The recent tidal wave of individuals, mostly women, speaking up about their sexual harassment and sexual assault experiences is the culminations of years, decades, centuries of pent up fury and silence. The #MeToo movement is growing stronger and louder every day, led by courageous individuals in the public sphere and in my personal circles on social media. I have been wanting to write a blog post about this topic for awhile; it has taken me some time to digest the growing accounts of sexual violence and make sense of my own reactions. As I am writing this post I am still not sure I can clearly articulate my emotions related to all of this. As a woman of color and a survivor of countless sexual harassment experiences, my first reaction is of fierce pride for the individuals who have risked so much to speak up. My second reaction is of disgust at the perpetrators who have abused their power for so long with the assumption that their behaviors will be protected and rewarded. My third reaction is of anger at our society (a.k.a. all of us) for creating and maintaining a system that benefits perpetrators and perpetuates sexual violence. In this blog post, I want to address the question that I often hear asked about survivors of sexual violence: if this really happened, why didn't they speak up before?
There are many reasons why we may not have heard about this volume of sexual violence incidents until now. First, these stories are not new, we have chosen as individuals and as a society to ignore them. For example, see the documentary The Hunting Ground for information on the staggering number of sexual assaults on college campuses and the length to which the institutions go to protect perpetrators. Second, when survivors have spoken up, we have been invalidated, disbelieved, shamed, silenced, and threatened by our perpetrators, friends, family, partners, employers, schools, government, and society. Third, survivors face real danger of losing our education, jobs, reputation, relationships, and yes, even our lives, for breaking the silence. Fourth, the question itself casts doubts on the motives and credibility of the survivors, which in turn, contributes to the silencing of survivors.
The Time article on Person of the Year: The Silence Breakers, profiled the amazing individuals who shared their stories of sexual violence. The article does a great job of describing the terror that many face when they experience sexual violence and the impossible decisions they often have to make (my job vs. my dignity, my livelihood vs. my safety, my duty vs. my personhood). It also highlights so many nuances and unanswered questions we are grappling with as a society in this moment. My own questions include: How do we make sense of this as people who may have intentionally or unintentionally perpetrated and condoned sexual violence (by being silent bystanders, by laughing at our buddies' behaviors, by blaming the survivors, etc.)? How can we heal from this and restore trust between people? How can we create a better society for the next generation?
Share your thoughts about sexual violence and breaking the silence in the comment section below.
I created this blog to share information about living a healthy, happy, and fulfilling life. I am constantly learning new things and making mistakes along the way. This blog is my way of chronicling my discoveries, musing, and lessons learned as a person and a professional. I invite you to come along on my journey of self reflection, discovery, and thriving with challenges. I also hope to exchange wisdom and enlightenment from you, my readers.
The information provided in this blog is not a substitute for professional mental health treatment.