I’m feeling frustrated today about how survivors of sexual violence and abuse survivors in general have to constantly justify their existence to everyone on this planet, especially to people in authority.
We have a legal system which states that perpetrators are innocent until proven guilty.
But what about survivors? Where are our rights to be considered innocent until proven guilty?
Why is it when a survivor comes forward and says “He raped me,” she is often met with doubt, blame, judgment, disbelief and then faced with barrier after barrier to being believed and getting support?
Doesn’t this strike you as wrong?
I’m here to suggest a radical position. Our legal system can still consider perpetrators innocent until proven guilty, while at the same time survivors can be believed, validated, treated with respect and not accused of fabricating.
It’s very unlikely that a survivor would make up claims of abuse, especially considering the lack of support and validation in our society.
A few years ago my psychiatrist told me something I’ve been thinking about this week. During the session I had been speaking a lot about my negative self esteem, my guilt, my shame, my body hatred, my struggles with anorexia and so on. He asked me a question “If you were guilty of committing sexual abuse how long would you go to jail for?” I answered him “Probably I wouldn’t go to jail, and if I did it would be for less than a year.”
He looked at me and said “You’ve been punishing yourself for more than 15 years for crimes you didn’t even commit. Even if you were as guilty as you say you feel, you would have been out of jail long ago. Stop punishing yourself. Even criminals wouldn’t receive a 15 year sentence!”
It was a good point and I thought about it some. I haven’t thought about it again until this week.
Honestly, my doctor was missing something in his analysis. Maybe survivors, myself included, would have an easier time recovering and forgiving themselves, if they did not have to spend years justifying their experience and trying to convince others that the abuse really happened.
Maybe if women weren’t labelled as crazy or mentally ill. Maybe if police treated women who report with respect and investigated their concerns quickly, thoroughly and with dignity for the survivor. Maybe if the legal system wasn’t founded on white patriarchy. Maybe if sexual assault conviction rates were higher. Maybe if sentences for assault charges took into account the amount of harm that was done to the survivor. Maybe if our society didn’t worry about “how it will impact his career” and instead considered “how it will impact the rest of her life.”
Because make no mistake. Sexual assault impacts people’s lives. It is not a crime that lasts for “just a few minutes” it lives on in people for years, maybe forever. The impact IS that voice inside the survivor which whispers “it’s your fault, you are dirty, you should be ashamed, nobody will believe you.”
Maybe we punish ourselves because there is no other option in a society that doesn’t validate what actually happened. Maybe we doubt ourselves because society blames the victim.
I think that a large portion of the guilt and shame carried around by people like me was caused, not just by the perpetrator, but by a set of systems which are designed to blame us.
At this point in my life, I feel I have suffered an equal amount of trauma at the hands of systems that were supposedly designed to help me, as I ever did at the hands of my abusers. This is a part of rape culture that we need to be talking about.