Sexual Assault Victims Who Turn on Sexual Assault Victims

Sexual Assault Victims Who Turn on Sexual Assault Victims October 1, 2018
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Most sexual assault survivors are supportive of other survivors, but sometimes a sexual assault victim comes along who isn’t supportive. Sometimes these victims are outright hostile toward survivors. It can be hard to understand why these fellow victims would try to throw other victims under the bus. In my experience, there are a few reasons this might happen, and I believe it’s important for us to be aware of these reasons as we’re having these difficult conversations.

Safety in Silence

A victim who hasn’t reported her assault might see victims who do report as a threat. There are all sorts of reasons a victim might not report their assault. It might be because they don’t want to go through the ordeal of reporting when they know it’s highly unlikely to accomplish anything. It might be because they’re living in a situation that makes it unsafe for them to report. It could be because they don’t think anyone will believe them. It might even be because they’re worried about losing their social status if they come forward.

For whatever reason, many victims believe it’s safest to remain silent. As much as I support reporting, in some cases, that’s accurate. It’s not always in the victim’s best interest to report. However, it is in society’s best interest for most victims to report since we can’t fix something when we don’t know there’s a problem. And that’s where things get messy.

We don’t like to feel judged about the choices we make. Some people are capable of understanding their situation isn’t the same as everyone else’s situation, so they can understand that someone else making a choice that’s different from their own doesn’t mean they made the wrong choice. Other people don’t see the world that way. They feel like anyone who has made a different choice is saying the choice they made was wrong. When you see reporting sexual assault in that light, it’s easy to see how victims who don’t report could feel judged and attacked simply by the fact that other victims have reported their assaults. It comes from the “my way is the only correct way, in all contexts” line of thinking.

Most survivors who have reported their assaults aren’t actually judging anyone who doesn’t report. We understand the cost. Most of us advocate for coming forward in your own time, when and if you feel you can handle it. Some people will never be able to handle it, and that’s OK.

When you see someone who says they’re a victim, but then comes down on victims who make their accusations public, this might be what you’re actually dealing with. They might feel judged and feel like the safety of their silence is being threatened, not by predators, but by victims who refuse to be silent.

They may even feel guilty about staying quiet while so many other survivors are out there speaking up. Guilt is a powerful motivator. Rather than dealing with their feelings of guilt, they might go for avoidance of triggers instead. Instead of realizing the prevalence of sexualized violence in our culture is the actual trigger, they’ll go after the safer target: victims who are speaking up and reminding them of their own trauma.

They Might Actually be a Jerk

Anyone can be the victim of sexual assault. Women. Men. Straight. LGBTQ. Adults. Children. Elders.

And jerks. Jerks can be sexually assaulted too.

I want to be clear. Nobody deserves to be sexually assaulted. I’m out here advocating for the right of jerks to live their lives free of sexualized violence too. But it’s important to understand that a person being a victim doesn’t somehow make them exempt from being, well, kind of terrible.

Someone who is sexist might also be a victim of sexual assault. (Remember, women can be sexist against women. Being a woman doesn’t make someone immune to harming women.) Someone who is narcissistic and doesn’t care at all about the suffering of others might also be a victim of sexual assault.

People tend to have this vision of the perfect victim when they talk about these cases. If someone doesn’t fit that image, they’re mentally discarded from the label. But that’s not reality. In reality, someone can be both a victim and a victimizer. Victims can actively work against other victims and enable abuse to continue.

Challenge to Their Belief System

It’s easy to point the finger at other groups when sexualized violence is exposed. It’s much harder to look inside our own walls and acknowledge it.

Some victims will turn on other victims when it threatens their belief system or their “tribe.” The reality is sexualized violence is a problem for every group of people. Nobody is immune.

We tend to get defensive when our worldview is challenged. Often, it’s not about the allegations so much as it’s about these victims refusing to evaluate their belief systems. When someone’s identity is wrapped up in something like a political identity or a religious identity, even victims who might otherwise empathize with fellow victims will turn on them and go on the attack. Even if they aren’t consciously aware of doing it, they’re willing to sacrifice their fellow victims on the altar of pride to maintain the comfort of believing they’re right.

It’s a defensive move that isn’t based in reality or logic.

Misunderstanding Assault or Not Wanting to Face it

Some victims will downplay what happened to them as a coping mechanism. Full disclosure: This is something I personally struggle with, so I get it.

Here’s the trouble: If I’m downplaying my experience of being sexually assaulted, what does that mean when one of my friends comes to me and tells me the exact same thing happened to her? Do I continue to downplay what happened, which means I have to be dismissive of my friend’s experience in order to keep up the illusion that what happened to me was no big deal? Or do I support my friend and acknowledge that what happened to her was a very big deal, which means I have to finally face what happened to me and deal with it?

It’s a difficult position to be in. When we were walking around with our stories in isolation, it was much easier to pretend we had overreacted to what happened. It’s not so easy when you realize just how many other survivors are out there with stories identical to yours, and just how big of an impact it had on them.

I’m not saying someone who has coped well with their assault needs to suddenly have a meltdown. I’m talking about people who never did cope with their assault. They never actually worked through it because they were too busy acting like it wasn’t a big deal.

We’re a year into #MeToo. One of the most important things I saw last year was survivors realizing it’s OK to view their own assaults as a problem. It gave us permission to call assault what it is instead of pretending it’s normal behavior. When a man just up and grabs your breasts when you don’t want him to, that’s assault. There’s no reason to downplay it just because it wasn’t worse. Being groped is more than bad enough to justify the impact it had on you.

But some survivors still aren’t there. For years, some of us walk around saying, “Well, what happened to me wasn’t really sexual assault,” when it absolutely was. That doesn’t mean we all need to have equal reactions to it. If someone is able to move forward from it fairly easily, that’s valid, but it doesn’t make her experience any less of an assault.

Some victims want to believe that it’s normal for boys to grope girls. If they believe it happens to everyone and it’s no big deal, then they don’t have to deal with seeing themselves as a victim of assault. It’s how they avoid dealing with their own issues.

The trouble with that is it minimizes the sexual assault of survivors who are speaking up. It adds to the trauma these other survivors are facing when they get the courage to speak up, and someone with an identical experience swoops in to shut them down and tell the world what happened to them wasn’t actually a problem.

How should we handle this issue?

Victims shutting down other victims is a huge problem. While we’re out here trying to convince everyone that sexual assault is a problem and does need to be addressed, some of our fellow victims are out here actively working against us.

A survivor steps forward and shares her story. Then another victim steps forward and says, “Well, that happened to me too and it’s no big deal.”

Who are most people going to listen to? Are they going to listen to the survivor who is making them uncomfortable and, just by the fact that she exists and has given them information, is requiring them to make a positive change in our culture? Or are they going to listen to the victim who is basically saying, “Move along. Everything is fine. You’re fine. You don’t need to change anything. Just go back to watching Hulu. Nothing to see here.”

This is why it’s so dangerous when victims weaponize their victimhood against other sexual assault survivors. There is no reason to tolerate it, even from fellow victims. We can try to be gentle with them when this happens, and understanding why some victims behave this way is helpful for that, but we also need to hold them accountable for getting in the way of positive change. After all, we’re trying to help all victims, including the ones who are working against us.

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  • “In reality, someone can be both a victim and a victimizer. ”

    In reality, most victimizers ARE victims. Or as Rosanne Barr put it- hurt people have a tendency to hurt people.

    In fact, I would not be surprised to find that McCarrick learned how to treat seminarians from his own seminary professors, back 60 or 70 years ago. We certainly know from the Pennsylvania report that abuse was happening back then.

    And we know from Moira Greyland’s _The Last Closet_ that her father’s addition to homosexual pederasty stemmed directly from his experience in a Catholic orphanage in upstate New York in the 1940s.

    Hurt people Hurt people.

    I was a face blind autistic who had no idea how to show love when I unknowingly molested a cousin back in the 1980s. I learned my lesson from that and moved on, she didn’t, and she’s now a he- I wasn’t her only abuser, but delving into the world of lesbianism and transgender was now his way of dealing with the pain. I tried to make amends, but that side of the family requested that I just stay away, and I have. A regret I’ll carry with me always.

    Hurt people will hurt people.

    I let an abusing priest, that I knew had been accused, officiate at my wedding in 1999. I did not want to believe the accusation. I knew by then people DO change. But all the same, the accusation was credible enough that he was a sample case for the bankruptcy of the Archdiocese of Portland.

    Hurt people cause more harm to those they love.

    Finally, you have a jock jerk like Kavenaugh. I never believed half of what they said they had done- I saw no way to be a party boy *and* put in the time to be a good athlete AND get good grades. Choose any two. And that’s why I don’t believe the thin evidence the accusers have provided anymore.

    There are no truthful people when it comes to events 35 years ago. There are no truthful cultures when it comes to events 300 years ago.

  • I have a bad cold right now, but I’m going to try to break down what’s relevant to the post.

    I don’t know how old you were when you molested your cousin. I’ve known children who were very young when they did that to another child, and they really didn’t understand what they were doing or that it was wrong. It sounds like you now realize it was wrong and you are respecting your cousin and your cousin’s family by staying away, as requested. You’re doing the right thing in taking responsibility for your actions, even though you weren’t trying to hurt anyone. The problem is with people who won’t admit they did something wrong and don’t face the consequences of their actions.

    Hurt people *sometimes* hurt other people. I’ve never raped or sexually assaulted anyone. Most victims have never sexually assaulted anyone. I dislike the phrase, “Hurt people hurt people.” It comes across as excusing the behaviors of people who choose to be abusive. A young child might not understand what they’re doing, but a teenager does. And adult does. The fact that they’ve been abused is no excuse for abusing anyone else.

    There are truthful people when it comes to events that happened that long ago. I find the accusations against him to be *very* credible. This isn’t about politics for me. This is based on what I know about victims and predators. Sexual assault cases hinge on the testimony of the victim since there’s usually not much other possible evidence. (It’s not like most predators do this in front of twelve witnesses who don’t have a stake in remaining silent for their own benefit.) I’ve known party kids who were top ten in their class. It’s called being a functional alcoholic and it’s fairly common.

  • Both under the age of 15, and she was under the age of 10. Plus I have a developmental disability, so your blanket ” A young child might not understand what they’re doing, but a teenager does.” is painfully inaccurate in my case. Even “And adult does.” as it took me until I was 21 to realize just how much I hurt her, is painfully inaccurate.

    Sometimes the hurt isn’t even from abuse. Sometimes the hurt is a birth defect.

    Add to that the sexual revolution’s flawed version of consent, which can be revoked decades later through faulty memory, and your assumption that predators knew what they were doing at the time completely falls apart. An act that a teenager or young adult might assume was consensual, really wasn’t- there was enough regret that it turned from consensual playing around while drunk, to rape.

    May I remind you that supposedly Brett Kavenaugh did this in front of enough witnesses who *do not* have a stake in remaining silent that somebody should have told, but nobody ever did until well after his fifth FBI investigation? And yet, everybody who can actually be proven to have been present at any of the actions, seems to deny he’s a rapist. Mean drunk, yes, but rapist, no.

    I find the accusation incredible due to a severe lack of physical evidence, nothing more. The stories *sound* credible until you examine them closely, then they fall apart.

    Which is why the Democrats now want to investigate purgatory, having failed to prove rape.

    And also why, in the end, while taking responsibility for my actions, I watch my son like a hawk around his two younger female cousins (and around his male cousins as well) for he is lower functioning than I was at that age when it comes to sexuality. I’ve also hammered it into his head that since sex is for making children, sexual activity should ALWAYS be restricted to marriage; and that to go out with a woman that you aren’t engaged to and intending to stay with for the rest of your life is a really bad idea.

  • Since I don’t know you and I’m not a psychologist, I’m not in a position to judge whether you were or were not aware of sexually assaulting your cousin at the time. I’ve known many children and teenagers with various issues, but I’m not familiar with your specific case. All I have to go on is your word and I don’t know how credible you are since we’re strangers and I’ve got no other evidence.

    Ford claimed Kavanaugh assaulted her in front of only one witness, Mark Judge. He does have a reason to remain silent and it’s possible he was too drunk to remember. I encourage you to read about these cases again because the facts you’ve stated aren’t accurate. Multiple people were in that location, but Dr. Ford has said only Kavanuagh, Mark Judge, and herself were in the room when the assault happened. And what physical evidence would there be from an attempted rape?

    I think you’re wise to watch your son carefully. I watch my children closely as well. I don’t go so far as to think teenagers or adults shouldn’t go out with someone unless they’re engaged. (I’m pretty anti-courtship, having had run-ins with that when I was a teenager and seeing some serious damage from that, but I don’t have a major problem with people who disagree and choose to do that for themselves.)

  • Autism doesn’t make people molest, and it isn’t an excuse, and people who like to blame their grossly indecent behaviour on autism do a vast disservice to the rest of us, and enable people who want to use our diagnosis of autism against us.

  • As an autistic, let me tell you:

    Your autism is no excuse for what you did. It hasn’t “hurt” you, and all you’re doing is propagating a pathetic sob-story to attempt to absolve yourself of guilt.