Sexual Assault Victims: We Weren't Listened to and Most Still Aren't
Only A Handful Of Stats, But Still Frightening
Unnecessary - And Heavy - Questions
At five years old, I was molested by a distant relative. I did not have the tools at that time to understand what the hell had happened, felt sick to my stomach, and knew I had to tell someone in spite of the offender's attempts to convince me otherwise. A five-year-old brain doesn't necessarily understand how to describe just how wrong something like that feels, and I remember struggling through tears to explain what went on to my mother, who mercifully believed me when I told her as best I could what had occurred.
What had started as a nice family visit to a farm turned into an incident that we simply did not speak of again. My parents, being good parents, got me out of there ASAP and we returned home and just never spoke about it until years later when, for whatever reason, I'd asked what had happened to the offender (without using those terms - I think I was trying to show my parents that I didn't remember what had happened when I was little when I very much did.) and my mother told me that she was sure he had suicided.
In my 20s, I was caught in a situation where I was clearly sexually assaulted, though because it did not fall into the stereotypical assault pattern that the media often espoused in the 1990s, with screaming and violence, it took a lot of time to wrap my head around what had happened. I knew I'd been intimidated by the man's larger size, given he was at least 100 pounds heavier and solid muscle, and fear kept me locked in place. Weapons don't have to be the only means of coercion.
Flash forward about 20 years. I learned about a commission where individuals who had been victims of a crime could potentially be called forward and perhaps get some sort of restitution for what had happened. I thought at the very least, it would give me closure regarding the incident that occurred when I was 5 - one less thing to carry in my figurative backpack. I asked a very dear friend of mine, who is a nurse, to accompany me, and she was able to come into the room where two kind-looking people would be asking me questions.
I'm grateful she came. It was painful bringing up what had happened back then, though I recall sounding fairly dry in spite of the way my heart pounded in my ears. I thought that the people posing the questions were actually pretty decent - until they started asking probing questions about my relationships in my teens and 20s.
When it came to the sexual assault that had occurred in my 20s, they kept treading over the same ground multiple times, and at one point, I remember wondering why they kept asking me the same questions in different ways. Thankfully, my friend stepped in and said, rather fiercely, "At that time, it was practically expected that if you were in that situation, you let things happen," or words to that effect. It shut down the questions about that situation which I'd answered multiple times, and different ground was covered.
In the wake of #MeToo and the ongoing announcements about who else has been accused of sexual misconduct, I find myself once again considering why these situations weren't dealt with when they first arose years ago. Based on my own experiences, I believe that to an extent, prior expectations of behavior prevented some of us from reporting, believing somehow we "needed" to comply otherwise bad things would happen.
Based on the questions I dealt with during the non-criminal commission I testified at, I realize that all of these people who have come forward over the last several months likely knew the sorts of questions they'd be asked at the time their own traumas occurred and had zero desire to put themselves through those sorts of questions, which only perhaps furthered a sense of victim-blaming.
Finally, there's just the plain acknowledgment of not feeling as though you're being heard. These men and women who have gone through their own sexual traumas may well have come forward during the initial aftermaths of their own traumas, but it's probable that a good many of them felt dismissed or felt encouraged not to say anything in order to minimize any sense of conflict. There could also be the lack of acknowledgment of wrongdoing by the offender, as I felt occurred in my case when I was in my 20s. I remember, when I finally turned on him in a fury about what had happened (I was feeling emboldened by my friends in the room at the time, a few days later), him telling me that he had "needs." If that didn't minimize my sense of self at the time, little else could.
These same sorts of behaviors are continuing today, and while I am happy to hear that there are efforts made by various workplaces to try and improve safety when it comes to sexual harassment and sexual violence, we also need to look at how we deal with sexual offences when they occur. We've got to examine how we look at what happened, and how we move forward to ensure behavior that is sexually violent does not occur again.
Sexual violence - and yes, it's violence even when there's no weapon or screaming involved - has nothing to do with how someone is dressed or how someone presents themselves. It's not about needs that require satisfaction, and it's not about a response to flirting. It's about destructive power, plain and simple, and how we respond to the person who uses that power is one thing. We need to look at how we respond to those coming forward about these criminal acts and listen - really listen. It doesn't matter if the victim is male or female; we need to realize what happened is incredibly traumatic, and raw, and real, and if we don't even attempt to listen to the victims, we are perpetrating further injustice.