We’ve talked before about how people have preconceived notions in their head of how they would deal with something if it happened to them. We all do it. We all imagine if someone broke into our house, we would do *this* or if we were stranded in our car late at night, we could do *that* or – especially if you’re female or vulnerable – if we’re jumped or attacked, we would do “x, y and z”. Some of us have more elaborate plans than others but we all pretty much have an idea of what we think would be our typical response.
Silence, as in our own silence, is not typically something we count on.
“I would be telling everyone what this %*#! did to me” is something I hear thrown out on occasion. “Damn right! I would make sure everyone knew what a creepy – slimebag this person is” – or something along those lines.
And some people do. Some people talk loud and long and keep talking until someone hears them and listens but most people, the vast majority, don’t.
We forget that most victims know their assailants. You see, when we’re thinking of all these scenarios, we often think about it in relation to a stranger jumping out of the bushes or whatever the equivalent of that is. We don’t think of scenarios that involve cousin Bob or uncle Tom or sister Sue (fictional examples). Contributing factor number one to keeping quiet. People often have relationships on some level with their assailants. They don’t want someone who they previously cared about going to jail. They don’t want to break up someone’s family. They don’t want that young man’s promising career in a medical field to be jeopardized. They don’t want to be the cause of other people’s pain.
On top of this, there are many things people commonly feel that help them stay quiet. Humiliation is big. It’s humiliating to have to tell someone the details of what has happened to you. This makes it even more difficult to speak about it. Along with that is shame. Shame is also something that many folks feel after a sexual assault or in relation to sexual abuse. This shame also has the added benefit of silencing victims from coming forward.
Another emotion that can cause silence is embarrassment. This is also another common feeling after an assault. It is incredibly embarrassing to have to answer personal, pointed questions about your body and your reactions as you describe what most view as a sexual act even though it’s been used in a violent way.
You can never underestimate the power of fear. It can freeze you and paralyze you in ways that you don’t understand unless you’ve been in a life threatening situation. Fear can keep you silent, even when someone asks you “did this happen to you?” In fact, it is very common for many people to say ‘no’ and deny that it happened at that point.
Assailants reinforce these feelings and use them against victims as a way to keep them quiet. They do this through the things they say to the victims before, during and after an assault.
May is sexual assault prevention and awareness month in Ontario. For more information about how sexual assault, please visit http://www.sexassault.ca/