assault,  emotional

Why we stay quiet.

  • Bill Cosby
  • Kevin Spacey
  • Harvey Weinstein
  • And sadly many, many more that don’t make headlines because they are your relatives, neighbors, coworkers and even church members.

These are all men accused of sexual assault and/or rape.

The list of those that have been victim of assault and rape is longer. MUCH longer.

Outside of Donald Trump tweets, nuclear war, gun control and mass murders, the headlines are filling up with people coming forward claiming sexual assault. The latest are victims of celebrities. A lot of these are telling stories of situations that didn’t happen recently. Some of these stories are decades old. If you’re like me, you can’t help but ask questions like, “Why now? Why not earlier? What took so long?”

I started writing this post before the latest headlines about Roy Moore in Alabama giving his speech at a Veteran’s Day event.

“‘To think that grown women would wait 40 years to, right before an election, bring charges is absolutely unbelievable. Why now?’ he said to cheers from the audience.”

When I read that, I wanted to punch him in the throat and throw up at the same time.

I guess his question (and my questions) are natural to ask as long as it’s not seasoned with a tone of judgement. I would caution you to not judge why someone did not say something earlier, for many reasons.

It’s a VERY vulnerable, emotional, difficult and traumatic position to be in. If you have never been in it, I’m so incredibly grateful for that grace in your life. So many others are not as fortunate as you. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), someone is assaulted every 98 seconds.  98 SECONDS.

So, if you’ve never felt that kind of overwhelming, consuming emotion, then instead of trying to rationalize why not – why not just listen.

Unfortunately, I claim a “#metoo” when it comes to this topic. It’s hard to talk about. But I felt that I could share my opinion on the “why so long?” question.

My personal experiences include abuse and inappropriate advances. I held both in for a long time. And yet, I still try to figure out ‘why don’t people say something earlier?’ I’m ashamed to admit that.  I didn’t say anything about my own experiences for years, my entire childhood actually, and I still somehow manage to separate my situation from others.  But with all of these recent stories, I had to go back and do some thinking about my own experiences and try to answer my own questions.

“Why so long?”

There is no one answer. The reason belongs to the individual.

“I just felt like I couldn’t.”

I will tell you that you do not know the transfer of power that takes place in the event; the power the assaulter has and the loss of power the victim feels. You feel like everything was just taken away: your dignity, your pride, your innocence, your confidence. It rips everything out of you. You question who you are and why??

Will we ever know why this happens so much or why people feel they can get by with that behavior? I think I could appreciate someone who has been there to give a genuine account of what they feel when they take on that power. It would be messy and hard but I think something could come of it, if only it meant to provide help/support for perpetrators – but the sad thing is, most can’t (or won’t) admit it. Even if they give a blanket apology, “seek professional treatment” or take on their punishment, you hardly hear of the mental process behind the decision.

Again, I started writing this before the weekend and when this appeared in the news. Louis C.K. comes close to giving some insight to the “why” but he really only ends up telling us something we already know.

Control and manipulation are factors.

I was in my 20s before I told anyone about my experience. It was a relative that preyed on a young, vulnerable girl who trusted the relationship. He started by making me feel like I was chosen, like I was special. But told me that I couldn’t tell anyone else. It was a special secret.  Just writing that makes me sick. To reinforce my understanding for secrecy, I was told how if I did tell – I would be taken away; a threat to secure secrecy. The offender has a way to control the situation  and manipulate their prey.

Besides control, there is always the fear that no one will believe us.

“No one will believe you. You did something to make this happen.”

That was the situation with the other experience I had. He was someone I trusted and had a good (friend) relationship with. He took advantage of that and propositioned me. I didn’t tell anyone because I was embarrassed. He also did it in a way that I wasn’t entirely sure it was really “assault” so what would I even report? A couple of good friends knew about the encounter and that was it. Until now, I have never talked about it to anyone else. They said I should say something, but I wasn’t threatened. I almost rationalized it as an inflated compliment. But looking back now, especially considering how I felt after, I should have done something because it was wrong. But because he was well liked and respected, I wondered if anyone would really believe he was capable of that. After all, even I had a hard time believing it.

But I knew that what he had done was not okay. It was inappropriate; the feelings of shame and vulnerability came rushing back. I felt gross and like I did something. I felt that maybe I sent the wrong signals. I felt that I was stupid to have believed in the friendship – was he ever my friend or was that his intention all along? I felt my trust was manipulated. I felt like I should always keep a distance or this would happen again.

“I just want to act like it didn’t happen.”

Which is another reason why we don’t say anything. We just don’t want to admit that it happened to us. The trauma of it all is just too much and we just want to be normal. So we push it down, rationalize, justify, cope and move on as quickly as possible. But there are always triggers. From my childhood experiences, I did just that. I just wanted to believe that I could get out of it, run away and I’d be fine. But there were triggers, from things that were said to me to the way someone would touch me…it would bring back some of the emotions. But by then, I was removed from the situation and had moved on. “Just keep going.” is what I would tell myself. By the time I finally processed it and faced it, I felt it was too late. I didn’t want to drag myself through it all and face him, so I just “let it go.”

I guess all of this is just to share that you never know. You never know the “why” that kept someone from reporting it sooner. But what you should know is that it’s difficult. It’s very, very difficult. And it takes an extreme amount of bravery to share that much personal and traumatic information.

Regardless, no matter what range of time has passed between the occurrence and the moment the person shares it, it’s never enough time to face someone’s criticism. Judgments and opinions will only do more harm than good.

What you can do, is talk about it. Encourage someone to seek healing, whatever that looks like for them. And be someone that people feel they can tell.

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