I’ll Never Stop Being Resilient & Fighting for Truth
** TRIGGER ALERT **
BY RACHEL THOMPSON, REGULAR CONTRIBUTOR ON TIR
I’m sorry you have to read what’s next. It was hard to write and I hope you will stay with me for the rest.
Do you know what it’s like to be ordered to lick a man’s penis ‘like an ice cream cone’ when you’re eleven years old? I can’t imagine most of the population can comprehend that.
Because a man forced me to. More than once.
When the police eventually questioned me, after more than a year of various forms of abuse, I didn’t tell. Terrified this giant of a man, an army sergeant with a gun who lived next door, would kill my baby sister, I kept quiet. But my eyes dripped tears of tales untold, an admission of guilt owned by the intentions of men.
Eventually, I did tell. Two trials — taunting, haunting, harrowing, narrowing my world between him and me once again. “How will I ever escape the confines of this man’s world?” I wanted to scream, in words I didn’t know how to utter as I testified, twice, before God and man and him, specifying in impolite, forensic detail the ways he abolished my soul.
Telling isn’t justice, and justice isn’t handed down when victim blaming is first on everyone’s mind. Why are survivors forced to own our abusers’ intentions? He got eighteen months, then moved back home — right next door and mere feet away from my window — for another eight years. Long, slow days full of his kids’ accusatory stares and his wife’s accusatory lips.
How will I ever escape the confines of this man’s world?
HOW DO SURVIVORS BECOME RESPONSIBLE FOR CRIMES WE DIDN’T COMMIT?
People tell survivors we are somehow complicit if we don’t tell. We are told he will hurt someone else if we keep quiet and it’s somehow our fault he is a criminal who will continue to commit crimes. We are to blame for the behavior of men.
It’s all very easy for non-survivors to make these statements. Do this, do that, and done. One, two, three. They cannot comprehend why we wouldn’t want to tell.
Have you been online lately? The myriad of reasons survivors don’t report is justifiable and lengthy: shame, fear of job loss, not being believed, minimizing our own experiences, bullying, ranking the abuse…it goes on. The worst part, however, is the verbal abuse people pile on, full of judgment about situations of which they know nothing.
The immensity of survival isn’t so facile, though, is it? The ulcerating pain in my stomach that reminds me of the terror, even forty years later. The powerlessness as I slide into a dissociated state of nothingness, the only area of my being he cannot invade. The daily flashbacks, something I’ve learned from an early age to redirect to happier thoughts so I don’t break down into numbing blankness or worse, go back to his world. Again.
What were you wearing?
What didn’t you stop it?
Why didn’t you tell anyone when it happened?
Why didn’t you fight back?
Where’s the proof?
What’s amazing is the questions people ask me and other survivors of sexual trauma (particularly rape survivors), as if we had the intention of becoming the victims of sexual predators. Let’s flip that language, that paradigm, that fucked-up thought process. Let’s ask these predators: Why did you do it? Why didn’t you know it was wrong? Why didn’t you tell anyone you raped her? Why didn’t you stop?
THE REALITY OF REPORTING OUR ABUSE
If you look at the statistics of reporting, most sexual crimes go unreported. Those that do are rarely prosecuted. Lawyers go out of their way to discredit witnesses for lying, wanting attention, or being unreliable (particularly if they had been drinking). What’s so terribly sad is the end result: victims don’t come forward and report because who wants this kind of attention?
Given that not every sexual assault victim is raped (and even if they are, not every victim undergoes the invasive rape kit procedure, and even if they did, not every rape kit is processed), how can we possibly provide the proof people need to believe us? And my god, why should we have to?
Why is the assumption that survivors (regardless of gender) are lying? For all that awesome attention people give us? In all studies of false reporting crimes, false rape reports are lower than other crimes, despite what the Internet and MRA groups tell you.
I’m not here to debate statistics, because people are not stats. I’m here to focus on survivors.
UNDERSTANDING SEXUAL ABUSE
When will people stop blaming survivors of sexual trauma for being survivors of sexual trauma, and start focusing on why this happens? Do those who blame survivors understand that the crime itself is not about sexual gratification but about power?
Sexual abuse, assault, rape and harassment aren’t political acts. They are acts of control and they all cause harm.
There is no scale of best to worst. It’s all bad.
We see much made about this candidate did this, or this director did that. The #MeToo stories these past few months are both heartbreaking and yet, empowering for many of us.
For those who continue to make it a Democrat or Republican thing, please stop. Hold abusers accountable not because of their politics, but because of their crimes.
What is behind this phenomenon of blaming victims at all? We don’t blame people for being robbed, or shot. Why do we blame survivors for being sexually assaulted? There is no logic there. There certainly is no compassion.
Some tell us it’s on us, the ‘victim’ (in the legal sense of the word) to not put ourselves in high-risk situations. We should “know better,” particularly women, who may have worn a skirt one inch too high or a top one inch too low (because clothing creates the situation for rapists to rape, apparently, or who may have taken a business meeting that put us in a high-risk situation. This always makes me laugh ruefully as if we can predict when someone will make the choice to sexually abuse someone else. As if men are mere animals who see a flash of skin and turn into mindless monsters without thought or free will or the choice not to sexually assault or rape.
How disrespectful is that to the good men of this world?
The issue here is, again, people relentlessly placing blame for a criminal’s behavior on his victim, thus removing the responsibility for the crime from the criminal. In fact, the language here completely removes the criminal from the sentence. The onus is on the victim to not get raped, as opposed to the rapist to not rape:
Rachel is molested.
– versus –
The neighbor molested Rachel.
See the difference between those two sentences?
In my situation, at the age of eleven, I, along with a bunch of other neighborhood kids, would take turns getting scooter rides with the Pied Piper. This guy had grooming down: he’d give us candy—it was fun and not something our parents would do with us. Most non-survivors won’t understand or take into consideration something like grooming, yet it’s always part of an abuser’s arsenal, particularly with young children. They make us feel special, wanted, and cherished. Said the spider to the fly.
Sexual abuse of any kind is a conscious decision made by an abuser. Child molestation, sexual assault, and rape are crimes, make no mistake about it, and what happens to survivors is criminal. Regardless of what happens to our abuser, our sentence is lifelong. The effects of sexual trauma are long-term: PTSD, anxiety, depression, migraines, even immune disorders.
So why didn’t I speak out initially, unprompted by police?
- Terror, for one. I truly believed he would kill my baby sister, or worse, my entire family. He had a gun, and he told me he would use it.
- Grooming, for another; convincing me nobody would believe me Why would I have reason to doubt an authority figure? He used my naiveté against me, as most abusers do.
- And finally, my introverted nature. Never a loud, gregarious child, I withdrew further into myself and my safe, imaginary, quiet world of stories, where little girls destroyed monsters, not the other way around.
In this impossible situation, this sick abuser steals my innocence, my being, my soul.
Eventually, I find all the scattered pieces and pull myself back together; broken, chipped, yet still capable of breaking through the enormous barriers of fear and shame to tell my story and help others feel less alone.
WE ALL HEAL DIFFERENTLY
How? Therapy and meds helped immensely, but I didn’t get the help I intensely needed until my mid-thirties after the birth of my daughter when my world came crashing down — how could I keep her safe? All my carefully swept carpets broke apart and I became an anxious, panic-stricken shell (you can read more in my books and posts about how I worked through that).
What helped me most? I gave myself permission to write my first book dealing with my abuse experiences, Broken Pieces. With prose and poetry, I delve into what it was like to live the pieces of who I became after the abuse, not understanding how the abuse affected me as a girl, a woman, and a mother. Releasing Broken Places a few years later, I continue sharing my story of survival and the after-effects of the abuse.
The response was astounding – people (primarily women, but many men, too) contacted me with their own stories of sexual abuse and still do almost daily. I released the first book in 2013, the second in 2015. I’m writing Broken People now. With the initial release, I felt blessed by their gift of trust, yet stymied by how to help them (beyond giving them information to RAINN, a wonderful organization for rape, assault, and incest survivors), as I’m not a shrink.
CONNECTING WITH OTHER SURVIVORS
So, I reached out and connected with the fabulous Bobbi Parish, herself an incest survivor and author, and founded #SexAbuseChat, which Bobbi and I co-host every Tuesday on Twitter, 6pm pst/9pm est. All survivors are welcome. Each week we discuss different topics affecting survivors. You can view previous chats by going to our public Facebook page (likes welcome!), so even if you’re not on Twitter, feel free to look through our chats.
I also started @SpeakOurStories with Dr. Shruti Kapoor, founder of @SayftyCom (whose goal is to help keep women safe worldwide). The SOS platform is to give all survivors, regardless of gender, a safe place to share their stories – anonymously is fine – and offer resources to get help. Submit your story here.
We all heal in our own way. We all deserve to recover in our own way. What survivors don’t need is for family, friends, and total strangers to blame us for crimes we did not commit. We don’t sexually abuse ourselves. We don’t want pity; we want support, compassion, help, and love.
For one tiny second, put yourself in my small shoes at the very beginning of this piece. Close your eyes, and feel what I felt. Now open your eyes. Poof. Gone. It’s nice to make that go away, isn’t it?
Survivors can’t do that. In the best of circumstances, we work through it, creating a good life just like anyone else. We can and do thrive.
Believe us. That’s all we ask.
If you have been sexually assaulted or know someone who has, please connect with RAINN.org here.