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Monday, January 28, 2013

Your Personal Safety Against Rape and Sexual Assault Shouldn't Be a Source of Guilt (Trigger Warning)

Early this morning, I read a story on Reddit from a woman who was recently sexually assaulted at work by the brother of her friend. Here's her brief summary of the incident:

I was at work, cleaning the bathrooms. A guy walks in and we have a brief conversation in the hallway between the men's/women's bathroom about whether he could use the men's room. The floor was wet, so I told him to be careful and I turned around and walked into the ladies' room. I keep the doors propped open while cleaning the bathrooms because the fumes can be overwhelming if the doors are closed. I bent over slightly to open the wall mounted toilet paper dispenser and I felt two hands on my butt. I immediately turned around, elbowed him in the chest and told him to stop. He asked "Are you sure?" 

The guy happens to be the brother of my friend and former co-worker. I told her what happened and she said she was sorry that I experienced that and that her brother was a perv. She then told me that if I pressed charges that she wouldn't have anyone to watch her son. 

I filed a police report yesterday. Tonight, I received a (missed) call and text from my friend asking me to reconsider going through with this because "He is really sorry." 

I shouldn't feel bad about standing up for myself. I guess I just need some words of encouragement.

Reading this made me livid because of how much I can relate to it. Guilt is a common feeling among victims of rape and sexual assault. You start to constantly question yourself: Is it my fault? What could I have done differently? Who am I hurting by telling someone what happened? Will they accuse of me lying? Is it really worth it to say anything?

I was sexually molested by my mother for ten years, from ages 3 to 13. In all that time and for years afterward, I kept denying to myself what had happened. I buried it in the back of my brain, and when it came back to me, I'd briefly consider telling someone. But those questions would come flooding back, and I somehow thought it would wind up being my fault.

This led to severe PTSD and contributed to constant suicidal thoughts. It's been a huge hole I've dug out of fear and and the reason for which I'm now having to spend years (and years to come) to climb out.

And it seems to constantly be there: feelings of shame, guilt, worthlessness, anger, self-hatred, etc.

I write this because I can especially relate to this woman's story. To some, her assault probably seems rather innocent. "So, he grabbed your butt. Did he rape you? No? Then shut the fuck up."

My abuse was slightly similar: with incidents like the one above, I would try to brush them aside as nothing. With more intense abuse, I would push it back deep into my mind and hope it stayed there.

Through therapy, I've been able to acknowledge that I was absolutely (and disgustingly) sexually abused, but I was not raped, and for several years, it's been hard for me to accept that what happened to me was completely wrong and criminal and predatory, even though sexual intercourse wasn't involved.

And so, it angers me when I see people (the vast majority of whom are women) talk about their stories of being assaulted and having their claims tossed aside as unimportant, as nuisances, as "exaggerated tales", as frivolous and shrill, seemingly because they're women and therefore, must be overreacting or oversensitive or, most disturbingly, that they're lying.

(Side note: According to figures from the FBI, Department of Justice, and organizations dedicated to fighting rape and sexual assault, false accusations make up less than 1% of rape cases. So, please stop with this "false accusation" nonsense.)

My case is certainly different, but I have noticed that, as a man, I've never been told I'm overreacting to my experience. The women I know (and the stories of other women I've read) indicate a common, shotgun response that is quite different.

I wanted to write this because I'm tired of victims having to feel like they're the guilty party. I'm tired of female friends telling me about some guy grabbing their ass in a bar or groping their breasts at a party and not reporting it because they felt it wasn't worth the risk of being told to "calm down" about being assaulted and reconsider pressing charges because of what it may do to the predator or their friends/family or the community.

Victims of sexual crimes should never have to feel like they're inconveniencing others by seeking justice for their attacks.

And if you are a victim and reading this, I want you to consider two things:

1. You have a right to be (and feel) safe around other human beings. When that right is violated, you should never feel guilty about asserting your claim to that right and wanting justice.

2. What if it happens again to you or someone else? What if the attack is even worse (butt-grabbing becomes forced kissing, forced kissing becomes intercourse, intercourse becomes murder or attempted murder)? What if they attacked someone before you (who declined to press charges) and doing the same leads to another attack?

Is it necessarily fair you would have to put yourself through emotional turmoil to report the attacker? Absolutely not.

But should you consider the attacks you could be preventing by pressing charges? Yes.

And yet, in the end, you shouldn't feel guilty about not reporting it, either. It's a difficult decision, but I would never want a victim to not report their attack out of guilt for others.

You're a human being, and you're worthy of respect and love and safety. Don't ever let anyone tell you different.

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