The confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh has blown the lid off of the issue of widespread sexual abuse/assault in our society. It’s like an ugly underbelly that is so uncomfortable and complicated that no one wants to look at it. It’s the open secret that many people know about, but refuse to address. I’ve been tossing around different ideas for solutions in my mind all week. I’m asking myself the same questions over and over without a solid solution. What is the #metoo movement actually doing for us? How do you change the expectation of silence that victims feel? How do you educate a public that wants to portray victims/survivors as liars? I have felt very demoralized by the state of our society and government that it almost doesn’t feel worth going through the fight. What makes the fight worth it? When I ask myself that question the answer is always clear. My kids deserve to live in a better world, a better society. It’s not about how I feel at this point. It’s about what I’m going to do to ensure they have better experiences than I did.
I posted my experience with assaults last week. It was liberating to do it. I was prepared for the feelings that would come with writing it all down. Feelings like shame, embarrassment, anxiety and nausea were all things I knew were coming with such a post. There were two particular feelings I was prepared for that did not come though. Isolation and the sinking feeling of being alone, carrying a burden all by myself. These were notably absent. Why? After posting I was flooded with harrowing stories from women and men that have experienced many of the same things I did. Comments and messages flowing in all day about how my story resonated with so many people. I was far from alone. I was far from isolated.
The following week I scrolled through my various feeds finding post after post of people sharing the abuse, assaults and harassment they have suffered in silence until now. I read countless reasons why people don’t report these experiences, every reason as valid as the last. Look at all these people. There are so many that decided that in order to survive they must bury the hurt, carry it with them as they navigate through life. We have to watch people debate the question, ‘how can a person remember this kind of thing 36 years later?’ I hate to answer a question with another question, but how can a person forget?
Everytime I see a certain vehicle, I think about it. Everytime my kids come to my room in the night because they are scared, I think about it. Just last night my husband was watching John Mellencamp speak and I thought about it. ‘Triggers,’ right? We hear that word tossed around, but what does it really mean? It means the countless things that happen in everyday life that should have no meaning, but do for you. That’s why I don’t like beef jerky, that’s why I don’t like camping, hiking or being outdoors. I hate sharks, Jurassic Park and Charlie Brown.
But of course, like all other survivors, I am forced to reconcile these irrational feelings with the life I have today. I have an autistic son that is obsessed with sharks and dinosaurs. Is this a sick joke or the reality of life post trauma? So I ask again, how does a person forget? This very same phenomenon is the reason why I believe that survivors of sexual assault/abuse are some of the strongest people walking among us. Because each person is forced to face their demons on a daily basis for years upon years. They learn to act normal, happy and unaffected. It may sound dramatic, but I think for many it’s happening. So, how do we address this convoluted problem that impacts so many people?
One of the solutions I believe is to start reporting to the police. It sounds so harsh. I can tell you from reporting to the police and going through a full jury trial myself that it is very harsh. It took four years of hearings and a three day trial to feel like justice might be served only to lose the case in the end. For a long time I felt like it was all for nothing. I felt like the only thing I got out of it was the fact that I would be able to tell my kids that often the right thing to do is the hardest thing to do. After watching what happened to Dr. Ford it feels like there is no point or incentive to go to authorities with a complaint. I totally get that. I just can’t help but think that the only way to improve the system is to let the system know what they’re dealing with. I wasn’t sure if urging people to call the police was even a feasible solution.
So I decided to call the prosecutor that worked on my case. We talked for about 45 minutes about everything from Kavanaugh to my own case to the repercussions this will have on society. She said the #metoo movement has been helpful in educating the general public more about the subject which is a step in the right direction. I asked her, ‘What if everyone just started calling police with their stories? Whether it happened 50 years ago or yesterday. What would happen?’ Every case must be investigated. Every one. If a case doesn’t have enough corroboration it still gets documented. She said the good thing about that is that if other calls come in about the same person they can establish a pattern of behavior which makes a case stronger. She went on about how many very valid reasons people have for being silent, which are all very understandable. When she’s arguing a case she always spends time educating the jury about why this person waited and why it makes sense. It seems like such a big obstacle. But what if people did start reporting? What if we just inundate the people charged with protecting us with all of these stories that I’ve seen over the last week? Would that help anything? She seemed to think it might.
I wish there was a clear way to shift from this stage of shining a light on the problem to having real conversations about the solutions. Right now we have people debating about things they don’t know much about. Like why aren’t people reporting at the time of the incident? We all know why people don’t report. If you need more examples just look up #WhyIDidntReport and you will find an endless feed of reasons. I didn’t report my own abuse until I was 26 years old. Self care and survival is at the top of every survivors list, as it should be. There are always valid reasons for not reporting. But when do we move past these reasons and start reporting?
The answer will be different for everyone, but I hope the answer isn’t never. Policemen, investigators, lawmakers, counselors, social workers, child protective service workers, teachers, church leaders, daycare providers, babysitters and anyone else that has a hand in protecting our kids need to know the magnitude of this issue. If we continue the unspoken rule of not reporting then we will never hand these people the tools they need to raise the bar of society. I remember the first time I realized that my life was weird. I was sitting in 8th grade health class. I can’t remember exactly what we were talking about, but I remember feeling really confused. What was being taught didn’t match my life experiences thus far. What if in that moment there was a trained adult in the room. Trained to see when a child is confused. Would that have changed things for me or for anyone else?
By reporting, we force the system to look at all these different circumstances and figure out how to come up with solutions. It would force the system to define in clear terms what type of assaults carry what type of punishments. It would force the system to develop consistent guidelines on how to deal with all kinds of situations. Holding people accountable for their actions would hopefully improve the behavior of individuals over time. By getting real statistics, the school system, the foster care system, the healthcare system, the judicial system and various others can make real changes that could help support survivors instead of sweeping them under the rug. These types of changes are only possible if victims of assault start to report at a higher rate. I understand that this is such wishful thinking, but what if it was possible for our kids to live in a world where the basic expectation was to call the police in the event of an assault? I just want to figure out how to get there.
To the survivors that have made it to the other side and are able, I urge you to call the police and report what happened to you. It will be hard now, but in the long run it will help everyone. In order to solve the problem we must clearly define it. We must communicate the size and scope. The only way I can see doing that is to report the issues to the people that are charged with protecting us. Now, I say those who are ‘able’ because there are plenty of people who can’t. The perpetrator may be a family member, a friend or someone you love. You may have no support. Silence is about survival and survival must be remain you’re number one priority. I don’t want any survivor to think that not reporting is the wrong thing to do. There is no handbook for sexual assault survivors and I understand that. I understand if now isn’t the right time. Continue to trust your instincts. I just hope that everyone can at least plant the seed of reporting in your mind as something that might happen someday. Even that is a step in the right direction.
I want to reiterate how inspired I have felt by all the people that have shared their stories. It takes such bravery to do so and I hope that you continue spreading your strength to others. The more people that are willing educate others about this the more likely a much needed cultural shift will happen. I also want the people who don’t share to know that you are strong too. Strength comes in many forms. I’m confident the people in your life are better just for being around you.