Who’s to Blame?
Category: Sexual Assault
By Kayla Tricaso
Triune Therapy Group
The victim, the perpetrator, or the peanut gallery?
The following is an account of several stories and experiences and does not reflect one individual’s experience. Names have been changed for anonymity.
Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault/Rape
“You have to stay off Facebook.” That sentence had become a daily mantra for Sarah. As much as she wanted to receive updates on which of her high school friends were getting engaged or having children, lately, stepping into Facebook, or really any social media platform, is emotionally exhausting. I’m not talking about seeing your friends and family’s posts about politics, although that’s exhausting on a different level. I’m talking about the uncomfortable, and oftentimes hurtful discourse around sexual assault.
When the avalanche of stories of sexual assault started coming out from victims, Sarah started to feel overwhelmed with emotion. The movement started with Hollywood’s elite, but soon empowered women and men from every walk of life to speak up and take control of their narrative and experience. As a victim of sexual assault, Sarah felt immensely connected to each person who shared their story. It felt comforting to know that she was not alone in her struggle and that she didn’t have to sit in silence or shame about what happened to her. It was as if overnight, she was gifted with the supportive community she always needed. Victims were speaking up, some for the very first time since their assault; what could be the downside of that? It’s mind-boggling to think that anyone would take issue with so many women and men coming forward and bravely telling their story of abuse, but Social Media can be a dark place.
As more victims came forward, so did doubts of their credibility. Sarah would start by reading a fantastic article written by a victim of sexual assault, only to end up in the comment section, although it was more like a cesspool of judgement.
Why did she drink so much if she didn’t want anything bad to happen to her? She knew what she was getting herself into.
All these “victims” just want their 15 seconds of fame.
How could a guy let someone rape him? He must be gay and wanted it.
Women lie about rape ALL the time.
If this happened 10 years ago, why is he/she JUST NOW talking about it?
She was astonished when she started rabbit holing down comment after comment, all strangers’ unsolicited feedback and critique about the victim and their harrowing experience with something no one should ever have to go through. She’d see people attack the victims’ experiences and offer up baseless theories about a trauma they clearly were uneducated about. The same voices that were being amplified were now having the microphone pulled right out of their hands. For weeks, she let those comments ruminate in her head. The articles she read about sexual assault survivors weren’t written by Sarah, but she saw herself, and her experience, in their stories, so when she read those comments drenched in blame, I took them personally.
Sarah eventually pulled herself away from the toxic victim-blaming comment labyrinth and decided to log off of Facebook for a while. She had to realize that she is entitled to the feelings and emotions that come from her experience and judgmental comments on Social Media weren’t going to take that away from her.
It’s difficult to fully understand a traumatic experience like sexual assault, unless you’ve personally gone through it. It can be easy to think you’d handle a situation a certain way, but until it happens to you, there is no way to know. Victim blaming happens when a person’s experience is devalued and the victim is held responsible for the misconduct committed against them. Victim-blaming takes many forms, such as negative reactions from legal or medical professionals, as well as from the media and sometimes, unfortunately, close friends and family. No matter where the victim blaming is coming from, it’s dehumanizing and painful for the victim.
Victim blaming attitudes are dangerous because they marginalize the victim which can make it harder for them to feel safe enough to come forward. Additionally, victim-blaming reinforces the abuse the perpetrator inflicted and makes the victim feel as if they had a part in their own abuse. No matter what the circumstance, a victim of sexual abuse or assault is never at fault.
Below are a few steps you can take to stand up to victim-blaming:
- Let survivors know it’s not their fault – If someone you know is a victim of sexual assault and feels attacked by the victim-blaming attitudes, make sure to let him/her know, what happened to them was not their fault. If you are someone who’s experienced sexual assault, take time to remind yourself that the experience was not your fault and you are in no way to blame.
- Challenge victim-blaming conversations – Confrontation can be difficult and stressful. If you hear a victim-shaming statement and feel safe to challenge their stance, it could create an opportunity to educate someone on the problematic and shaming tone of their statement.
- Avoid victim blaming in the media – Social Media controls a large portion of our lives, but the discourse on some of our favorite platforms can be toxic. Try to refrain from reading nasty comments and opinions that can be triggering or harmful to what you’ve experienced.
- Acknowledge that survivors are the best resource for their experience – Experiences are nuanced. Trauma is not ‘one size fits all.’ If you find it hard to understand a victim’s story or experience with sexual assault, trust that they are the best authority and the most knowledgeable about their own experience. Refrain from asking questions such as, “why did you never say anything?” or “I would have done this..” Phrases like those, even if they are not meant to be malicious, can cause victims to feel shame and guilt about what happened to them.