If you’re reading this because you’re thinking about reporting your sexual assault, do it. That’s the advice I have. You’re already thinking about it. You’re thinking about it because your gut tells you it’s the right thing to do and part of you wants to believe that you’ll be one of the lucky ones the authorities don’t ignore.
I know you have your doubts. I know you’re scared that they won’t believe you, that they’ll shame you and make you believe it was your fault. And you could be right; they may not believe you. They may ask all the wrong questions and say all the wrong things. They may belittle you and act insensitive to the vulnerable position you are in. But if you’re strong enough to come forward in spite of all of this, they cannot take away your ability to believe in yourself. Go into it with hope for justice. Go into it as your own advocate. Go into it knowing they are not your friend or your therapist and they might not be that nice, yet they are the only people who can put your assailant where he or she belongs.
Maybe you’re scared they’ll believe you, but they still won’t pursue justice, like what happened to me. Obviously I understand that fear, and I can confirm that it is frustrating to be treated with respect and dignity, to be told you’ve done the right thing by the people who are severing all hopes of justice. But I can also confirm that you can survive it, and you can even still be glad you reported. Go into it with compassion and understanding that they too are in an uncomfortable situation where their professional duties require them to follow laws, not create them. Again, go into it as your own advocate. You’ve made it this far. Be grateful that you don’t have to wonder anymore what would happen if you came forward. Have no regrets. Handle your grief however you need to, and know you have taken back the power. Try to leave the pain in that precinct or that office or that courtroom, wherever it is the authorities left it. Listen to yourself when you’re asked what it is you need to heal.
I’ve seen it said that reporting is more traumatizing than the rape itself. I can’t say that was true for me, but certainly reporting was its own trauma, and I won’t lie — though many questions were answered by taking this action, it did leave me with new questions and problems. But I have no misgivings in my decision to come forward; I only wish I did it sooner.
Here’s a sad truth I have come to believe: victims who choose not to come forward are part of the problem. I say this with profound compassion towards victims and their reasons to stay silent. I say this having lived the discomfort of being surrounded by people who know this very personal and stigmatizing thing about you, the awkwardness of not knowing how they judge you for it to the agony of knowing exactly what they think and it’s nothing good. I say this despite the horrific concept of your whole family knowing about this intimate experience you’re very ashamed of. I say this knowing how much easier it is said than done: as victims we need to speak up.
We didn’t ask to be victimized. We never wanted to be. And now we don’t want to accept we were. Now we don’t want to broadcast it publicly. But we must. It is not uncommon for sex offenders to have multiple victims. This is possible not in whole, not even in large part, but indeed in part because of victims who do not come forward. It is only ever the perpetrator’s fault for their criminal actions; however, if there is something that can legally be done to prevent them from having the liberty to continue to offend, it should be done. That starts with victims making authorities aware. That’s where it starts. It is unfortunate how frequently this courageous honesty is thwarted by antiquated laws and myopic law enforcement personnel. But as victims if we deprive law enforcement the chance to make a decision about our case then we have silenced ourselves and emboldened our attackers. If we do not allow our complicated stories to contribute to the narrative of what survivors have endured then we are perpetuating the ignorance that allows these ineffectual laws to persist.
I know you didn’t ask for this. I know you’re unsure. I know you’re scared. Maybe you don’t have faith in yourself yet. You might worry it is your intuition that is wrong and not the actions of your attacker. But if you’re reading this because you think he or she might have sexually assaulted you, even if you’re not sure, something isn’t right. You shouldn’t feel like something was assault if it was consensual. I understand if you need time to deal with it, and if that is your decision I hope you take an active role in that healing: find a therapist or online therapy alternative, buy a self-help book, speak candidly to a trusted friend. But do this knowing that you may never feel ready or absolutely certain, take your time knowing that unfortunately, doing so will be used against you, and do this knowing every moment you do not begin the pursuit of justice is a moment that, unless he or she has already harmed someone else, you are guaranteeing their freedom. With love, my fellow survivors, I beg you for your voice. Your voice is your power. It matters. You matter. And moreso than ever, people are listening.