1. No one can be prepared for such a traumatic experience. Victims often go into shock and then denial. Reporting may not even come to mind until they have actually grasped what has happened to them.
2. Since rape often is perpetrated by someone known to the victim, there are often unwarranted feelings of shame and self-blame for trusting this person. And people are quick to put responsibility on the victim. “Why did you go with him? Well, what did you expect? You couldn’t stop her?”
3. Fear. That no one will believe you – the idea that there is always physical evidence to prove a rape occurred is not as true as people would believe. If the victim submitted to the abuse in fear of physical harm, there may not be any bruising. The more powerful, respected the abuser – the stronger their line of defense will be to squelch anyone who puts their “character” into question.
4. Fear. That the abuser will retaliate – physically, verbally, or in the case with Bill Cosby’s accusers – that he would ruin any potential for them to further their careers in show business.
5. Wanting to avoid further trauma -having to re-live the event, or try to piece together exactly what happened, when you can’t entirely remember – common for any traumatic experience and especially those affected by PTSD. Victims often ‘change their story’ but it doesn’t mean that they lied – it means that new memories have come to light that had been suppressed.
6. Having to face all those “why now?” people. Healing from a traumatic experience does not follow a predictable timeline. It may take days, weeks, years, decades before a survivor feels confident speaking the truth about their past. Why do they do it? Because they do not deserve to bear the weight of holding in the abuse. The better question is – why shouldn’t they? It is an essential part of healing to be able to regain control of your life, and reality, by voicing the truth. Many do it, not assuming everyone will believe them, but with the understanding that it will be more painful to keep it a secret.
7. So they won’t have to answer the question: “Why are you just coming out about this now?” Because it’s not a simple answer – and the people asking are usually not coming from a place of empathy and a sincere desire to understand, but rather, doubt and suspicion.
8. Because they did tell someone, and that person didn’t support them. They may not have believed them, didn’t want to help them, or felt the best course of action was to keep it quiet. Survivors are often further traumatized when those they expect to support them – don’t.
9. Because especially when men are abused – society is even less interested in accepting that males can be traumatized by sexual abuse, or even acknowledging that they can be sexually abused. (Check out these Myths & Facts by 1in6.org)
When do survivors speak out?
1. When they have acknowledged it’s a necessary part of their healing process. They may only tell a friend, or a therapist. They may or may not go public. They may or may not press charges. It’s their choice – it’s their life .
2. When another survivor comes out and they find the strength through support to do so. Feeling alone with a history of abuse can be just as detrimental to living a productive life – knowing you’re not alone can greatly improve a survivor’s perspective and healing process.
3. When they feel others may be at risk. Many survivors feel guilt for not speaking out or for taking so long – knowing that had they spoken sooner, they may have saved other people from that offender.
4. When someone else has exposed a part of their abuse and they want people to know the truth. Like Mimi Alford‘s relationship with president Kennedy, which began when she was only 19.
There are so many victims of sexual abuse that do not heal to the point where they can speak out. Some may have survived through the period of abuse, but do not survive to a point of healing.
Those accused have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. But those who come out saying they have been accused, also deserve the right to be believed unless there is significant evidence to prove they are not telling the truth. Remember that the majority of offenders will never spend a day in jail – not because they’re innocent, but because sexual abuse rarely provides enough evidence to convict in a courtroom. The justice system is not meant to determine the truth, but that doesn’t mean that the truth doesn’t deserve to be heard – even if it cannot result in a conviction.
For all the survivors out there – we thank you for your courage – without your voice the cycle of abuse would only continue. Voice by voice, survivor or supporter – we are all part of the solution.