“As a society we should be ashamed of ourselves and how we are currently handling sexual violence in our country. We should be ashamed and extremely worried that the gravity of this issue seems to be inconsequential where our leaders are concerned.”
THROUGHOUT the majority of the year we have discussed the ways in which we are all affected by trauma, how we cope after surviving trauma and the various stages we go through as we heal. This week I would like to talk about silence, specifically why survivors and victims may make the decision to remain silent about their experiences with sexual violence. Before we go further I would like to caution you, as you delve deeper into the article, should you at any time feel triggered, please, stop, take a moment and then reassess whether you are okay to continue or need to take a break and come back to it later, or not at all. Listen to your body as you read and then go at your own pace. There is no rush, remember while you are not specifically speaking about it, we may touch on aspects that trigger you, or bring on flashbacks. Do what is best for you every step of the way as you continue your healing journey.
We often hear the comment why did she/he never tell anyone, why did he/she not report the incident? We hear questions about what he/she expected letting their attacker in at a certain time and about whether one misunderstood being raped. Survivors/victims of sexual violence largely blame themselves for the abuse they have suffered or are suffering. They often think to themselves why should I tell, if this is somehow my fault? We have created a dynamic where the victim of a crime walks around feeling guilty for being assaulted while the perpetrator walks around believing that he/she either did nothing wrong or could care less about what they did because they will never be held accountable. Speaking from experience, sharing this secret, a painful part of one’s life, is not an easy thing for anyone to decide to do. You feel exposed and vulnerable because you are not sure what to expect when you share. The blame and shame that is felt is overpowering and at times all encompassing. The what if game a survivor plays with themselves leaves one thinking of what they could have done differently to try to prevent someone else from deciding they were going to infringe on their personal boundaries. What could have been done to stop someone else from thinking they have a right to take what they want regardless of what one says or does? Many survivors feel immense shame at being a survivor of sexual violence. They carry this as something they did that caused someone to go against their wishes and violate their bodies. They may not want others to know they survived an assault, they may fear being judged, and they may fear the reaction of anyone and everyone in their lives. They fear that we, their support teams, their family members, their co-workers and friends would not be able to forgive what happened to them, that we would somehow insinuate that they caused themselves to be sexually assaulted against their will. No one asks to be sexually assaulted yet the minute we hear someone has been sexually assaulted we dissect their story until we can find a way to blame the victim/survivor and justify the actions of their rapist. He/she couldn’t control themselves, they were seduced, they were misled, powerless, not at fault, etc. So, yes, survivors and victims may decide to stay silent because the alternative after surviving a sexual assault is to come home to people who blame them, who justify the actions of their rapist, who tell them initially – be silent.
Our stories of surviving sexual violence are not parts we necessarily want to share. We share so that others know they are not alone, because we want to feel in control of our stories and how they are told, because we want to take our lives back, because we want our rapists to know that we are not keeping their secrets, we are not protecting them, we are not ashamed, we are not defined by it. When a survivor shares their story, know that they wrestled with this decision for a long time and then some more before finally confiding in you. Know that it took everything for them to share this with you, so do us all a favour and think before you respond. Your words could be what helps a survivor begin their healing journey or what makes them not speak of their pain and suffering for a very long time.
Silence isn’t golden for anyone who has survived sexual violence. Silence is deafening, it is haunting, and it is lonely. It weaves a web in the mind of the survivor/victim about why society says they should be ashamed of themselves for “allowing this” to happen to them. They sit and comb through every inch of their assault to figure out what they did to warrant this happening to them. Truthfully, we know that no one makes another sexually assault them; we know that rapists and sexual predators in general decide what they are going to do with no regard for their victims. We know this but we choose to justify their actions because the reality that we know someone capable of being a rapist is something we can’t wrap our heads around.
Survivors/Victims/Thrivers, you have done nothing wrong. You didn’t cause this, you didn’t want this. You are not defined by it. I know for some of you it may be difficult to hear or accept right now but know that you are resilient and strong. You are a fighter. You have persevered when you wanted to curl up and hide. I know this will mean nothing until you are ready to hear and accept it but I wanted to say it nonetheless. As a society we should be ashamed of ourselves and how we are currently handling sexual violence in our country. We should be ashamed and extremely worried that the gravity of this issue seems to be inconsequential where our leaders are concerned. I guarantee you that you know more than one survivor of sexual violence, and that they are hurting with little or no avenues for help and healing. I am asking that we come together to start addressing this issue of sexual violence in St Lucia. To the Survivors/Victims/Thrivers out there please continue on, try not to give up. I know that it is easier said than done, but please don’t give up. I know what it feels like to be in a space of just surviving from one day to the next and sometimes that’s how we need to approach life one step at a time, one day at a time. I know this is difficult, I know that healing is scary and painful and solitary. But know that you are never alone; you just need to reach out. You are not alone, you have nothing to be ashamed of, and you have done nothing wrong. Fight for what you want out of life, fight for the dreams and goals you still have. Fight for the path to happiness. If you are interested in finding out more information about sexual violence and what you can do as part of this community, please feel free to contact PROSAF. We are here to listen and help, don’t hesitate to reach out. If you have questions or topics you want discussed reach out and we can write articles on them. If you have a piece you would like to submit through us please also reach out.