Puzzles of Women Coming Out After Being Abused

In the wake of the recent testifying of Professor Blasey Ford against supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, as well as other high-profile men, I have seen a lot of people on social media asking the most ridiculous question, “Why do they wait for so many years before coming out?” These people sided with the accused abusers and shame the victims for coming forward. However, I am left with these thoughts, “Do people really sit to think why these women take years to come out? Do they have any idea of the repercussions these women are faced with?”

Let’s face this, it is truly very common for victims of sexual assault to delay disclosing the trauma they have dealt with by years. But since we as a society are continually puzzled by why they don’t come out early, I want to give some insights from reasonings and conversations with victims that should better help us understand the “why.”  Although the topic tends to focus mostly on women, I see it wise to recognize male victims of sexual assault, because they too, suffer from many of the same effects and I think are some of the reasons for their delay in coming forward.

By definition, sexual assaults and harassments are inclusive of, but not limited to,  inappropriate touching, lewd gestures, unwelcome text messages or phone calls of sexual nature, being offered “benefits” for sexual favors, and being forced to have sex with partners or strangers when they don’t want to,  or are under the influence of drugs or alcohol rendering them unable to give consent.

One of the main reasons I have discovered as to why victims of sexual assault or harassment do not come forth is “embarrassment”. This is at the core of the extreme emotional harm males and females go through when they are sexually abused. As a natural reaction to being abused and violated, one should understand that abuse, by its nature, is quite dehumanizing and humiliating.

This sense of humiliation often is the root of why most victims blame themselves for the sexual misconduct of their perpetrators. They felt defiled and invaded, while concurrently experiencing the shame of being helpless and at the leniency of another person. As humans, we always believe that we have control over things that occur in our lives. So, when an assault of any kind challenges that power of a victim, they feel dehumanized. They believe that they could have defended themselves, but since they weren’t able to, they feel helpless and powerless. There are victims out there who genuinely feel or “felt responsible” for the assault done to them. I know some people who assumed it was their fault because they were “friendly” and always smiling with their assailant. They think that by being friendly, their abusers might have thought they were flirtatious.

So, as a result of this self blame and shame, they hang their heads while stooping their shoulders, trying to make themselves invisible. People who see themselves as an embarrassment, take the underlying belief that they are completely unacceptable. They feel “unworthy.” Being ashamed causes victims to isolate themselves – setting themselves apart from the masses.  Harassment and abuse can be very humiliating to recount in private, let alone going public.

In particular, women are mostly the ones who have to deal with being ashamed, because they often see themselves being blamed for being victimized and assaulted. Even today, you’ll commonly come across statements like, “What did she expect when she dressed the way she did?” and “She shouldn’t have had so much to drink.” Most times, they have to feel ashamed when their entire being is reduced to how attractive or unattractive men finds them. Depending on how much a woman has already been shamed by previous abuse, she may choose to try to forget and ignore the entire incident.

As for male victims of assault, if the assailant was female, the victim is expected to be “happy” about being violated because what man wouldn’t want to fuck a woman? (this is sarcasm, by the way). If the assailant was male, the victim is doubly ashamed from being overpowered by a fellow man and if the victim is straight, he is then called gay for somehow sending a come hither signal to his assailant.

Another reason that delay victims from coming out is denial, I think. Most victims have refused to accept that whatever abuse they endured was actually an abuse. As a result, they downplay how much they have been harmed. They convince themselves that “it wasn’t a big deal.” I have heard this from ladies who have explained their stories of being brutally raped and abused from childhood. They consider their abuse as nothing compared to what other women have been through and this downplaying serves as a coping mechanism that helps them move on and sweep their encounters under the rug. Other women are good at making excuses for their abusers. They tend to feel sorry for their abusers. Some would say, “He just couldn’t help himself.”

The last reason I think victims of sexual harassment and assault do not come out with their abuse stories is the fear of repercussions. This takes a huge toll on victims;  they fear losing their job, their credibility, and their physical safety. I know of victims who say some people view and treat them differently if their abusive past is revealed; people tend to think they are not as worthy of courtesy and respect and they are sometimes even more susceptible to more assault because they are now seen as used and broken. Victims feel it is useless to come forward because they have seen the treatments others have gotten. They see no hope because they won’t be taken seriously, and their reputations will be tainted, if not ruined. These fears cause victims to think there is nowhere to turn, they feel trapped and hopeless. 

In this light, instead of people being so focused on trying to figure out why victims delay their coming out or never speak out at all, I suggest we focus more on asking “Why are sexual perpetrators allowed to go free when they have sexually harassed and assaulted their victims?” We need to stop blaming the victims and making it seem as if the assault is even slightly their fault. Perhaps even more important, we need to stop asking why victims wait to report and instead focus on how we can better support them in their pursuit of justice and healing.

Authored by Valdemar Reeves

Featured Picture by Liora K. – Feminism

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