I Didn’t Report My Sexual Assault, Should I Now?
Throughout the journey of healing, strength reveals itself in many forms.
Trigger Warning: this article contains a discussion of sexual assault that may not be suitable for all readers. Fearless community, please read with care.
“Why didn’t you report him? How can you sleep at night knowing he is still out there?”
My boyfriend sat at the table across from me not understanding why I hadn’t publically done anything about my sexual assault.
A strong heartbeat swept through my chest and the too-familiar knot in my stomach returned. I babbled through trying to explain myself, to express the situation, reveal what happened and why, for years, I hadn’t even told anyone, let alone pressed charges:
- I was so ashamed: after it happened, my entire body felt gross inside. The entire situation was humiliating and dehumanizing. I was ashamed to be myself, to be in my own skin. This isn’t uncommon, even big-time stars like Madonna have shared that “my rape was too humiliating to report.”
- I felt guilty: I had been nice to him, I was wearing revealing clothes, I was drawing attention to myself…I should have been able to stop it, but didn’t…and that made it my fault. Sexual violence is a control tactic meant to threaten and manipulate people — it goes so far beyond the trauma of the moment.
- I didn’t think anyone would believe me. Here was this “great guy”, there was no way anyone would think he actually assaulted me. It would be my word against his. I had just watched a girl I knew who went to the police after being raped and she was ultimately blamed and ostracized from the community and school as a result. That would for sure happen to me too.
- My future would be ruined. I was broken, and everyone would look at me that way. There would be no way another man would ever want to touch me, let alone love me if they knew this happened.
- I wanted to protect others from my pain. The thought of having to tell my family…sitting there telling my dad, her baby girl was hurt, was an unbearable thought. I convinced myself that by staying silent, I was protecting people in my life from feeling this pain.
- Every part of me wanted to pretend it didn't happen. I was determined for this event to not define my life, not control me forever. I tried to push it down, put it in a box, and pretend it didn’t happen.
- I had PTSD. I didn’t know it at the time, but I immediately dove into expressing symptoms of PTSD: I drank more and had more sex to numb myself away. I became overwhelmed by avoidance to the point it felt overwhelming to take the action of speaking out let alone filing a report. For years, every time someone’s hand came close to my throat, or my hips were touched a certain way, I would spiral into flashbacks. For years, I couldn’t eat anything with garlic, since my assailant's breath had been caked in it. To this day, I still have nightmares of being raped or assaulted.
I know these reasons, symptoms, excuses, and results aren’t solely mine to bear. Only 32% of rapes get reported, and when asked why the other 68% don’t file reports, most women respond with similar reasons.
Bustle interviewed a handful of women who shared their reasons here:
While all of these things are true and have been for years, I didn’t want them to be my reasons anymore. I didn’t want this moment to define me. I know the version of myself back then, the young girl who was wounded and hurt, did what she had to in order to survive. She used all of her strength to hold herself up, and now, I am ready for more.
I sat across from my boyfriend, this man who I admire and respect, never having felt so misunderstood, feeling so judged for not having done more. But perhaps he had a point…why now had I still not done anything? Why wasn’t I being stronger in doing more, today?
Well, the data is hard to beat. For every 1,000 cases actually reported, 995 of the perpetrators walk free.
It becomes your word against theirs. And that is a very scary thing to face.
But, this is how change happens.
This is how of those 1,000 cases, 990 walks free…then 980 walks free…and then, one day, the number of perpetrators of sexual assault who walk free is 0.
While I thought I was protecting myself by staying silent, the reality is…this person could be harming others. It is now my duty to protect them. I am ready to sleep at night knowing I did everything in my power to make this a safer place for other girls, women, and victims of sexual assault. I did everything in my power to make a better world for my future children.
While every victim may be on their own path, when you are ready and reach a point of comfort in doing more…take action. You don’t have to do it alone.
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