Too many people think sexual assault survivors should just "get over it" and that has to stop.
For the past week, I’ve been scrolling through Facebook posts and reading letters in the newspaper about Dr. Ford’s accusations. A lot of people keep saying that it was a long time ago so it shouldn’t matter, and this morning I saw a letter from a woman saying that Dr. Ford just didn’t like one thing at a party she had fun at and she should just get over it.
Um… no. Rape and sexual assault are not minor things. They are TRAUMATIC and trauma has no timeline, no expiration date after which you don’t have the right to suffer anymore.
I write fiction about survivors of sexual assault and I hear the same thing from my readers sometimes, that my characters should just get over it, that talking about it is wrong because it keeps the trauma alive, that they would be just fine if they would just forget it ever happened.
What does it say about us as a society that we are so damn afraid of people talking about their trauma and people admitting that these things happen way too often that we treat survivors as evil and try to cement the undeserved shame and guilt they already feel just because it makes us uncomfortable to hear what happened to them?
And then when people do speak up, they get jumped on for not telling their stories before they were ready, for not reporting right away, for not remembering every detail perfectly of the event that everyone thinks they should forget ever happened at all.
Who the hell are we to tell other people how they should feel or when they should feel better or how they should deal with something terrible that happened to them and not to us?
I don't have a story, or do I?
I mentioned in a previous blog post that I’m fortunate enough not to be a survivor of sexual assault, so I’m speaking mostly as an ally here, but I do sort of have a story that I want to tell.
I’m a transgender guy who has had issues with people thinking that because they can see the outline of my breasts when I wear t-shirts, that they can do whatever they want with that.
When I was in high school, a boy brushed against my breasts with his fingers while I was at my locker. I told a teacher and the boy said it was an accident, which it wasn’t. It also wasn’t the first time or the first boy who did that. I stopped going to my locker after awhile because I didn’t want to deal with it.
I don’t think about it a lot, but I can tell you that before I transitioned, I hated my body and especially my breasts, which gave me away as “female” no matter how hard I tried to present as male, and what boys wanted to do to it in school confused me and made me angry, both because I didn’t want to be touched that way and because I had a wordless sense that my female chest was wrong even though I didn’t have the language to understand why I felt the way I did.
Since I’ve transitioned, there’s been two or three situations where someone made sexual comments as I was passing by because they could see I have breasts and every time I was left wondering if I was wrong to not wear a binder. I stopped wearing one a long time ago because I felt that this is the body I have and I’m not ashamed of it anymore, but every time it happens I wonder.
And even writing this now, I feel like it’s not that big a deal considering what has happened to so many other people in this country, of all genders, that’s far worse.
And yet I’ve never told that to anyone before. I’ve always kept that particular part of my experience as a trans person to myself, as if it didn’t happen.
So I understand why people like Dr. Ford don’t come forward right away, besides the fact that we try to put them into this weird paradox where if you report you’re a liar and a wimp who doesn’t know how to deal with things and if you don’t, somehow you’re to blame for everyone who isn’t believed, ever.
Everyone's story is their own.
Rape and sexual assault are crimes of power and one of the worst things you can do to someone who has survived it is to take their right to choose how they deal with their story away from them too.
It’s every survivor’s choice what to tell and when to tell and who to tell.
So if you’re busy telling survivors they should just get over it, stop.
It didn’t happen to you and it’s not your place to decide how someone else should deal with what did happen to them.
I wrote this this morning as part of a scene where Hannah struggles with the question of whether or not to report her rape to the police. I’m sharing it not because I hope you love my writing (though of course I do!) but because sometimes my characters express what I’m trying to say better than I can.
Don’t be like Hannah’s best friend, who has good intentions but doesn’t know at all what Hannah is going through. If you know someone who is a survivor of any type of sexual assault, be supportive. Believe them, listen to them, and let them decide what to do with their own experience.