“There is no way I can share that now.” 23-year-old Megan told us about a rape that happened to her and some of her friends at a party in high school. Megan had just started therapy after a series of failed relationships, when she talked about the incident for the first time.
There are a number of social and psychological factors keep survivors from immediately processing their experiences (See Lesson 4). Some reasons are: fear that no one will believe their story; believing that nothing will be done; fear that others might blame the victims for the assault; and self-blame that they might have somehow caused the rape. RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, reports that confusion and self-blame are common and that many callers to its hotline ask,“Was I raped?” These factors, among others, keep victims from reporting sex-related crimes. RAINN reports that only 230 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police. That means about three out of four go unreported.
Fear of negative consequences is not the only thing that keeps victims from reporting their assaults. Through a process called “grooming,” perpetrators move in and slowly manipulate their prey. Due to grooming, it can take years for the victim to even label what happened to them as an assault. Grooming is often carefully planned and can take place over weeks, months, or even years. The process causes victims to think that sex with the offender is normal or that they have no choice. Offenders create this mindset in their victims by building relationships and emotional connections. Offenders encourage confusion and shame and exploit their victims’ reluctance to identify themselves as victims. Offenders may camouflage their acts as horseplay or humor, or they may act as though nothing happened. If this goes on for long, the victim can become confused enough to believe that they are wrong for thinking poorly about the offender.
Lastly, the victim may have little choice but to stay in contact if the offender is a coach, teacher, relative, or even a boss. Fear of what might happen to those formal relationships if offenders are exposed may exist in the mind the victim.
I believe you. You may have reacted by self-medicating, engaging in high-risk sexual behavior, or withdrawing completely. You may have even maintained contact with your abuser in a subconscious attempt to gain control. You may still be using one or more of these coping mechanisms today. This is normal. You are normal. Offenders work diligently to gain trust and appear caring. It is not uncommon to be confused by those messages or even to believe that the assailant really does love you. You, especially if you are female, are conditioned to try to smooth things over. It’s okay.
Your behaviors may have caused you to feel dirty or nasty. These are lies. You are not identified by the things that were done to you.
Some experts believe that children may even initiate sexual abuse themselves just so they will know when it is coming. Whatever happened and however it happened, it’s not your fault. Rape is never okay.
Lastly, precious one, do not feel guilty because you didn’t fight back. When people are mugged or robbed, they are not asked why they did not resist. We won’t ask you those questions either. Fight, flight, or freeze is a natural response to danger. Many victims are rendered involuntarily immobile, becoming either paralyzed or limp as a result of the brain’s and the body’s protective response. Even after the Boston Marathon bombing, some people froze. No one ever asked the victims why they didn’t run faster or slower. Regardless of how you responded, it’s your normal. You are okay, and we will help you work through this.
Note: Regardless of when your assault was or how you and others identified it, there is always room for more love and healing. It can be difficult to work through some of these things on your own, especially if you’ve pushed those feelings down for very long. Maybe it’s time to start sharing and healing. We can help you do just that. Call us at 501-301-HELP (4357) or 501-993-1641. If you don’t call PATH, call someone. Get the help you deserve. Be sure to seek help from those who specializes in trauma. You are in our prayers!
This is PART FIVE of an educational series on healing from sexual assault called “Dear Survivor” by Louise Allison, Founder and CEO of PATH; Psychiatric Nurse; Survivor