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November 2017

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Sexual Assault Survivors Confronting Abusers: Who Are You to Judge?

Recent headlines dominating the newspapers, T.V news reports and social media are of those in Hollywood and politics speaking up and confronting their sexual abusers. As I read those headlines, in my mind and heart I commend those for finally being able to stand up, without fear of social ridicule, without fear of recriminations, without fear of not being believed, without fear of losing their livelihoods. I’m pleased that the time has come where the environment has changed, that women and men can now have the support needed to  call out their abusers whether the incident happened  five or 25 years ago.  And that regardless of their power, these abusers are not immune from losing their status, jobs, earning potential and criminal or civil prosecution.    In fact, the climate is such that the serial harasser perpetrators are the ones sitting behind closed doors in fear of being exposed.

Knowing in some way that the deplorable behaviour of Donald Trump (pussy grabbing recording) has somehow, made it all possible  and galvanized some; even though it was mostly white female votes that moved him  into the White House. An interview in In Style Magazine with Amy Shumer and Jessica Seinfeld explains  exactly how I view the reason for the basis of this movement.  Jessica Seinfeld asked Amy: “What do you think 2016 has done for women? Amy’s response, “ I think it broke our hearts and then it made us so much stronger and closer.” Those are my similar observations from  my own little bubble. But my thrill, the kick I feel in my soul  is of  justice finally served; my sense of righteousness comes from having learned almost 30 years ago in university about the history of a patriarchal society, oppression and how our male dominated culture and institutions inherently protect the behaviour and actions of men.

Then I get on FB, and I see some really outrageous responses and realize and am reminded of my little bubble. A male friend posted, on his FB page that, “I’ve been assaulting myself for the last 8 years”. Someone had responded to him, obviously about his post being inappropriate and he responded telling her or anyone to go #$%^ yourself, or unfriend me”. Then a woman had responded in support of him and with disgust stating why bring allegations after 10 yrs. Needless to say, I was appalled at both their responses, his for the post and response, her; I immediately kicked out of my universal woman’s club.

It so happened that a couple of days later I saw the male friend who posted that on his status. At first I didn’t say anything, as I thought to myself: is it worth it? I’ve learnt over the years since my university days that debates on racism and sexism can get pretty heated for me and it’s wiser to choose my battles than to try and enlighten or change everyone’s minds. I went back and forth in my mind about addressing it. Then, he actually brought it up as he was quite bothered by the response of a woman he said, that asked him if it was his daughter would he be so quick to make light and be dismissive. Needless to say, once he opened the gate, I couldn’t help but march right in, hands on hips.

I told him that I thought it was in poor taste and that if there was a standard for posts – using Trump vs. Barack – that his post would be on the lower end of the scale of lack of taste and sensitivity akin to Trump.

He tried to explain, that he didn’t mean anything by it, that we have to be able to laugh. I said, it isn’t a joking matter and never will be. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter when a person chooses or has the confidence or strength to confront their abusers. The length of time from incident to coming forward doesn’t make it less tragic.

Sexual assault, rape, molestation is a tragic event for the person who is the victim of any of these acts. And lets be clear, the majority of sexual abuse is by someone known to the abused -not a stranger. From that moment on, their lives are forever changed – some, most still have to cope with seeing the perpetrator in their lives ; daily. The way each person deals with the occurrence differs, some people put it in the back of their minds, suck it up and work at not having to live it over in their minds and no one would ever know as their “lives” seem so “normal”. Some are more deeply emotionally affected and turn to other forms of coping: substance abuse, promiscuity, and aggressive or anti-social behaviour and  depression. On top of feeling like they did something to cause it (as that is the first question they are asked) along with a lack of self -confidence.

In the workplace, when a person of influence/power uses that to intimidate for sexual favours, it becomes a toxic situation for the person in a subordinate position as they may be afraid to reprimand for fear of losing their job or opportunities.  As well, it could be a colleague who is on the same level , it still makes for an uncomfortable situation.   Harassment can be physical and verbal .

To question the time period of confrontation is diminishing the emotions/experiences of the people coming forward. If a woman or man waits 50 years, 5 years, 5 weeks, 5 minutes, five seconds to confront their abuser – the response time – one should not be valued over another. It has taken that person that long to deal with the assault,  build up the confidence or come to the realization of what happened. There are more women speaking out now because the climate warrants it, it has become a bitter landscape taking all the progress back decades (Trump). When coming forward would automatically cast suspicion on the accuser and the abuser would be protected by those who chose to look the other way.  Women are standing up, fighting, people are feeling more confident and are gaining support.

Yes, this joke is too early, but it will always be too early.

I will share three stories with you of women I know personally who felt comfortable sharing their experiences with me. And I only share it here, to perhaps bring some understanding, some enlightenment on how one is affected and reasons for waiting; waiting to confront abuser especially now as opposed to the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s. The names have been changed as I respect the privacy of these women, my friends.

Tamara

At 13 years old a family friend in his 30’s, who she babysat for, took her in the basement, pulled down her pants and fondled her. This happened for months, in the late 1970’s. At that time society’s general perception of rape, was thought of as forcible sex by a stranger.

He coerced her not to tell anyone. She didn’t. A year later, another older man messed with her. She became promiscuous as a teen. Choosing physically abusive men as partners, drinking and partying, using weed and alcohol. Now she is in her early 50’s and for the first time coming to terms with what happened so many years ago. If she should decide to confront her abusers 37 years later – who is anyone to judge her for waiting?

Shannon

At 13 yrs old, she was walking alone in her neighbourhood in 1980. She was alone. A stranger, dragged her into the bushes, and sexually assaulted her. She didn’t tell anyone. She didn’t tell her parents. When she told me, we were in our late 20’s; at the time of the assault, we were friends. I asked her why she didn’t tell her parents, she wasn’t able to verbalize why, but I understood. I understood. Her behavior throughout our teens, finally made sense … her drinking, self-hatred and depression. She was not promiscuous; in fact she was adamant on waiting to lose her virginity. I’m not certain if she still considered herself a virgin after her attack or she was using that as a reason to cover her emotional turmoil relating to sex after her assault.   She told me about the assault in our late 20’s because of the following reason. She had been walking in the Eaton Centre, she was about 28 yrs. old. A man came up to her and said, “I see you’ve grown up” and walked away. His face, his voice … it was the man who had raped her. She lost it. That is when she finally revealed it to me. He is still a stranger, she doesn’t know who he is, she froze when she realized who it was. She is an alcoholic, and has made questionable choices throughout her life, and maybe she would have made the same had she not been violently assaulted. But we will never know, because she lost her innocence that day. If she knew who he was, and decided to report him. Who is anyone to judge her for coming forward almost 40 years later?

Cindy

At 16 yrs. old  Cindy had an admirer. He was about 22 yrs. old and a cousin of her friend. She didn’t particularly like him as she thought he was a little old for her and not really her type. However he was persistent, and since it was her friend’s cousin, she gave in to the pressure and said yes to a date. She went to meet him at his home, where he lived with his mother. However, when she got there, he was the only one home. She was with him in his room. He started to kiss her but she didn’t really want to, but she kissed him. One thing led to the next and she told him to stop, he wouldn’t listen to her, he held her down and penetrated her. She left feeling violated, but not sure if she did something wrong because she was at his house. She said no but he wouldn’t stop. That night she felt all sorts of emotions, she couldn’t believe it happened but wasn’t sure if it was her fault. He called her that night; he apologized to her for what he did. That was confirmation for her that his actions were wrong. She avoided him after that: she didn’t take his calls. She didn’t tell anyone about what happened, not even his cousin. It was 1984. She coped with it. Three years later while attending university she learned of the term, date rape and the  phrase, “no means no”. She finally had the words to describe what happened to her. 25 years later she saw him. He acted as if she was an old friend, seemingly not a memory of the last encounter. She has no reason to confront him she says, as he showed remorse and apologized hours after it happened. She doesn’t wish to revisit it.

The fourth story isn’t a story that I have been told personally. That is of women in the work place who have been sexually harassed. Yes they may be older than the ages of the women above, but it doesn’t change the dynamics and the added threat of losing ones job or professional opportunities when someone in power is the abuser. It also may take years to cope with the ramifications of an abusive situation.

I shared these examples with my friend who posted the FB status, after our conversation he removed the post.

Please, before you make light or berate a woman for taking her time to confront her abuser, think before you speak. Your words may be silencing another woman or man close to you who has been dealing with a sexual assault. Silencing is what abusers hope for, do not be an unwitting enabler or participant in covering up  their dirty deeds -it  could very well be your sister or brother, niece or nephew , daughter or son.