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Reflections on the Death of Daisy Coleman From a Rape Survivor

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Editor's Note

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.

Today I weep. I weep for an amazing woman, Daisy Coleman, who lost her life to rape, abuse and trauma.

• What is PTSD?

I weep for the thousands every year who meet the same fate without ever being recognized or seen as the brave souls they are.

I am heartbroken for the lives and dreams that are stolen and killed by sexual violence.

I rage at the societal acceptance of the sexual abuse and rape of so many by demonizing, ignoring, abusing and blaming victims for their own destruction, life-long trauma and their common trauma responses.

The utter disdain, the invalidation of them, that is supported and encouraged in our culture.

The “get over it already” and “if you didn’t report it, it must not have been so bad” or the “it wasn’t really rape” and “ you put yourself in that position” messages that are blasted out for all survivors to hear, ensuring their continued silence and profound suffering until they break under the weight of it all.

Then they are further humiliated and demonized, even in death, by those that proclaim victims are “selfish” or “weak” when they can not bear to exist in this world any longer.

I rail against the system that accuses every victim of lying, exaggerating, “asking for it” or just flat out deserving it as a punishment for some perceived moral shortcoming.

I rage against a system that has no protections, rights or advocates to actually stand up for and help victims navigate a justice system set up to re-victimize and break them.

A system that, at its very nature, does not value or even notice the anguish and life-long damage it purposely inflicts upon those already rent from the trauma they have been made to endure.

A system that is necessary for the protection of innocent people accused of crimes, but refuses to value or protect those that are already innocent victims.

A system that refuses to properly investigate (hello, thousands of rotting untested rape kits), charge or even follow through with many rape or sexual violence cases. Plea bargains that don’t include the word rape or any real jail time because it would be “detrimental” to the lives of rapist and abusers while disregarding the very survival of victims.

The bombastic interrogations and questioning of victims regarding their assault, any past sexual experiences and the perceived guilt of victims for having the audacity to demand justice for the life-shattering violent assault they survived.

This coupled with the very public and searing victim blaming and harassing that takes place daily online and in the media is enough to push an already traumatized person to a very dark place they may not be able to escape. The legacy of rape and sexual violence permeates not just a victim, but their entire network of family and friends.

Many people choose to deny what really happens to a victim and the real price paid by survivors every moment of their lives. What many will not understand is the trauma is forever, it never goes away, we just get very good at hiding it. There are phases of our lives when the trauma may fade to a dull ache and can be ignored, and then it will roar into our consciousness like it just happened yesterday. For some people this can be managed with expensive and extensive therapy, if it is available, for many this help is beyond reach so we smoke, over eat, drink, use drugs, self-harm or engage in risky self-destructive behaviors. It makes being successful in school, careers or even jobs difficult. It makes marriage and relationships difficult if you’re not lucky enough to have a partner that can understand and support you. Our bodies physically store the trauma and we get sicker more often and die at younger ages (ACES score). None of this is addressed when people publicly denigrate and abuse victims. Usually, these very predictable behaviors are publicly pointed at as the reason their claim is not believed. The direct and predictable outcomes from being raped or sexually violated are pointed to as the reason our violations and pain are dismissed as “made up, over exaggerated or misinterpretations.”

This must change. Victims of violent crimes, especially children and victims of sexual violence, need to be given a real advocate. They need to be granted the support and the humanity of being heard and respected and believed. The public disbelief, abuse and re-victimization of people who come forward with charges or accounts of rape or sexual violations directly lead to the further shame, dysfunction and suicidality in survivors. The very least we can all do to not be responsible for the suicide of survivors, is to not publicly denigrate and attack survivors while invalidating and debating another’s most horrendous ordeal.

Getty image via Olena Yepifanova

Originally published: October 15, 2020
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