I am Athena, goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, strength, law and justice. I am the voice of women and girls who have experienced sexual assault and cannot speak for themselves. It could be your grandmother, mother, daughter, sister, wife, partner, friend, aunt, niece or colleague . . . but you wouldn’t know because they’ve never shared their story.
You look at your best friend, and think, “Oh that could never happen to her”. . . but it did. She doesn’t talk about it. She does not want to relive that time in her life and how it changed her forever. If you were to have a conversation about the incident, she would offer vague details . . . it was in the summer, maybe June. She remembers it was a warm summer night and the windows were open. She blames herself – she should have closed the windows.
If encouraged to share more of her story, she may hesitate. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is like that – problems recounting the specifics. She remembers the gun, or was it a knife, at her side? She remembers thinking to herself, “just do what he says and you won’t die.”
What happened afterwards is a blur. She thought about calling the police, but decided ‘NO’ because in her mind they’ll assume it was her fault – “you should have closed your windows.” So she doesn’t call the police. She calls a friend, who is working the night shift. Her friend tells her to call the police immediately, but again, she says ‘NO.’ The friend calls the police. It’s now 5 a.m. so she makes a fresh pot of coffee. Police like coffee.
She changes her clothes five times because she doesn’t want to send a message of “you deserved it, look at how you’re dressed.” They arrive. They’re kind. They listen. She sees the futility in their eyes about finding the perpetrator. Their questions never end and are often repeated. Now it’s off to the hospital for an examination. She thinks to herself – what for? They’re going to take the samples and put them on the shelf. They’ll probably get lost like so many others she’s heard about. She’s home now. Alone. She wants to go to work, but stands frozen at the front door. Windows closed. Doors locked. She doesn’t feel safe or secure. She senses that this isn’t reality.
She’s been given an appointment to see a counselor who asks her to “close her eyes and tell her what she sees.” She thinks to herself “If I close my eyes I’ll lose touch with reality and never come back.” She tells the counselor ‘NO.’ The counselor asks her to recount the events – she notices her heart is racing, palms are sweaty and she is gasping for air. She can’t do this. She leaves – It’s all too much. She tells no one – not her mother, sisters, friends or colleagues. She learns it best not to talk about it. She doesn’t want to relive it over and over and over.
20 years later
When a door slams, she jumps. When someone comes up behind her unexpectedly, she panics and her heart races in fight or flight fashion. Not always, but frequently enough that when it does, it brings up “the memory” that she’s worked hard at forgetting. It never goes away. Ever!
The courage of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and others to make their voices heard over the din of naysayers speaks volumes for women and girls who have been the victim of sexual assault. Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every 8 minutes, that victim is a child. Rape is the most underreported crime. Why? Reasons given are fear of reprisal, belief that the police would not/could not do anything help, do not want family/others to know, fear of the justice system, fear of lack of evidence, not enough proof or not important enough to report. Only 15-35 percent of all sexual assaults are reported to police. The rate of false reporting – between 2 and 10 percent. Statistics are facts.
What can you do?
If you or someone you know has been the victim of a sexual assault, what can you do?
- Listen. Be there. Communicate without judgment.
- If she wants to seek medical attention or plans to report, offer to be there. Your presence can offer the support she needs.
- Encourage her to get support/counseling
- Be patient. Remember, there is no timetable for recovering from trauma. Avoid putting pressure on her to engage in activities she is not ready to do yet.
- Encourage her to practice good self-care during this difficult time.
Steps to take
If you witness someone being harassed or hear someone making inappropriate comments:
- First – Assess the situation
- Second – Directly address the person doing the harassing.
- Be FIRM – don’t apologize.
- Say something like – “That’s harassment” or “That’s inappropriate.”
- Let the person know that what they are doing is wrong.
- Offer a distraction if the situation appears to be escalating
- Enlist support of others around you
- Document it!
Benjamin Franklin spoke volumes when he said “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Last month, we witnessed an outcry from women across the country. They marched, they protested, they stood vigil, they occupied the Congressional building Washington, D.C., and yes, there were arrested.
It was a repeat of the Suffragettes experience in the early 1900s – equal rights for women. Yes, we were empowered with the right to vote – after 49 years of petitioning the Continental Congress 1871-1920 – but little else. Susan B. Anthony said it well, “There shall never be another season of silence until women have the same rights men have on this green earth.” It seems that 100 years later our voices, our experiences and our beliefs about equality and justice continue to be met with indifference.
A message to all – we will not be silenced. We will make our voices heard. We will move forward toward women’s equality and justice.
Join us . . . Be a voice!