“This is the only place that I talk about what happened to me.” The small basement space where I was attending a sexual assault support group was charged with a profound empathy and connection to this survivor. We had created a safe space.
We continue to hold space, in that basement room, for that survivor, and survivors like her, where we coax vulnerability out from under the crushing weight of shame. We hold that space because it is vital to the healing process. We hold that space because those sanctuaries are beyond rare. We hold that space, so that if a moment comes, a survivor can choose vulnerability.
The moment survivors leave that basement, they know to treat every other space as a potentially hostile one. The explanation for their caution: “why” questions. Why did you go there alone? Why did you wear that? Why were you drinking? Why didn’t you fight back? Why didn’t you report sooner? The hostile spaces are ubiquitous, as questions like these ring, repeatedly, from family and friends we thought would believe us.
In the midst of devastation, our culture often forces our survivors to relive their trauma. Reactions demand survivors defen themselves: liars until proven honest. It's a product of what many call "rape culture," a culture that treats lightly sexual assault and misconduct. We inadvertantly teach girls to avoid being raped, instead of explicitly advocating consent.
Vulnerability with sexual assault is frequently met with a brutal bombardment of “why” questions, whether from family, friends or law enforcement, that diminishes safe space. Survivors are forced to justify their legitimacy, subjected to social repercussions when they seek healing and justice. Victims of sexual assault have two options for navigating trauma: suffering silently or submitting themselves to public ramifications. We need not condemn sexual assault victims for how they choose to maneuver through pain.
“The majority of rapes (88.2 percent) are never reported to law enforcement, indicating that sexual violence in Utah is grossly underestimated," according to health.Utah.gov.
One of the many reasons for underreporting? Rape culture and the spirit of “why” questions. Instead, when someone confides in you, listen and believe, instead of questioning. Let’s treat survivors as truth-tellers first. Responses laced with trust will dissipate shame facilitated by rape culture.
On Jan. 19, 2019, there will be a student-led rally in Provo, Utah, to encourage healthy conversation about sexual assault. We will hear three speakers, inspiring examples of women sharing their voices and experiences to empower sexual assault victims. We are a sister event to the National Women’s March, unified in utilizing the power of women to establish diverse allies, intersectional advocacy and social change. We rally for residents and leaders of Provo becoming more aware of the extent of sexual assault in Utah County and how we can individually combat this culture. All are welcome to attend.6 comments on this story
To survivors: we are holding space for you. We believe you. We will trace a network across campuses and courtrooms until every space is void of a culture of disbelief. We will speak until our words push these glass ceilings high enough for you to breathe a sigh of safety. We rally for more space where sexual assault survivors will be listened to and believed. This is the first step in dismantling a culture which holds victims accountable instead of their assailants, a gateway to a healing space. This is why we rally.