Were You Sexually Assaulted? I Believe You
I believe you.
Even though your face isn’t bruised, even though your bones aren’t broken. Even though it’s been days or weeks since it happened. Even if, at some point in your life, you thought you loved him, or you really did love him.
This time, you said no. Maybe you were still together; maybe you were broken up, or breaking up. It doesn’t matter what you wore or what you drank. You said no. More than once.
Yes, he said. Yes, you want it. Yes, you need to do this. Yes, you’re at fault if you don’t — because he wants to, because you made him think you wanted to, because he has tolerated things or people for you, because you’re selfish if you don’t, because you thought maybe he would just go to sleep, because you just wanted it to stop, because his yes is more important than your no.
Maybe he threatened you in an obvious, physical way. Or maybe it was more insidious — a mind game meant to belittle, coerce, confuse and break you.
Who could believe THAT? I do.
Among female victims of sexual assault, 51 percent report that at least one perpetrator was a current or former intimate partner. That’s more than half — by a boyfriend, spouse or lover (a statistic that doesn’t include the two-thirds of sexual assaults that go unreported at all). And chances are, these people have friends and family who care about them both, who have witnessed their relationship ups and downs. No one knows what goes on behind closed doors, they say.
But YOU know what went on, even if he says it didn’t. If you sleep with someone for years, he says, it’s not possible to be “coerced.” If you manage to mention the details to your friends, they may try to show compassion, but can’t really grasp the “crime,” because, after all, there used to be some pretty happy Facebook posts of you two.
There’s no bleeding gash, no purpled eye socket. No drinks were spiked; no windows were smashed. But your soul is in shreds. A person you used to feel safe with, at some point, has violated your trust and shuttered your voice. It doesn’t matter what you have to say about it.
Or if you do try to talk about it, you sound dramatic, or unbalanced. Maybe you seem anxious at best or vindictive and catty at worst. You may even be threatened for suggesting you might tell someone about it. So you begin to wonder, are you overreacting? Were your arguments not persuasive enough? And at that moment when you finally disconnected and let it be over with, at that point did it become your fault?
Well, I want you to know — I believe you. I believe that you are hurting, and how that’s compounded when your friends and loved ones don’t understand the depths of that hurt. I believe that like the proverbial tree in the forest, you can fall, and you can splinter, even if no one hears the sound.
While it’s a hopeful sign that college campuses are seeing an uptick in reported sexual assault incidents — the rise in reported statistics being the hopeful part — it will likely take time for the culture of blame to shift substantially from who put what where -- and whether she sent a signal that it was ok (for instance, an unconvincing “no”) -- to why it's harder to find people who will listen, and actually believe, than applying for a mortgage. It’s especially difficult to envision this evolution when people we trust reserve judgement, given the, well, uncomfortable circumstances. You know, he seems like a good guy and all. So.
If you can find people who will listen, who believe, lean on them. Let it out to those who get it. Don’t let the abuse simmer by safeguarding the secret — even if you don’t name names, you can tell your story. You HAVE TO tell your story. Talk to an empathetic counselor who has never seen your Facebook pictures. And don’t make excuses for the people who can’t accept your truth. Your foundation has been rocked, so you may need to put up a few walls of your own, at least until you find your balance again.
And know this: I believe you. Even if you didn’t get his skin under your fingernails, even if you had a second glass of wine, even if he didn’t happen to notice that you dissociated from your body, or the tears streaming down past your earlobes. I believe that it happened, and that you didn’t cause it or deserve it. No one does. Believe it.