Sexual Violence Survivors vs. the 2016 Election

I was hoping this election would be a win towards dismantling rape culture — an experienced, gracious, progressive, woman who is yes, terribly flawed vs. an immature, blubbering, explicitly violent bigot who openly bragged about using his power to abuse women? Pfft. America elected the first black President twice. Surely, they would unite again in favour of social progress.

But after checking Twitter one last time, I went to bed at 12:33AM this morning knowing that Trump would win. I still hoped that I was wrong and that overnight, a miracle would happen. I woke up at 6:56AM to no miracle.

I was sad, I was tired, I was sick, I was angry, I was disappointed, I was a mess. But in all the shit swirling inside my mind, I couldn’t identify an inkling of surprise.

2016 has not been a good year for sexual violence survivors, nor for their advocates.

Canadians followed the #Ghomeshi trial as journalists livetweeted the shitshow that saw his survivors retraumatized and invalidated, and his being found Not Guilty.

Pop culture Twitter watched in horror while tweeting #FreeKesha as she was denied the right to working in a rapist-free environment.

Social Justice and Media Twitter read Emily Doe’s powerful victim impact statement and condemned the character references Brock Turner’s friends and family wrote for him. Convicted, yes, but he only served 3 out of the 6 months he was sentenced because he behaved well and longer would have an “adverse impact” on him.

We tweeted in solidarity with Amber Heard as she filed a lawsuit against her abusive former husband, in which he later settled. Months later, we find out he’s been cast (appropriately as the villain, but this still allows him to survive) in a franchise dear to so many people for being progressive.

Those are only the high profile cases I read about that I remember off the top of my head.

In Canada, 460,000 sexual assaults are reported to the police per year. In America, 1 in 6 women are victims of attempted/completed rape. A lot of people experience all kinds of sexual violence in North America. If 2016 as a whole wasn’t an indication that we live in a culture that normalizes rape and minimizes the impact of it on a person, I don’t know where to even begin.

I am a woman of colour and sexual violence survivor currently navigating the legal and administrative processes in Canada. There are multiple people close to me who live either here or in the States and have survived sexual violence themselves. I’ve connected with survivors/advocates in my local communities as a peer and as a volunteer counsellor on a crisis hotline.

I will always advocate in the interest of sexual violence survivors because I am one of them. The pervasive normalization of sexual violence in our culture is an issue that is deeply personal for me. Fighting to support survivors, to advocate for societal change is an intense passion of mine because I know how healing it is for our pain to simply be validated.

They’ve watched us lay out our most intimate emotions in victim impact statements and thinkpieces and personal essays. We post tear-streaked selfies, or blackeyes and bruises and wounds in hopes they’ll finally empathize.

They’ve cheered for us as we finally fight back and rise against our abusers, they’ve been horrified watching us be gaslit and ridiculed and shamed by egg avatars on Twitter. There’s an outpour of rage against people like Brock Turner and Daniel Holtzclaw (and an equal amount of people excusing them too). What the fuck happened?

Throughout the #TrumpTapes coverage on social media, survivors spoke about how Trump embodied the same characteristics and predatory nature as their abusers. Survivors shared all the ways Trump’s violent and sexist rhetoric re-triggered painful and disturbing emotions that brought up memories of their own abuse.

But people weren’t mad enough. People didn’t care enough about the pain of survivors and the pain that also comes with being queer, of colour, of a different religion, or any/all of the above to prevent the ultimate abuser from gaining even more power.

I’m sorry, but anyone who did not vote to prevent a Trump presidency is complicit in electing an explicitly bigoted rapist into office. Perhaps it was not the intention, but it was the impact. America, as one of the most influential countries in the world, has just showed the global population how it treats abusers.

Good job, America. You have denied survivors everywhere that validation of knowing what happened to us was wrong. You have denied us our safety. You have made it that much harder for survivors and advocates to stand up against their abusers. You have made it that much harder to educate future generations to reduce and prevent violence against humanity. You endorsed an explicit sexual abuser. You have collectively told sexual violence survivors worldwide, “your pain is irrelevant.”

Disclaimer: I’m a first generation Canadian woman, my parents are from the Philippines, I’m light-skinned, and hetero-passing. I acknowledge that I have certain privileges, and that my personal experience is not objectively worse than someone else’s who is more directly impacted by American politics. I speak solely of my own experience out of concern and empathy for survivors of sexual assault.