Trigger Warning – Content in the post is related to the topic of sexual assault and may be a trigger for some.
Slowly a light has brought forth the injustice that was once hidden; sexual assault is no longer a subject that is cast aside. Both women and men alike are talking, but is it about the right thing?
As a sexual assault survivor, I’ve realized that there are three key phrases that have stunted my growth in moving forward from the aftermath. These are phrases/mentalities that aren’t really thought through well, yet when uttered can really hurt the individuals going through these rocky situations for years to come.
It’s your fault.
The initial response to a victim of sexual assault. Normally directly after it has happened, but can sometimes linger. This is a phrase that is just not helpful; placing fault in any argument never is a healthy way to communicate, but when it’s in regards to a sexual assault case and directed towards the victim, it eliminates the security net they rely on you for. If someone is opening up about their situation, odds are they are confiding in you out of a confidence that you will help them overcome a situation they are currently still struggling with. Before you analyze the situation through your point of view or what you would have done, please stop to think about that individual personally and what they went through. Just listen to them and feel things without judging them; this is the support they need.
Often times, it’s the victims that don’t seem feel like they “did” anything that suffer the worst. They were not only stripped of their physical dignity, but their mental wellness has been rocked as well. They couldn’t force themselves to get off of the mental runway to fly away and they didn’t have the strength to fight. It took me years to get over the “fault” of my natural body response, and still, there are people that refuse to understand or believe me, which has led to another phrase I could do without.
You’re a liar.
The reaction after time has passed or when individuals have some sort of personal tie to the outcome. This is the utmost slap in the face when you are baring your heart to someone. Even if you think someone isn’t telling the truth, please keep it to yourself and debate that behind a closed door. From what I’ve experienced, most women that have had to go through this aren’t just telling you lies for attention. And those who are actually lying still need someone to listen to them and talk through things in an attempt to problem solve why they feel like they need to lie. Point blank, calling anyone a liar just stops the conversation from even happening on either end.
I’ve gotten this on two separate occasions in my experience. Once was from my own parents after I was raped. The second was after a domestic dispute with my husband. Both times left me almost second-guessing myself. When you are in a situation of trauma, it is extremely hard to admit to yourself that what happened did, in fact, happen. Then next, getting the strength to talk about it feels close to impossible. When you finally do and someone tells you that it’s not as factual as they’d like it to be, you second guess everything. You spiral and start to blame yourself for many things that are not your fault in the slightest. You start to second guess your account. Maybe if I would have done something differently the outcome would have been different? Maybe I’m not recalling correctly? Maybe I should have just kept it to myself and not talked about it?
This cycle is completely unhealthy and until a victim feels safe enough to talk about it, there is no possible way they can start to heal. Yes, heal. This word is essential because this next phrase is very different from it. Healing is the act of still living with it, but coping with it in healthier ways.
Just get over it.
The reaction years after the fact. At this point, the assault has passed, but the victim may seem paranoid to the normal person. I’m here to tell you that that feeling isn’t going away and it is okay. Instead of saying something that cuts off the communication of the subject, open it up. Allow the victim to vent to you about what is making them feel uncomfortable and problem-solve with them in a way to help them feel in control again. Their flashbacks provide them with a constant worst-case scenario and your job as a support system at this point is just to keep their ground steady. Sometimes it will be irrational situations and small things, but it is just as traumatic for them as the physical act.
Last week, I stopped at a red light and looked over to see the man that had raped me back in 2009. He was proactively attempting to get me to talk to him. He honked his horn until I looked at him and then continued to make a motion for me to roll down my window. This was just two seconds of sitting at a red light in a locked car. I had the control in this situation; I was able to make a quick turn and lose him. What happens in a situation where I wouldn’t have been able to get away quickly? What if he had approached me in a public area? When I was with my children? What happens when he looks at my house and realizes that he recognizes my car and stumbles upon where I live?
These thoughts traumatized me for the entire morning. I had so many plans, yet when I got home, all I could do is hold my children close and cry. I could barely tell my husband what had happened and was hyperventilating when I tried to speak. It’d be easy to say that this is nothing. It’d be easy to say, “Well, you’re an adult now and things are different.” It’d be easy to say it couldn’t happen again.
The fact of the matter is it wasn’t supposed to happen in the first place.
There is a trust that was stolen from me so long ago and no matter what amount of therapy or time that goes by, I will never have that part back. There are days I break down and moments I get scared. What rebalances me though is strong support from people that care around me.
I used this phrase earlier: safety net.
This is all a sexual assault victim needs is someone to be their safety net; to listen, believe, and support. We must eliminate the use of the above phrases and mentalities around sexual assault victims that leave gaps in our net and allow them to slip into becoming someone they aren’t. It will always be part of them, but this doesn’t have become them.