Dear Searcher part 2: “i didnt report a sexual assault, am i to blame?”

This is my second post responding to search terms that have led people to my blog. You can read the first post here.

The premise of these Dear Searcher posts is that I write an open letter to the person who found my blog using search terms that I find thought provoking or unsettling.

On March 12th, someone found my blog using the search term, “i didnt report a sexual assault, am i to blame?” This is an open letter to that person.

search terms_2
Dear person who stumbled upon my blog using the search term, “i didnt report a sexual assault, am i to blame?,”

I recently made this post regarding sexual assault and my own experience, including my decision to not report it, which I hope can help you see that you’re not alone.

I know this can be difficult to accept when it’s about yourself, but the answer to your question is a resounding no. Victims are never to blame. It may still feel that way. It still feels that way for me sometimes. But you were violated against your will. That’s the definition of sexual assault. You cannot be blamed for something happening to you that you didn’t want. Is it your fault if someone you’ve never met is rude to you? If you get mugged, is it your fault?

No.

So why is it that people like us–myself included–often feel like it’s our fault when it comes to sexual assault? There are a myriad of reasons, but a lot of it comes from the way society talks about this particular crime. We’re told so many things over and over again about this: don’t go into dark places, don’t leave your drinks unattended, don’t walk alone at night, don’t wear short shorts, short skirts, low-cut tops, slinky dresses, dresses altogether, or maybe don’t wear pants. That’ll fix it. And sure, we can be cautious, but we can’t possibly account for every twisted fantasy of a potential stranger lurking in the dark. We can’t possibly know until it happens who among our friends and acquaintances is harboring the intention to take advantage of someone. Of us.

What helped me was finding someone I could talk to. I picked one friend and I told them everything. In the process of talking about it, I began to see what had happened with a new found clarity.

Then I wrote about it, nonstop, for no one to see, and gradually became comfortable enough to show people, to tell a few people, to share my writing with my creative writing class in college. Your healing process might be different, but it begins with the knowledge that this happened to you, that it was not your fault, and that the part of this that you control is what happens now.

You have to do what makes the most sense for your life, for your situation, and for your health. In a perfect world, I would urge you to report it, but I know it’s not that simple. I didn’t report mine for many reasons. Lack of evidence for my case, lack of trust in my nation’s police and its criminal justice system in general are all reasons I chose not to report mine. But if I lived somewhere else, maybe I would have. It’s difficult to say what you would do when you’ve never been in that exact situation. Telling your story is hard because it involves reliving it. You want to tell it in a situation of trust and safety, and a police station or a courtroom are simply not most people’s idea of a safe space.

With that being said, there are good things about reporting, and doing so may bring you some much-needed closure. I wish I could say with certainty that my abuser had faced some sort of punishment and hopefully some therapy to address a lot of the psychological issues I saw in him during our time together. I really don’t know what’s happened to him since I cut off communication with him. I also never even looked into the possibility of getting a restraining order, but that can really help some victims when it comes to the issue of safety. Maybe something like that would be helpful for you, depending on your circumstances. Whatever you decide, you should not be judged for it. You have to make the decision that you feel is best. No one can make that decision for you.

Now for some resources. I’m a big fan of Dr. Doe on the YouTube channel called Sexplanations. She did a very good video on sexual assault in which she shares her experience with reporting her sexual assault, and also some resources that might be helpful to you. I recommend checking it out if you’re looking to hear something from someone with more credentials but also the experience to understand what you’re going through. I wish you the best of luck as you move forward after this. I know it’s a major cliche, but things can and often do get a lot better with time.

As always, if you have any thoughts about this feel free to leave a comment. Especially if you have experience with this and know of any resources that you would recommend. Just be respectful of others and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

Why I Didn’t Report My Sexual Assault

An old acquaintance of mine from my homeschooling days has been making some pretty infuriating comments on social media about Ke$ha’s recent court case. In case you don’t know, Ke$ha has stated that her producer and writer, Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald,  raped her for years. She has since attempted to end  her contract with Sony (which she signed at the young age of 18) to avoid having to work with her abuser. Many people have claimed to know for a fact that Ke$ha is lying, and simply trying to get out of a contract. Others, many of them part of the feminist movement, have assumed she is telling the truth and rushed to defend her. I find myself in neither camp, feminist though I may be. I firmly believe that regardless of the crime they are being accused of, people are innocent until proven guilty. However, all allegations of abuse should be taken seriously regardless of who is being accused. Think about all the high profile cases that have come to light recently. Bill Cosby comes to mind. It’s completely unjust to immediately assume that a victim is lying, but I’m not going to talk about Gottwald as if I’m positive he’s guilty. He hasn’t been tried.

My acquaintance is among those who assume that Ke$ha is lying, and the reason my acquaintance gave for that assumption isn’t even a good one. Rather than pointing out that Ke$ha stands to gain more control over her career by having her contract with Sony thrown out, my acquaintance instead complained that Ke$ha waited so many years to report this abuse. My acquaintance said (I’m paraphrasing) people don’t wait that long (I believe it was around 10 years) to report abuse, and if they do, then it’s their fault if the abuse continues because they should have reported it. She added, “So many women lie about rape I’m doubtful.”

The ignorance and victim blaming in that statement is mind boggling, and frankly it touched me in a personal way. This friend and I haven’t talked in years, so I didn’t bother to comment–luckily, another friend of hers argued with her about this and made some very good points. The reason this bothered me so much is that I was sexually assaulted myself, (Not raped. I was fortunate that it didn’t go that far.) and in an abusive relationship with the boy who did it for about a month during high school. I never reported it, and at the moment I have no intention of doing so.

That’s not because I want it to happen to other people, nor is it, as my acquaintance suggested with Ke$ha’s case, because it never happened. My main reason for not reporting it is that there simply isn’t any concrete evidence to make a case against him. All I have is my word against his, and while I don’t know what the statistics are in cases of sexual assault, it’s true that most accused rapists walk away without facing jail time. I hope he never harms anyone the way he harmed me or worse, but I know I don’t have enough evidence to do anything about it, especially because for some reason, people often don’t believe rape and sexual assault victims by default, and as the article in the above link explains, the police are often not properly trained to talk to victims.

This if course begs the question, why didn’t I report it sooner–like right away, when I might have been able to produce some evidence? There are two reasons for that, neither of which I had any control over:

  1.  He was actively manipulating me. He claimed to be suicidal, and I was terrified that if I said no to his advances or did anything that might make him unhappy, he would kill himself.
  2.  Once I figured out that he was manipulating me (with some help from a close friend), it would be months before I figured out for sure that he had also sexually assaulted me. I didn’t have a clear understanding of what sexual assault even was, and I felt guilty for allowing myself to be manipulated, as if it were my fault for participating in his lies. I felt dirty, and somewhat responsible. I didn’t know that agreeing to something when you’re being manipulated is not the same as freely giving consent. Besides, I had agreed to do some things with him, so wasn’t it just a miscommunication when he did things I didn’t want him to do?

Eventually, I figured it out. When I said “Please don’t touch me here. I don’t feel ready for that,” he would wait a few moments, then almost immediately try to do the thing I had specifically told him not to. This happened multiple times. With his claims of being suicidal, I felt obligated to allow him to touch me, so I didn’t protest while it was happening. For too long, I thought that meant it was consensual, that even though I hadn’t wanted to I had technically agreed. Having been raised in a conservative family and taught that premarital sex was very, very bad, with no proper sex education covering the concept of consent, I didn’t know how to handle these situations I was suddenly finding myself in, where he would corner me and do whatever he wanted. It had never happened to me before. And to make it all more confusing, I was genuinely attracted to him.

He did not match the image of a sexual abuser that we get from the media. I used to picture ruffians: fat middle aged men with crooked teeth, scraggly beards and balding heads who couldn’t get any action through acceptable means. And that’s the image we’re given through various rape narratives hidden in our culture. For instance, as an English major, I learned that Little Red Riding Hood is a cautionary tale portraying a little girl’s loss of innocence as she is accosted by a stranger on her way to grandma’s. I may be ruining your favorite fairy tale for you and I apologize, but earlier versions from oral tradition were very sexual and implied rape or at least sexual assault. We’re taught that there are wolves among us who can strike at any time. But statistics show that those wolves aren’t likely to be the strangers we pass in the alley. Instead, they’re the people we see every day. People we know.

My abuser was someone I knew, someone very attractive to me in multiple ways. He was a fellow Christian homeschooler who claimed to be saving his first kiss for marriage. He was athletic, ran frequently, and had a six pack. He played guitar, and we were in a music-related homeschooling organization together. Throughout the entire ordeal, he never kissed me. Not once. He could technically say he was still pure for marriage when he’d had his dirty hands all over me.

I was touched repeatedly without my consent, and choked on multiple occasions. I turned out OK after all that, after some serious struggles with anxiety over sexual contact. But I want people to understand that while I want very much for all victims of rape and sexual assault to be able to report what happened, that’s not always as simple as it sounds.  For starters, we have to come to terms with the fact that this actually happened to us. That alone can take a very long time, and that process is all the more difficult when the authorities don’t know how to talk to victims.

I’ve read too many personal accounts of women being asked what they were wearing when they were assaulted–and not as a means of collecting evidence, but as a way of implying that the victim was somehow to blame. I’ve seen that the percentage of rapists who face jail time is embarrassingly small in this country, while we put people away for possessing something as harmless as marijuana. I’ve read the news stories about multiple municipalities with thousands upon thousands of untested rape kits. Those are cases where they actually have DNA evidence, and they never did anything with it. Seeing these news stories, how am I supposed to feel confident that the authorities will take my case seriously? How am I supposed to trust them with my testimony? Especially when my testimony is all I have? My parents don’t even know that this happened to me.

There were no witnesses. As is the case with many sexual crimes, all of this happened behind closed doors. The people who know about it only know because I told them. Rape and sexual assault are very difficult crimes to prove, because sometimes there is no evidence. Sometimes, as in my case, the person isn’t forced into it through violence. I never had his skin under my fingernails. Sometimes it happens entirely out of sight. And sexual contact can be consensual. So how do you prove that in your case it wasn’t?

Those are the circumstances in which I chose not to report my sexual assault. I can’t speak for why other people don’t report, but I can empathize with them. Say what you will about this, but can I really expect the authorities to accept a case that is built entirely on my testimony?

I have so many difficult questions.

I don’t want innocent people put away for rape, so I do have to accept the need for evidence based convictions. I don’t expect people to just believe rape victims based on the fact that they’re accusing someone of a serious crime. But I do want those victims to be taken seriously. I want their claims to be investigated. I want their rape kits tested. Is that really too much to ask?

If you have any thoughts about the way rape and sexual assault victims are treated in this country, feel free to share them in the comments. Please be sensitive to victims and be respectful of others. This is a very painful issue for many people.

Happy thinking.

Nancy

What Movie Romance Teaches Us About Sexual Assault and Manipulation

We’ve all seen them:  the scenes where the guy hits on the girl, who rejects him. Then he rushes to her, spins her around, and plants a big sloppy kiss while squishing her body up against his. In movies, this is love, passion, and a sign of things to come:  the start of a happy relationship. In reality, this is called sexual assault. This kind of behavior should never be condoned in real life, and boys and men alike watching these scenes get the wrong idea about how romance works. Worse, sometimes they act them out in real life. These scenes can also give girls an inaccurate idea about love, and even render them incapable of recognizing sexual assault when it happens.

As someone who has experienced sexual assault in the past, I can’t help but cringe a little at these scenes, even in iconic movies and musicals that I’ve loved since my childhood. I’m not going to argue that sexual assault (or rape for that matter) shouldn’t be shown in films or books–it should. But I’d like for it to be presented as what it is, and for the characters involved to have to at least discuss what one did to the other so that they can have some semblance of a truly healthy romantic relationship in the end, rather than a hastily scripted wedding scene.

Take this scene in Guys and Dolls, for instance (if you don’t mind the singing). If you want to skip most of the singing, start watching at 3:16. You’ll get the idea.

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/415266/Guys-And-Dolls-Movie-Clip-I-ll-Know.html

Sky and Sarah are one of the show’s lead couples, and–you guessed it, at the end, they’re married. Even though Sarah is clearly repulsed by him, and not at all interested–heck, she freaking slaps him–the hero gets the girl. What kind of world do we live in where even a violent act like smacking someone in the face as hard as you can doesn’t mean no, and isn’t taken as a sign that things won’t work? Granted, in the plot of the story, Sky has a lot of money riding on his bet that he can take prudish Sarah on a date–but still, she rejected him multiple times. This is not the start of a beautiful romantic relationship; it’s a crime. While she does eventually fall for Sky, that isn’t the point. She’d rejected him, and once a person is rejected, he or she needs to back off and leave the rejecter alone. The only person who can turn that rejection into a date is the rejecter. If that person changes his or her mind, then yay for the rejectee! But in reality, that doesn’t happen often.

Scenes like this one have perpetuated the idea that the key to successfully getting someone to date you is persistence, not, you know–asking politely and letting the other person make their own damn decision. While yes, persistence can eventually get someone to do what you want, it’s not acceptable to beg that person until he or she just wants you to stop. Besides, do you really want someone to date you just so that you’ll shut up and stop hitting on them? Wouldn’t you rather have that person date you because he or she is attracted to you and wants to date you? I’m going with the latter reason.

Not to mention the fact that sexual assault is ILLEGAL, and morally objectionable. Just because there’s no penis-in-vagina action doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong. There’s a reason consent is required in relationships. Both parties have to decide they want to do something, and pressuring that person until they give in is not true consent.

An important part of the concept of consent is that if one of the parties involved is not emotionally or physically capable of saying no, they can’t give consent. All participants need to 1) understand what they’re doing, and 2) know that at any time they can say no, and that no will be respected. I once saw my brother hitting on a girl who was maybe 13 at the time. He was about 14, and much taller than she was. I could tell she was trying to shrug his arm off her shoulders, and her body language told me she wasn’t interested in his advances, but she wasn’t saying anything with her words, and he was still, well, advancing. My brother’s very bad at reading social cues from body language, so I wasn’t surprised by this. I was maybe 16 at the time, and I said to her, “He’s not responding to your body language that you’re not interested. You should tell him verbally.” She responded, “No, it’s ok, I don’t mind.” Granted, this was in front of him. Had I been older, I would have taken her aside and said this to her privately, but I still stand by my observation and the words I said to her. The girl probably didn’t understand this, but it is clear to me that at the time she was not mature enough to give consent. If you don’t feel comfortable verbalizing your no, then your yes doesn’t mean anything. Which brings me to another scenario where movies are at fault:  manipulation.

There’s this scene in The Notebook that reminds me of my sexual assault, and it sucks that this is considered the start of a great movie romance, when really, it’s manipulation.

This is the beautiful Ferris Wheel scene, where Noah threatens to kill himself to get a date with a hot girl he’s never met.

Let me repeat that. HE THREATENS TO KILL HIMSELF TO GET A DATE. And she says no at first, until he drops one of his hands and dangles, pretending to slip. The girl below them yelling at him has to be my favorite character in this scene. It’s been a while since I saw the movie all the way through, but this scene always stuck with me. I thought at first it was romantic, and a beautiful image of the persistence that proves that Noah loves her. Frankly though, it’s actually proof that Noah is a manipulative jerk who knows he’s getting a pity date, and doesn’t care. He’s convinced himself that if he can just get a date with her, she’ll fall for him. It happens to work out that way for him–just as Sarah’s one date with Sky happens to work out for Sky too, but in real life, that’s simply not the case.

She seems to be thoroughly turned off by Noah’s irrational, immature behavior. The only thing she’d be thinking in real life is, how do I get this guy to leave me alone and get off the Ferris wheel? Noah is not actually suicidal, and she doesn’t like him, so there is no reason for her to date him. She should say no, or, if she says yes, should say no once they’re back on the ground. So she does something immature to retaliate? It’s funny, but pantsing someone doesn’t make up for the manipulation.

Having been sexually assaulted by a guy who threatened to kill himself so he could get alone with me, and have my undivided attention whenever he felt like it, I can honestly say that this is a tactic used in real life by real douche bags–and listen–whoever’s reading this:  DON’T BUY INTO IT. It’s one thing if a close friend reveals his or her depression or suicidal thoughts. If it’s someone you know well, it may be legitimate, but when a person you don’t know well does it, there are 2 reasons they could be doing it for, and those are for your attention or pity, both of which can be used to manipulate you.

As a young woman who watched these scenes growing up–and saw many others just like them–I didn’t recognize my sexual assault until well after it happened. I knew I had been touched, often against my will by that manipulative loser, but I didn’t understand consent. I thought my absence of a no was giving him consent, but in reality, I only let him touch me because I was afraid he would kill himself if I did anything that would upset him. Even after I broke off my relationship with him, I still thought he was genuinely suicidal. It took the convincing of some very close friends, one of whom had legitimately struggled with depression, to get me back on the path to safety and healthy thinking–and guess what? That “suicidal” asshole? He’s still alive, even though I broke it off. He had no intention of killing himself, but man, did he milk it for the attention. This is not to say depression is not real–it is. I’ve known people who’ve suffered from it. But usually, they don’t talk about it to people they don’t know well, and when your distant acquaintances start telling you what sound like their most intimate, dirty secrets for absolutely no reason, after conversations that you could barely call deep or intimate,  you should be suspicious. They’re not telling you because they’re your true love. They want your pants off, and your shirt too.

Happy thinking my fellow daters.