Monday, October 1, 2018

Into the light.

Why victims of sexual abuse and assault hide in the shadows.

There are a million different ways to hurt. And there are a million different ways to deal with suffering. I believe it is small-minded and careless to judge another human on how they deal with the unimaginable. Many victims have well-founded reasons for not coming forward.

How you will be treated.

When a victim of sexual abuse or assault finds the strength to come forward and report the offense they are often questioned over their own behavior leading up to the abuse. What were you wearing? Were you alone? Were you drinking? They are made to feel they had a part in their own attack. They are not only questioned over circumstance, but how seriously they tried to fight back. Did you push him away? Did you hit him?

During Bill Cosby's trial his victims were questioned about why they took drinks from him or why they went to his apartment. Similar questions were put forth in the Harvey Weinstein cases. Fact is, if a person did not say yes to something and it was done to them against their will, it's assault. No matter where you take a meeting. No matter what you’ve had to drink or if you happen to wear fitted pants or high-heels.

If you go to the police you’ll be asked if you were penetrated and if yes, how many times? What position were you in? What happened after the rape? What did they say? If you choose to take a rape-kit you will be put through a physical exam. Samples taken. Pictures taken. You may feel violated all over again.

How you will be seen.

Elizabeth Smart was abducted at 14 years of age and held for nine-months by her tormentors. Smart once said at a human trafficking and sexual violence conference at Johns Hopkins University, "I felt like my soul had been crushed. I felt like I wasn't even human anymore. How could anybody love me, or want me or care about me? I felt like life had no more meaning to it, and that was only the beginning of my nine months of captivity."

Shame and confusion are chains around the neck of many victims. Sexual assault is a dehumanizing act. Invasive and humiliating. It makes you feel broken. Ashamed. The need to hide is overwhelming. Maybe you wear bigger clothes, heavier jackets. Perhaps you stop going outside. You are so lost and afraid you forget to how to be human.

Those who don't believe you.

As a secretary in a small, cut-rate dress studio in NYC I was in charge of phones, keeping the showroom and clothes neat and clean, and keeping the owner on schedule and well-caffeinated. One afternoon, while hanging the new summer dresses, the owner’s driver was waiting in the studio. We were the only people in the office. Trapping me in a corner, he forced himself on me and only stopped once I started to tear up.

At the time, my direct supervisor was the designer. She was a single-mom, excited by her first job and generous with her knowledge, often giving me creative assignments. When I told her what happened with the driver she immediately waved it off. Said it was nothing. Said he must like me.

A few Mondays later I showed up to work to find the offices locked tight and the lights out. The company had finally gone belly-up. I never got my final two checks and I never heard from the owner or his driver again.

Weeks later, the designer called me at home. She cried and told me that the driver was known for his sketchy behavior and she should have spoken up. She wanted to help, but the owner owed her several paychecks and she was afraid he would never pay her if she said anything. Two people too afraid to speak up.
The cost and the worth.
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), citing Department of Justice, Office of Justice, Office of Justice Programs and Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey 2010-2014, for every 1,000 rapes reported, 994 of perpetrators will walk free. When your voice doesn't seem to matter, many who suffer won't see the value in coming forward.

Why don’t the wounded come forward? Because they don’t want to be victimized again.

If victims of abuse and assault will be expected to come forward immediately after a crime, as recent government rulings would suggest, coming forward needs to become a safer experience. We need to provide people and a process that will help the victim feel as if they are taken seriously. There needs to be dignity and there needs to be justice.


Thomas Pluck said...

Thank you for saying this. I'm sorry you have to. And I'm sorry for what was done to you.
We have a lot of work to do. I bought into the patriarchal bullshit that "men protect women" but as we can see, no men stand up to punish rapists. They shame the victims and blame them instead. And sometimes lynch an innocent black man and sell postcards of it.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Crap. I lost my whole comment. I've been thinking about this post all afternoon. Thank you for sharing. I wish you didn't have a story to tell but I commend you for raising your voice. I feel weary for what we've had to relive and what we've heard from others. I hope everyone realizes this needs to stop and that we can pave the way for change.