There’s no standard way survivors talk about sexual assault. It isn’t always a police phone call and a rape kit; sometimes it’s years of silence. Sometimes it trickles out, little by little, and then all at once; like a dam that swells and breaks and floods.
Part of it is fear: Will I be believed, these women and men think. Part of it is doubt, sown by social mores that seem eager to excuse the inexcusable: Was it something I should just accept?
When they do talk, sometimes years later, a question reflexively arises. It’s a question that was posed, more or less, by the President of the United States, to a woman who alleges a current Supreme Court nominee held her down at a high school party and tried to assault her: Why didn’t you speak up earlier?
In response, people on Twitter have been sharing their reasons for not speaking up about their own assaults.
They’re afraid of repercussions
It’s something victims grapple with a lot: the anguish and terror about retaliation. It’s one reason that Christine Blasey Ford – the woman who accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct – said she kept silent for years.
They are made to feel it’s their fault
It happens over and over again: Victims say that when they do speak up, they are met with judgment and not support. “What were you wearing?” they’re asked. “How much were you drinking?”
They’re told to dismiss it
Many times, a victim will confide in someone, only to be told not to pursue it any further.
They are often the ones who were blamed
The perpetrator – and many times, the victim’s own family members – make them feel like they “deserved it.”
They’re afraid they would be asked for more evidence
The attack is traumatic enough. Victims are often asked to relive it by recounting it in excruciating detail.
They’re afraid no one will believe them
The attack, in many cases, is a family member or a person with a certain standing in the community. Speaking out means pitting the victim’s word against the perpetrators.
They’re afraid people will find out
Sometimes, victims feel it’s easier to keep it to themselves. The guilt, fear, shame and confusion is paralyzing,
They want to forget
Author Kurt Eichenwald painfully recounts how he was raped after an epileptic seizure and how he wanted nothing more than to just forget it. “Because,” he said, “thinking meant feeling, and feeling terrified me.”
Actress Alyssa Milano added her voice to the movement with an op-ed, saying it took her 30 years to talk about her personal experience with assault.
“For me, speaking up meant reliving one of the worst moments of my life,” she wrote. “It meant recognizing my attacker’s existence when I wanted nothing more than to forget that he was allowed to walk on this earth at all. This is what every survivor goes through.”