The overwhelming shadow that looms over victims of sexual violence is difficult to face, especially when they are gripped by a loss for words and the inability to move or process. Just as most women have stories of sexual assault or harassment, it is scary to learn that our schools, workplaces, and even social circles potentially have an abuser. Recently, within the Peel District School Board, high schools have seen a plethora of cases that spurred outrage amongst students—a feat that has been disregarded by the schools.
I’d like to preface by saying that every victim may have different views and thoughts on all that I will say. I speak from what I have witnessed and heard from those who’ve shared their experiences with me. I do not wish to speak for you but rather, I hope you find comfort in my words and see that you are not alone.
When victims of sexual violence are asked insensitive questions that don’t acknowledge the complexities of their experience, it strikes fear and shame into their hearts.
Number one: Why didn’t you just report this case?
Oftentimes, after trauma, the victim desires to never see nor deal with anything attributing to the horrific event(s). To go through the exhausting process of accusing your abuser and fighting for justice is frustrating. It’s filled with backlash and pity and is often a reminder of what may be the worst experience of an individual’s life. There are those victims who reach a point in which they repress memories as their body deems the trauma far too great to handle.
While this analogy will fail to even come close to the fear and obstacles an abuser exerts, I feel as though this is the simplest message. Imagine a small dog standing in front of a large, dangerous dog. This aggressive dog towers over its victim. It blocks all routes to safety and stability. If the smaller dog even tries to move, the larger dog fights. The smaller dog feels as though it’s at a loss; trapped by an entity that has fixated on its destruction. It is especially difficult when the perpetrator of the crime is an individual the victim is familiar with. About eight out of ten sexual assault cases are committed by someone the victim knows.
It is debilitating to share details of one of the most painful experiences in front of strangers and non-strangers alike. The act of sitting in a courtroom, trying to prove that your abuser should be held accountable for committing a crime, is never easy, especially when the system denies women their right to feel safe and have justice. It can feel humiliating and draining to try and prove that you shouldn’t have been assaulted.
Men are also victims of sexual violence. Society enjoys telling men not to feel certain emotions, otherwise they’re not men. Wondering why they weren’t strong enough to fight off the abuser runs laps through their minds. Many choose to refute a victim’s claims of sexual violence, leading to a feeling of loneliness and lack of support.
Number two: Why didn’t you just say no?
Consent does not necessarily pertain to sexual activity; it extends to all spheres of communication and physical touch. Everyone needs to understand that if someone does not want to be hugged, or touched, that does not make it okay to disregard their feelings. Consent is also non-physical; it is not okay to crack inappropriate jokes or make lewd comments to a stranger or someone you barely know just to make them uncomfortable.
I understand the desire to extend a warm hand to a stranger or a friend, and I recognize that this is a norm for many. Pre-Covid-19 especially, it was normal to touch upon greeting, but the pandemic has made it unequivocally evident that consent is not simply granted during sexual encounters, it is required for handshakes, comments, and high-fives too.
Victims of abuse are incredibly powerful. I do believe that those who live each day with this immense amount of trauma are heroes. They are very much my own; both those who choose to remain silent or feel able to share their stories. To those who’ve gotten justice finally, or in the pursuit of such, thank you for inspiring and strengthening so many victims. Please do not feel rushed to voice your stories and experiences, but please know that you are worth hearing.