I didn’t report because the man was my first husband, and I didn’t know any better. Oh sure, on some level I knew that being forced to have sex against my will wasn’t “nice”, but I was raised to be a “nice” girl.
Two-plus decades later, I am reminded of that relationship that I had buried.
A byproduct of the #MeToo movement, #WhyIDidntReport has become an national obsession. I have spent much time scrolling and reading through the heart-wrenching tweets of sexual assault victims from every corner of the world. And as I read through them, two over-riding themes seem to keep resonating with me and that is that victims often don’t report sexual assault because they feel one, that somehow they caused it and two, they feel ashamed–too ashamed to tell anyone. Compounding this shame, victims often are not believed when they do have the courage to report. I’ve read way too many stories of male and female police officers who patronizingly say to victims, “it’s your word against his/her and no one will believe you.”
And then of course, the creme-de-la-creme is our own president standing up and mocking a sexual assault survivor on national television. (see https://youtu.be/AWv1ipoi-c8)
Is it any wonder victims just keep silent, until they can no longer keep silent??
Here are a few common responses to #WhyIDidn’tReport
1-the perpetrator was a family member
2- the perpetrator was a boyfriend/husband
3-the victim was a child when the abuse occurred and had no frame of reference to even suspect it was a crime
4-the victim had been drinking
5-fear of saying no (due to fear of being harmed further)
6-not realizing it was sexual assault until many years later with the perspective of time, maturation and knowledge (especially when others are brave enough to come out about their own stories–victims’ memories are often triggered upon hearing a story similar to their own).
And the most common mind-fuck of all are the perps who told their victims a variety of excuses to keep them from reporting:
1-“What did you think was going to happen?”
2- “It’s not rape if we’re dating/married”
3-“No one’s going to believe you”
4-“You’ll destroy this family”
5-“If you tell anyone I’ll kill you/harm your family”
6-“I’m your boss–I’ll fire you if you tell anyone”
7-“You asked for it…look at the way you’re dressed”
So it boils down to this: sexual assault victims often don’t report because they internalize that they caused it to happen, and in turn become ashamed that they “caused” it and simultaneously were unable to stop it, which causes the victim to feel responsible and therefore what’s there to report? That they had poor judgment?? That they got themselves into a situation where they “should’ve known better”??
We can use any type of sexual assault to make the point that from the perspective of the victim, they have to endure yet more trauma if the assault is reported. Have you ever stopped to really think about what a victim must go through to have a rape kit taken? Imagine you’ve just been sexually assaulted and have gone to a safe place. You tell someone. Hopefully this someone believes you and encourages you to call the police. The police show up and tell you you need to have a rape kit done to “prove” this assault took place by this perp.
The cop has probably advised you not to shower, not to even use the restroom as precious evidence can be destroyed. In your traumatic emotional state, you’ve got 72 hours to get to a doctor or hospital who’s trained to do this procedure. Not all are. You’ve been advised not to change clothes or even comb your hair. In this traumatic state you’re in, you hopefully have your supportive friend/partner drive you and take you to have the rape kit examination performed. They are encouraged to remain with you at all times during this extremely invasive act. Thanks to the Violence Against Women Act (see https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-113s47enr/pdf/BILLS-113s47enr.pdf) states are required to provide sexual assault victims forensic exams free of charge.
In addition to collecting your clothes and an all-over external body exam (for bruises, scratches, etc.) getting evidence for a rape involves a vaginal/genital and rectal exam. This can often feel like a second trauma, and any victim who is brave enough to have this done needs to have it taken seriously. I am mortified and angered that there is a backlog of rape kits that have been ignored and untested due to a ridiculous law that law here in Wisconsin that “doesn’t require the police to send in DNA samples when they already had a suspect, because legislators were more concerned about rapists who were unknown and on the loose.” (see https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.postcrescent.com/amp/483761002).
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford took a lot of criticism for “waiting 35 years to report”, and so may thousands of sexual assault survivors came forth to tell their stories of why they too waited so long to report. Without trying, Dr. Ford started a movement empowering survivors to be heard, thus the #WhyIDidntReport hashtag.
So much more can and needs to be done for sexual assault survivors. I suggest it starts in the home; parents, we need to be better communicators and teachers of both our sons and our daughters. Sex ed needs to go way beyond “the birds and the bees” to “no means no”. We need to have conversations with our children from the time they’re very little all the way through the embarrassing teenage years to educate them on how to behave in their personal relationships. Our sons need to be taught that girls want boyfriends and will often allow boys to go farther than they really want to so they don’t lose them, and our daughters need to be taught self-love and how to have healthy emotional boundaries. Our sons need to be taught that their bodies are their own; that it’s ok to say no to pressure to be sexual before they feel ready, and our daughters need to be told that it’s not ok to pressure their boyfriends for sex. We need to be constantly vigil for things that don’t add up: an uncle or coach or teacher or family member that’s overly involved with our child and be willing to risk being wrong to protect our children. We need to be on the lookout for female predators to protect our sons as vigorously as we do male predators and our daughters. AND IF YOUR CHILD HAS THE COURAGE TO COME TO YOU AND TELL YOU SOMETHING INAPPROPRIATE HAS HAPPENED TO THEM, FOR FUCK’S SAKE BELIEVE THEM!!! Do NOT betray them by saying Uncle Jerry ‘couldn’t possibly’ have done that to them. Or their new step-dad or step-mom, new step-brother or the friend of someone in the family. BE VIGILANT AND BE THERE FOR YOUR CHILDREN!!!
And we need our lawmakers to take sexual assault more seriously. Here’s what can be done RIGHT NOW:
1-Trump can make law RIGHT NOW cancelling all statutes of limitations on reporting of sexual crimes. So even if it’s 35 years later, the perpetrator can still be prosecuted.
2-Rape kits need to continually be tested whether or not the victim has given consent. This is a quandary not everyone agrees to, but IMO, victims often change their minds about pressing charges even after enduring reporting and doing a rape kit for fear of repercussions from the perpetrator. These victims need additional protection, not invisibility.
3-We need to change our collective mind-set as to what constitutes “proof” of sexual assault. It was reiterated over and over and over during the Kavanaugh hearing that “no corroboration exists” to “prove” Dr. Ford’s allegations against him were true. SEXUAL ASSAULT HAPPENS IN SECRECY. THERE ARE USUALLY NO WITNESSES. We need to have a different burden of proof other than “who else was there that can tell us this really happened?” because nearly 100% of the time, no one else is there. If victims don’t seek to have rape kits, yes, it often becomes a “he said/she said” issue and yes, the burden of proof lies in the accuser, NOT the accused. In this country we are presumed innocent until proven guilty. I don’t have the answer but we need to address this.
4-We also need to collectively realize that not all sexual assault results in rape. Dr. Ford never said Kavanaugh raped her. She said he “sexually assaulted” her. Sexual assault takes many forms. It can be attempted rape, it can be sodomy, it can be groping and forced kissing. (see https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_assault)
4-We need sex education classes in schools that do more than just talk about menstruation and secondary sex characteristics. Teens especially are thirsty for information on how to behave on dates, on social media, and at their jobs. We need to teach our children about CONSENT. We can supplement what parents teach and support parents by taking an active role in making sexual and social behavior a normal and common topic of discussion.
5-Lastly, GET OUT AND VOTE IN NOVEMBER!!! We need male and female persons to replace the GOP and it’s misogynistic attitudes towards women. Through our votes, we can change the future.