Marissa Explains it All #41 – “Why Didn’t You Just…”

TW: Sexual assault

I was sexually assaulted in the summer of 2014. Twice.

Once was by a guy who gave me a roofied drink. Once was by a woman who didn’t listen to me say the word “no” repeatedly.

Since that time, I have read countless stories, talked to countless people, and seen countless events unfold where people have been assaulted, threatened, abused, and worse. There’s one thing that they all seem to have in common, more or less: Someone saying “Why didn’t you just X?”

Maybe X is “Why didn’t you just leave if he was abusing you?” or “Why didn’t you just call the police if you were assaulted?” Regardless of what X is, it’s indicative of a first reaction that a good percentage of people seem to have when listening to someone else’s story. The instinct to find out what they could’ve done differently, or what they did wrong, or what they didn’t do in time, or how they didn’t handle it. “Why didn’t you just X” is the epitome of victim-blaming. At least as much as “we live in such a victim culture” is a kiss-off to those who have suffered assault or abuse.

The shift of blame making it to the person who violated consent or harmed another person is hard to traverse. Whether it’s the school not knowing what to do or a friend not knowing how to help, their actions are almost secondary in the eyes of many. “It couldn’t have been that bad if you stayed” or “maybe you said yes but just regretted it afterward.”

I don’t think it’s a lack of empathy. I think it’s symptomatic of a system that has been put in place to not deal with people getting away with shit. It protects those who are just being young or throwing a ball or not wanting their lives to be ruined forever by removing the consent from another person and taking something that isn’t theirs. Why these systems are in place, I’m not sure, but they’re there.

Any post you encounter on Facebook of someone talking about these things will not only be met with these victim-blaming questions, but will also have comparative questions of their agency. “They don’t live in the Middle East, so it can’t be that bad.” “They survived, so it can’t be that bad.” There’s always an excuse for why it happened. There’s always an excuse for why it could’ve been worse.

Meanwhile, a person is having a panic attack when they see their attacker every single day, and the campus police are too busy asking what they wore. There’s bureaucratic nightmares lying between the victim and justice of any kind. There are untested rape kits, hidden stories, avoiding of bad PR, and Gaslighting Central from abusers who either don’t know they’re abusers or want to keep getting away with it.

So many people want to blame the person who was assaulted. So many people want to blame the person who was abused.

I don’t know what to do about this. No matter how many speak out about their stories, there are shitty people looking to make it the fault of the person who received this treatment, rather than confront a culture that protects and welcomes these behaviors, or at least excuses them with anything from “that’s how it happens in romantic movies” to “boys just being boys.”

I didn’t go to the cops when I was raped for multiple reasons. I’m a trans person, so they’d likely think it was my fault for existing, that me being open and public was an invitation to such behavior, since some people link us being trans with some kind of sexual fetish or perversion. A woman did it, and enough people think that in and of itself is impossible. And, because I spent so much time, even to this day, asking the very questions that so many people throw on the abused and the victimized, still blaming myself on some level.

When people get abused or raped, because of how this society treats those who have been, it’s nearly impossible to not internalize these victim-blaming tendencies. “I could’ve done better.” “I should’ve seen it coming.” “I should’ve gotten out earlier.” “I should’ve trusted my instinct.” Because so many people are set against believing us or finding any way that it couldn’t have possibly been the perpetrator’s fault, at least entirely, we start to believe it ourselves.

When I was the recipient of repeated unwanted touching earlier this year, my first self-criticism wasn’t on how better to protect myself, but on how I didn’t say “no” assertively enough. On how I put myself in a position for that to happen. On how I should’ve known better.

In other words, victim-blaming is so common that I ended up doing it to myself.

If that isn’t indicative that we have a major problem when it comes to helping those who have suffered these situations, I don’t know what is. But I can tell you this: if someone comes to you and tells you that they’ve been abused, attacked, assaulted, or anything else…

Instead of asking what they were doing or how they could’ve stopped it or suggesting what they could’ve done differently, start by telling them that you believe them. Just knowing that someone in the world to whom they’ve trusted enough to admit these events believes you is a step that many people need in order to start coping with what happened in the first place.

One that happens all too seldom in the stories of many. I’ve even seen recently when women quote statistics of how many people are assaulted or have been abused, someone will inevitably respond “that seems a bit high.”

Yeah. It is. And the fact that your first reaction is disbelief does nothing but prove that further. Stop blaming people for what abusers, assaulters, rapists, and violators have done and start supporting those they’ve hurt rather than trying to find out what they could’ve done better to stop it in your eyes. If you’ve ever wondered why more people don’t speak up or step forward, your answer lies in those reactions.

Believe people when they tell you something’s happened to them. Start there, and then move forward with the rest.

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