It’s a little sad how often I see articles explaining why sexual abuse victims keep their secret years and years into adulthood, or older sexual assault survivors wait years before coming forward. Over the years I’ve linked to at least half a dozen articles about it, told my own story, and read so many other stories. Yet, here we are in 2023 and the first question out of too many mouths when a claim is actually made in public is “Why didn’t you tell someone sooner?”
Never mind the fact that they might have tried to tell someone and got shut down.
Never mind the fact that they might have told someone who didn’t believe them
Never mind the fact that telling someone is going to create a massive conflict within their own family.
Never mind the fact that it’s extremely unlikely that any sort of conviction will occur if they tell the police.
Never mind the fact that they will now, and maybe forever, be seen as damaged goods by a large segment of society.
Never mind that no matter how heinous the crime, they’ll have to answer question after question about what they did to provoke it.
Obviously, waiting only proves that it’s not true, right? Because going public is easy.
If I can share one more link with you on the topic, I think what Gabi Lardes writes in response to this question about going public in New Zealand lays out the situation as well as anyone has.
When you read all of the reasons why, the obvious question is not why survivors wait so long, but why do they ever talk about it at all? Gabi has some reasons, including the opportunity to access resources that can help with healing. Keeping it a secret and never finding a safe place to talk about it is not good for anyone. The decision to be “public” or to go to court is one that should not be taken lightly. We’ve all seen too many stories of what happens in a legal proceeding and the court of public opinion to survivors. As a society, we should be better than that.
If we are going to make even the slightest dent in what Gabi calls the “most underreported crime” we have to make it safer for victims to come forward. We have to stop questioning when and why someone claims to have been sexually assaulted. We have to stop looking for all the reasons they brought it on themselves and start looking for all the people (yes, all genders) who feel safe and comfortable doing this to another human being.
Surviving sexual abuse is hard enough. Given how long it takes for victims to tell anyone and the fact that many never do, we are clearly making it harder for them.
That fact does not say anything good about us as a soceity.