The Question No One Is Asking Sexual Assault Survivors
Please note, I don’t want to write this, but I have to.
Over the last week or so, the aftermath of Mr. Trump’s comments has opened the floodgates of people coming forward with their stories of sexual abuse, assault, and rape. It started, so it seems, with Kelly Oxford asking survivors to share their stories of the first time they were sexual assaulted. Most women won’t find these confessions surprising because we have all lived through very similar events.
Later this week, the conversation turned to #WhyWomenDontReport. I feel like the answers to this should be obvious to anyone paying attention. Not being believed, ridiculously short sentencing rates and minimal terms, fear of being shamed, lack of resources to charge their attacker, fear of being publicly shamed, fear of public scrutiny; the list goes on and on.
There are way more reasons not to report than to report.
When I was jumped and sexually assaulted by a stranger on the street in July 2015, I had no intention of reporting it. The reasons weren’t as rational as the ones listed above – I just didn’t want to. Reporting would mean it actually happened. I was in shock. Reporting meant police, it meant telling my parents, it meant telling my friends. But what scared me the most was that reporting meant that this person may get caught.
I wasn’t angry at him. I was indifferent to him as a person. The truth is this was not even close to the first time I had experienced sexual violence, but the first time it had been from a complete stranger.
Later, I found anger would bubble up when I thought of him, not because of what he had done oddly enough, but how his actions had fucked up my life. I could no longer take public transit. I had panic attacks several times a day, which made getting things done very difficult. I had to talk about it all the time with doctors and therapists, and the police, almost weekly for up to a year afterward. I cried a lot. My depression became unbearable and I sought medication to help me just cope. But I wasn’t angry at him, I was just mad that my life had had to change because of his actions.
The week before I had to go into the police station to give my statement I cried every day. I didn’t want to. Why was this my responsibility? I didn’t do anything wrong. Why did it feel like I was being punished?
When I went to the police station to give my statement, I had to recount the whole story, point out some details on a map of my neighbourhood and answer a few questions. The last question from the detective sort of shocked me and over a year later, my answer still sits funny with me.
“What do you want to happen to this guy? Do you want him to go to jail?” She asked.
“I just want him to not exist.”
She sat waiting for more.
“I just want him to get help.”
This wasn’t me being kind or forgiving. This was me being serious and knowing that punishment for immoral acts and indecency is never a good deterrent.
I don’t know if he was a bad person, I didn’t know him.
I know people I thought were good who have done very terrible things to me and others. He was just a symbol. He is barely real to me anymore. The remnants from his actions are not anger and rage. All that is left of him his how my life functions now. I take my medication. I talk to my therapist. I take breaks from reading about sexual assault in the news (I became sort of addicted). I take deep breaths on public transit. I meditate. He changed my life forever.
To me, he was always a product of his environment. I don’t know that he really thought what he was doing was wrong. He saw a pretty girl, and our culture says that I am an object. I belong to whoever wants me. He saw me, tried chatting me up, and took a chance. I knew he was not a mentally well person from the moment he approached me by the way he talked and the things he was saying. Those who have mental illness suffer the most from our culture’s moral failings. Some have a harder time critically evaluating the messages our media and culture is sending. He was a product of rape culture.
So are the other men who have been sexually violent towards me. I wouldn’t be surprised if they read this and didn’t identify themselves as someone who had sexually assaulted me. I think one of the biggest problems is that most men don’t know what rape really is. They aren’t looking to go out and assault people, they are just taught that is how you interact with women. Even when one of them said to me as I wept, “You wanted this.” he was not identifying himself as a perpetrator of sexual violence. He would never call himself a rapist.
When the #whywomendontreport and Kelly Oxford’s call for stories of assault came out, I wanted to participate, but I couldn’t.
This is for the women that choose to stay silent. The women who are not ready. The women who will never report, and never talk about it. It’s okay. I wish I could have kept on, not talking about it. Forever.
Right before I left to move to Montreal, I got an email from the lead detective in my case, that was at this point almost a year old. She said that they had someone that matched the description of my attacker and asked if I could come down and identify him.
I tried to pull up the face I had buried so deeply in my mind.
I emailed her back.
“If I identify him, what does that mean for me? What are the ramifications?”
She explained briefly that I would have to go to court and testify. I never emailed her back.
I don’t know if it was him, and maybe I never will.
I can hear the male readers screaming internally right now.
“How could you? You had a chance to put him away!”
“You could have stopped him from hurting other people!”
“You have a responsibility…”
Fuck you. Fuck you so fucking much. Rapists and sexual predators don’t go to jail you moron. Read a book. Jail doesn’t change people into non-rapists you fucking fuck. Get learnt.
Prison is not where men go to learn not to rape women. IF they even spend any time actually in prison, which like, never happens. Do your research.
The only thing a trial would have done was persecute me. I would be forced to relive the experience over and over and over again, in front of a room full of people. Beside my name somewhere, the word victim would be written. I didn’t want that to exist in that world. I was finally putting my life back together. I felt better. I wouldn’t have survived a trial. I would never have made it. My whole life would go on hold because of this fucking fuck, and I would have to do it all over again. What about me? What about my safety? What about my health? For what?
So this weirdo gets probation and does it again? He is not fixed by my coming forward or my testimony. Nothing is fixed. He is not getting what he deserves. What he deserves is help. Education. How to interact with and respect women 101. No one teaches that, and trust me, it is not something that comes naturally to most people.
Honestly, if it wasn’t him, it would eventually be someone else. I will experience more sexual assaults in my life. That is the vagina-haver’s burden.
I didn’t report because I don’t want to fucking talk about it. There is no good reason to report. It does nothing – ever. Unless you want to turn your whole world upside down and go on trial yourself, there is literally no point whatsoever. I fully support anyone who does not report. It’s your life. You do not have to martyr yourself.
But I am not hopeless. I don’t want these men to go to jail because I think they are victims too. They didn’t learn how to be good to women. They don’t actually know what rape entails. They are taught that no means maybe, and silence is consent. They refuse to acknowledge power dynamics. They are products of toxic masculinity and I weep for them.
I don’t think they should be isolated from women. Yes, they should not touch women for a long, long time until they learn how to behave, but women are an integral piece to healing them. Being around women, loving women, talking to women, enjoying women, respecting women, are all vital to not becoming a sexual predator. Women are needed to heal that piece of these men that needs to dominate women so badly because of their fragile masculinity and our disgusting culture.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not asking women to line up to martyr themselves to these violent goons. What I am saying is, if the system doesn’t work, and women don’t report, and the whole problem is just feeding into itself in a giant clusterfuck of damage, maybe we need to rethink how we deal with sexual assault. Maybe we need to look at this differently. When these men heal, women will also heal. When our boys learn, our girls will be safe. When we let go of sexual shame, we will thrive. When toxic gender stereotypes finally get laid to rest, we will all be free to communicate and learn from one another about who we really are, what we need, and what we do and do not want. We can learn ourselves. We can give affection to people who want it. We can touch those who consent. We can come to understand that domination and violence is not power, it is quintessential mental and personal weakness.
We are so worried about our women getting raped and assaulted, and we are so worried our men will be accused.
For me, reporting wasn’t the answer. Even if I managed to prove anything, which is close to impossible, I am not looking to ruin anyone’s life. I want them to stay away from me and everyone I know, I want them to learn, I want them to heal, I want them to get it. Reporting seems like mutually assured destruction. Fear has dominated my thoughts of them, not anger. I see the world. I get how it works. They knew what they were doing was wrong, but they are just cogs in this much more disgusting and deplorable machine of rape culture.
These are my feelings. Not others’. If you are a survivor and you are angry, I am not telling you not to be angry. Be fucking angry. Be whatever you are. That’s your journey, and it’s your story, and your experience – not mine.
And holy shit balls if you can, report. If you want to report, REPORT. If you don’t, don’t feel bad. Your job is not to save anyone. Your job is to survive. Your job is to keep living your life and make sure you get what you need to move on. If that means reporting, go to town, if that doesn’t that is 100% a-ok.
And if you need to stay silent, stay silent. I am with you. It's okay. If you watch all these hashtags and other people's stories go by and wish you could participate, wish that you couldn't relate, and know you can't talk about it, I get it. It's okay. You don't owe anyone, anything.
Also, this is not an invitation for unsolicited advice from survivors’ friends and family.
I know you are hurt, and you are scared and you are angry, but this isn’t about you. You need to let that go. Dads, I know you want to castrate and beat that motherfucking asshole to a pulp – I get that. Brothers, I know you want to set him on fire and watch him burn alive. Sisters, I know you are scared and angry, and want scream and punch that piece of shit in the balls. Mothers, I know you want to murder his entire family.
But I am not asking you. You have your own journey when it comes to healing from this, but this isn’t about you, and you don’t get to decide. I know that can feel so powerless and sad. I understand.
This feeds into my final point. Survivors, what do YOU want? Do you want your rapist to go to jail? Do you want him to be castrated? Do you want him to go away forever? Do you just want to get on with your life? What do you really want?
*Please note, in this piece I have used masculine pronouns for rapists and sexual predators. In no way does this mean I believe a) all men are rapists b) all rapists are men or c) men cannot be raped. I acknowledge all of this. This is my personal account and experience, and for me, using the pronoun of my attackers is important to me.
If you or someone you know is struggling to have these conversations, please consider seeking professional help. You're not alone, and no matter how ashamed or weird or fucked up this makes you feel, there are people trained to help you work through it and get on with your life. If you want to talk, I am a proud affiliate of TalkSpace, the most economical online therapy around. Talk to a therapist anytime, anywhere for as little as $32/week.
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