24 Sep The Shaming of the Survivor
News over the last year has been both empowering and damaging around the topic of sexual abuse (harassment, assault, rape). The #MeToo movement has given many the courage to come forward with stories of abuse long untold. It has also caused many to re-live long buried traumatic memories. However, my eternal hope is that it has caused many to find support and begin the process of healing which takes big-time courage.
Shaming the survivor is on my mind heavily right now as we move into the Supreme Court nomination process. This is not a political blog from a party standpoint. It is about the alarmingly high volume of victim-shaming language that has been all over the news and social media. Getting louder and louder by the day.
Conversation bleeds into work places, family dinners, and social gatherings. The use of shame-based language causes survivors to re-experience shame, guilt, fear, anger, and grief.
Below are some examples of shame-based language, reasons why a person may lean towards blaming the victim rather than supporting, and how to help yourself if you find these conversations trigger you.
If the news is too much, turn it off. It will go on with or without you. You deserve some peace.
Shame/Blame Based Language
- Why didn’t she/he tell anyone?
- Where were her/his parents?
- It was so long ago. How could she/he remember so many details?
- Does he deserve to be held accountable for something that happened so long ago?
- Boys will be boys.
- Well, shouldn’t she/he have known better than to drink so much?
- I would never have stood for that! She/he deserved it.
Why Blame the Survivor?
- We want the world to be a good and fair place. When family members, ministers, teachers, or public figures are accused of acts of sexual violence, it doesn’t make sense. To say, “The accuser must be mistaken or lying,” quells the fear that the world is unfair.
- If we acknowledge the survivor’s story is true, what do we do about it? A person may feel like they aren’t strong enough to stand up to an abuser. When the accusation “proves” to be false we go back to a safe life, no action needed.
- Believing the victim disrupts political beliefs and goals.
- Sometimes those with a trauma history feel threatened and angry due to deeply internalized shame. Thoughts like, “How dare they?” or “Their situation was not that bad they should suck it up and move on (like I did),” may motivate shaming.
If one of these points or statements above resonates for you, it’s normal and it’s also time to get curious. Lose the judgment and check in with yourself.
- What is really going on for you?
- Why are you leaping first to trying to understand the alleged perpetrator, not the victim?
- Why do you want to find fault with the victim?
- Do you view this topic differently when politics aren’t involved?
Additionally, curiosity works with co-workers, friends, or family members too. Open up a conversation with true curiosity that will help you gain understanding. Hopefully, it will dissipate the anger you may be feeling towards each other. Be sensitive when airing your views, you won’t always know the history of the people around you.
Unfortunately, the reality is that most survivors of sexual violence do not come forward. If they do, it is generally years after the event. In terms of false reporting, only 2-8% of rapes are falsely reported which is the same percentage as for other felonies. Statistically speaking it makes more sense to believe the victim until the perpetrator is proven innocent instead of the other way around. For more facts to dispel the myths: The US Dept of Justice Myths and Facts
Steps to Take if Triggered
- Breathe deeply into your diaphragm and exhale slowly a few times to calm your body. Click here for techniques: ANXIETY REDUCING TIP #1: BREATHE
- Get outside for a quick walk around the block or office building. A change of scenery and fresh air can help with grounding and bringing your mind back into the present.
- Call a friend or family member that knows your story and has the capacity to offer support and nurture you.
- Offer yourself compassion. Gently pat your heart and whisper something soothing to yourself like “It will be ok” or “I’m safe.”
- Based on your own level of healing, speak your truth or voice your beliefs as calmly and concisely as possible. Because speaking up can increase your power,“Speak up even if your voice shakes.”
If you are a survivor of sexual violence, your story may be weighing more heavily within you right now. Your experience of sexual violence could have happened a long time ago. You may not have fought back and yes, you remember every detail, and again yes, you may never have told a soul.
You deserve to be heard and believed. Healing is possible. You don’t need to carry this heavy load alone. Reach out if you would like to discuss therapy, working with me or to gain a referral.
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network): www.rainn.org
The Trauma Took Kit: Healing PTSD from the Inside Out by Sarah Pease Bannitt, LCSW
The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, 20th Anniversary Edition by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis (there is a workbook too)
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD
Kate Murphy, LMSW
Kate Murphy, a therapist in Berkeley Lake, specializes in helping you decrease stress and anxiety. You can live a more balanced, connected, and meaningful life. Kate works with individuals and couples over the age of 18 to support healing, communicating, and experiencing joy more often.