Mental Health · My Creative Writing · Personal · Recovery · Religious · Social Justice

Sexual Violence is a Personal, Public, and Political Health Issue. We Need to Believe Survivors.

There are many reasons I decided to write this blog post: To honor the courage and resilience of survivors, regardless of their stories and whether they chose to report; share information about the #metoo and #whyididntreport movements; share information about how to support survivors well [1, 2, 3] and practice self-care if you are a survivor [1, 2, 3, 4, or call the national hotline 800-656-4673 or text the general national crisis line at 741741]; and tell my story of what happened when I reported – and why I almost wish I could share my story as a #whyididntreport story rather than the disaster that happened when I did.

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If you’re like me, your social media newsfeeds have been filled with Brett Kavanaugh’s face. Not only because he’s a Supreme Court nominee, but more importantly, an accused sexual predator. A sexual predator who could be a lifetime member of a court that makes decisions about women’s bodies.

A lot of people, myself included, have had triggers from their own experiences of sexual violence and even feelings of re-traumatization when they look out into the world. The health effects of sexual violence, as well as its societal effects, feel even heavier than usual.

But we also see Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who has risked everything to come forward with her story. We also see Anita Hill, who led the way here. We see these brave survivors who are willing to shout their story in order to prevent future violence. #metoo.

AssaultLede

But not all survivors come forward, and that doesn’t make them less brave. Every single survivor deserves to be heard, believed, and validated. In addition to the #metoo movement, we now also have the #whyididntreport movement in response to comments about real and serious sexual violence always being reported to the authorities. That’s simply not true. Two out of three assaults go unreported. Why?

According to The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN),

  • 20% feared retaliation
  • 13% believed the police would not do anything to help
  • 13% believed it was a personal matter
  • 8% reported to a different official
  • 8% believed it was not important enough to report
  • 7% did not want to get the perpetrator in trouble
  • 2% believed the police could not do anything to help
  • 30% gave another reason or did not cite one reason
    • Understanding the absurdly low chance of their perpetrator ever being charged with a crime or seeing the inside of a prison cell – think only 6 out of 1000
    • Invalidation
    • Invasive proceedings
    • Loss of professional respect
    • Loss of social respect
    • Distrust in the police or having a police officer as their perpetrator
    • In extreme cases, death threats, just like Dr. Ford is facing now

Both the #metoo and #whyididntreport movements show us a rotten core of our society, a society where consent doesn’t matter as much as entitlement, where some people matter more than others simply based on demographics, in this case especially gender. There are so many people who face a harder time being heard and believed, not to mention a greater chance of being the victims of sexual violence in the first place.

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Image description, courtesy of a friend: white writing over grey waves background with text that reads as follows: “I believe inconvenient survivors. I believe survivors I am told not to believe. I believe disabled survivors. I believe black survivors. I believe native survivors. I believe queer survivors. I believe trans survivors. I believe survivors of color. I believe survivors who have been in prison. I believe survivors who are currently in prison. I believe survivors who are homeless. I believe survivors with addictions. I believe survivors who don’t know how to talk about it. I believe survivors who talk about it too late. I believe survivors who talk about it too much. I believe survivors who talk about it casually. I believe survivors who can’t talk. I believe survivors who are kids. I believe survivors who know their abusers. I believe survivors who don’t know their abusers. I believe survivors who were in relationships with their abusers. I believe survivors who stay in relationships with their abusers. I believe survivors with mental illness. I believe survivors who don’t quite make sense. I believe survivors who are men. I believe survivors who have been broken by the news lately. I believe survivors, period, and I want a world that does, too. -elizabeth miller” Source.

I chose to report when I was raped, but my story goes like this: 7 months of my life that washed down the drain in front of my eyes. I felt powerless and re-traumatized every single day of it. I have more trauma from the time that I spent fighting for my basic rights and instead had my character questioned than I do from the violent sexual assault that brought me to the hospital and the police station in the first place. I never had a chance to see him get prosecuted because I was never believed in the first place. (You can read more about my experiences on my Tumblr, where I kept a log of what was happening to me. I’ve chosen not to share the full story of my horrific experiences with the legal system in this post, but you can read it here).

There were only four good things that came out of my choice to report.

  • Meeting and fighting alongside the amazing advocates and lawyers at The Network for Victim Recovery of DC. These women are part of the reason I made it through this process without completely falling apart. They helped me reframe what justice would look like for me: Living well, even after such a crack in my soul. I graduated college, even with my legs shaking. I am able to be there for other survivors in ways that non-survivors cannot be. And after my case was over, they connected me with someone from high up in the police department who took down my complaints and told me she was shocked that such an obvious case had been so poorly bungled. They also put me in front of a council in DC a year later to talk about the failures and indignities that I had endured on their watch. They inspire me to this day. I owe them so much.
  • Victim’s compensation checks. I used every dollar they gave me to go to therapy twice a week.
  • I learned about the depths of my resilience and the strong community that surrounds me.
  • I did what I felt was right for me to do. I really felt, deep in my soul, that I had to report. He was dangerous, and I was a virtual stranger to him who was leaving his city and didn’t have as much need to fear retaliation. I’m glad I did what I thought I was supposed to do. That doesn’t mean that sometimes, I wish that I could share my story as a #whyididntreport story rather than one that focuses on the immense failure of the legal system.

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This is a poem I wrote about one piece of my bitter experience with the legal system. It’s about when I got a check to buy new clothes in return for the ones I had handed over as evidence. Trigger warning: description of sexual assault.

“And All I Got Was”

He raped me
and all I got was a hundred dollar check
soaked with rain
through a broken mailbox
a year and a half later

I refused to hold it in my hands
and admit to myself
that instead of a guilty verdict
or even a court time
or even my cop’s belief in my story
I got my apology in the form
of a piece of paper

Covered with numbers instead of words
because there are no words sufficient to say
“Sorry you got raped
(passive voice intentional)
and sorry you had to give an outfit
for evidence (that wouldn’t get
examined until you begged for
basic decency and the fulfillment of
bare minimum job requirements)

Your forgiveness and healing can’t
be rushed or bought or covered up
but we sure can try
because this is all we’ve got for you”

The painful symbol expired
still wavy from water
after 60 days on my shelf
when “void” became its value
on the very same day I became ready
to step into the glass box of the ATM
and appreciate its benefits more
than escape its distressing origin

I had to beg for a repeat
of the same sham of justice
an empty and pitiful echo of the
broken, unwanted, time-wasting
dream, first deferred, then denied
of seeing my rapist be deprived of
the ability to walk among us
and possibly make another person
another number
on his list of conquests

A year later
my mailbox had another symbol
tucked within it
because while it took him
one interview to convince my detective
that he was innocent and I just
a foolish girl who “asked for it”
and “invited him in”
it took 957 days
for me to get a sense of
penance

To the man who forced a “yes”
and did not heed my “no”
I still pray for you
and those around you
the people who know you
longer than a single night
your parents, shielded from knowing
what you did to me
that night and so many nights since
in the form of technicolor memories
soured moments
broken trust
and relationships stretched
to the point of breaking
by traumas not theirs

“The justice system,” the unearned title
“You’re our priority,” the unlikely reality
“You brought it on,” the terrifying “truth”
from my “expert” and “advocate”
police officer
about what I “really” meant
when I relayed that this man
slammed my head
into a wall and left my
body, mind, and spirit riddled with
bruises and bite marks
and the beatings of society on top
of the other scratches

I pray for you
but that’s the only
sense of peace I got to pocket
Where did you learn such violence?
Was it from the Scriptures you said
you grew up adoring?
O LORD, my God,
make him understand
that to treat a sibling of God
with such disdain
is to dishonor
Your holy name
and stomp on it
with muddy boots and
a cracked-open soul
screaming out pain so searing
that nobody can bear it

Can I bear this?

I screamed at the sky
struggling with cosmic chaos like Job
Jacob and other giants of the faith
who wrestled with God long before me
wondering where (and why)
God’s divine intervention
missed the mark and
instead let me drown

But after all this time of trying
to make flowcharts and summary reports
and understandings of how
A leads to B
God is gently turning me
around to show me that
I don’t need to agonize about why
but instead imagine
what comes next

I bought with that hundred dollars
products from community organizations
that support people experiencing
oppression and violence
because I now know
what it means
to fear for my life
and so I will spend my life
creating spaces for others
to be able to flourish
instead

He raped me
and all I got was a hundred dollar check
and the priceless strength and empathy
that come with survivorship

what-culture

So what can we do in response? We can take care of ourselves in how we respond to overwhelming news headlines and flashbacks – whatever that looks like. Believe and support survivors. Teach our children not to rape rather than give advice to girls about how not to be raped. Talk to people who have dangerous attitudes, who believe that sexual assault survivors should always behave a certain way after an assault – or in general to prevent themselves from being assaulted in the first place – about the fact that their beliefs represent rape culture and that we can do better together. Keep moving forward with love and the fiery passion of people who know that something has to change and that this is the perfect moment.

Thank you, Dr. Ford and Anita Hill, for inspiring us to do better and for continuing a national conversation. Here’s to all of the survivors out there – all of you, with all of your different stories and choices you made after the fact. You are stronger than you know. I believe you, I see you, and I mourn with you that this happened to you. I am with you.

One thought on “Sexual Violence is a Personal, Public, and Political Health Issue. We Need to Believe Survivors.

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