — even if there are numerous victims and proof via video or audio. Plus, if the perpetrator is rich and famous, they can afford the legal representation that will almost guarantee you won’t get a conviction. In fact, it may even get you elected to the presidency because people will see your behavior as indicative of what a macho dude you are and be envious that you can get away with being like that.
I could go on but that should be enough to refocus the conversation away from the victims of assault/abuse and back onto where the real discussion should be, which is why as a society we continue to have such a problem with assault/abuse? Why do we brush it under the rug and refuse to talk about it? Why are men given a pass for their criminal behavior while women have to struggle in silence just so they can maintain their jobs or get ahead in their careers? Why are children continuously violated and freshman college women being raped at epidemic numbers while protections are being removed rather than being expanded for their ability to pursue legal action?
What kind of culture thinks any of this is OK while refusing to have a legitimate discussion about power, sexism, mental health and money? These are the discussions I want to see. These are the questions I want asked and answered. Enough with the victim blaming. None of us asked for this. It’s a horrible thing to live with and something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I’m done staying quiet. Change has to begin somewhere and I’m calling on all survivors to speak up, band together and create a revolution.
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.
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Unsplash photo via Cristian Newman