I share … a lot. I write, talk, present, text, converse, post, tweet, and share photos. I consider the variety of outlets that I have to be a way to communicate with others and to connect with myself. I share a lot about who I am, where I’ve been, where I’m at, and how I’m taking in the world. I share about how trauma, oppression, and violence impact our daily lives, relationships, and communities.
Opening up and sharing my own experiences of rape and sexual assault has never really gotten any easier, be it in person or via social media. There’s always a small voice that screams at me to change the topic or encourages me to repeatedly hit the delete key. I am always scared that I will have to defend my actions, responses, and a whole myriad of other things. I always pause and ask myself whether this is something I want to get into now, here, and with this person. I think about whether it will be beneficial for me and for the other(s) involved. I try to discern what the reactions will be, what questions I will have to answer, and how I will feel after it happens. I do all of this in a matter of seconds and hope that I make the correct decision.
Each time, I consider that circumventing a question, lying, or glossing over an answer would be so much easier. I have years of experience of doing just that. I can spin a question, change a topic, or feign an answer without batting an eye and in a way that the other person will forget what the original topic or question was. For years this was a defense mechanism that I heavily relied on. But more and more, I find myself wondering what exactly is made easier by these tactics. They save me from having to tell yet another person not to feel sorry for me and from their expressions of pity. They save me from having to rescue yet another conversation as people grapple for what to say next or figure out how to continue interacting with me.
Perhaps these tactics originally served a purpose, especially when I was still coming to terms with each experience and their impact on me. However, I also question whether that process would have been necessary had my communities, and society in general, been more supportive, understanding, and accommodating for rape survivors. Because in actuality, these tactics don’t actually make things easier for me. Circumventing questions or glossing over information makes it easier for the other person. I reshape stories of my past to make them more publicly presentable or I try to remember lies I previously told so that I can weave stories together seamlessly. It’s an egregious amount of effort so I don’t make someone else feel uncomfortable in that moment.
I realize the fears, doubts, and voice are what I’ve learned from a society that is more likely to protect the status quo, perpetrators of violence, and those who hold privilege. Still it is hard to stand in the midst of all that and continue to be in the minority of voices demanding to be validated, recognized, and respected. But I feel that it’s necessary to be in that chorus for myself, for others who may not be able to share their own truths, and for people to learn that rape and sexual assault are the daily lived experiences for many.
Putting my story and voice out into the world has been incredibly rewarding for my own personal growth. It also means connecting with people in my life and ensuring that they have access to knowledge, resources, support, and a face to connect to the issue. While taking on this vocal role has meant that people in my life have an outlet, it also carries costs which shouldn’t be overlooked.
It means that…
- in the past week, I’ve heard accounts of rape or sexual abuse of five different people. These stories come from friends, family members, acquaintances and range from years ago to a couple days ago. I wish I could say this was abnormal but it isn’t.
- I will rarely go to a party, event, bar, or social gathering without getting a disclosure of rape or sexual assault.
- when my sister wakes up from nightmares triggered by my experiences of rape and sexual assault that she is going to call me crying.
- I will be connected to people I’ve never met by e-mail or phone in order to answer questions, give resources, or validate feelings and reactions.
- I’ll be consulted on best practices, projects, trainings, and educational materials regarding rape and sexual assault.
- friends will call me after reading stories of rape because they need someone to talk to, commiserate with, or vent about how awful it is that rape and sexual assault exist.
- I will support a person who is handling a single or handful of sexual violence incidents because they didn’t realize how positively overwhelming it would be.
- I will get calls or messages in the middle of the night asking for help or a friendly voice as friends try to come down from a panic attack or trigger or are trying to support someone through this process.
- people will solicit advice on how to respond to loved ones who have been through rape or sexual assault because they are unsure how to be supportive.
- I will lose touch with a person for years and then receive an in-depth message with a story of a recent rape or sexual assault and requests for help or resources in other parts of the country.
- I develop friendships by being a support person knowing full well that once this person is through the crisis moment that our friendship may no longer continue.
I can’t begin to count the number of stories of rape and sexual assault that I’ve heard from strangers, friends, acquaintances, and loved ones. I hold these stories so that others may have support, a resource, and a place to turn. But each one of them weighs on me. I feel the weight of how many individuals don’t have the support systems they deserve. I feel the weight of people struggling to support the survivors in their lives but still sometimes contributing to the shame, guilt, and revictimization. I feel the weight of how incredibly damaging, violent, and unforgiving society is. What may seem like one story, five minutes, or a quick question is really an addition to the trauma I am already carrying and the sum is so much greater than the parts.
Despite the impacts, I know so many people, in addition to myself, who will continue to fill this role. I question what the world would look like if we all provided this type of space and support for each other? It’s not that people don’t want to talk about their experiences of rape and sexual assault but rather that they don’t know how or where to turn. Once you give someone that safe environment they will cling to it because they know that it can disappear just as fast as it arrived. We can’t continue to expect the few to take care of the many. Not when sexual violence is as prevalent as it is and when its impacts reach far beyond each individual survivor.
The illusion that this practice is sustainable for anyone—survivors, communities, and those providing support—contributes to trauma, prevents healing, and limits our ability to make real change.