We Believe You
by Teresia Smith
Generally, our society has normalized some forms of sexual assault. From catcalling while walking down the street, the relentless pursuit of a would-be suitor at work, to groping as you pass in a hallway, or having to endure unwelcome advances from a superior at work, we ask women to take it as a compliment. To keep themselves from feeling powerless, because the world appears to accept these behaviors and dismiss them, victims may attempt to rewrite the incident in their minds and tell themselves surely this wasn’t sexual assault.
Have you ever had a time in your life where everything seems to be going so well but still, there’s a flicker of self-doubt so strong that it takes away the joy? Sometimes a survivor of sexual assault suffers what is termed imposter syndrome, and that is what can drain the joy out of all their successes. They have experienced sexual assault but they try to rewrite their experiences to lessen the impact and become convinced they overreacted excessively. After reading or talking to other sexual assault victims, they sometimes feel their experience wasn’t as bad so therefore it doesn’t qualify as sexual assault.
Society quickly recognizes violent, stranger-danger rape, but many times tries to rewrite others’ experiences as next-day regrets. The location and circumstances of the assault also plays a factor in how sexual assault is viewed. If alcohol was involved, the assault occurred during a date, or even if the couple is married, our culture tries to redefine the experience and deny sexual assault.
Societal pressure to fit into a rape scenario sometimes leaves victims afraid to report an attack. Because their assault doesn’t fit into an accepted assault scenario, they feel foolish or fraudulent for even reporting their attacker. Defending those assaults that may not fit into an accepted norm leaves victims feeling they are responsible for what happened to them.
Sexual assault is more than just stranger-danger rape. Sexual assault can include any type of sexual contact with someone who cannot consent, such as someone who is underage, has an intellectual disability, or is passed out or unable to respond. It includes any type of sexual contact with someone who does not consent, rape, attempted rape, sexual coercion, any sexual contact with a child, or fondling. Sexual assault can also be verbal, visual, or non-contact. It is anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual activities or attention. Other examples can include peeping, exposing oneself in public, Sexual harassment or threats, forcing someone to pose for sexual pictures, or sending someone unwanted “sexts” (texting sexual photos or messages).
Sexual assault is never the fault of the victim. If you are a survivor of sexual assault, as an adult or as a child, we want you to know that we see you, we hear you and we believe you. Even if you logically know you are not to blame for your assault, you may still struggle with a sense of guilt. As you work through your feelings and the truth of what happened, it will become easier to accept that you are not responsible for what happened to you. You did not cause the assault to happen and you have nothing to be ashamed about.
If you or a loved one is a victim of sexual assault, Crisis Services of North Alabama offers free confidential crisis counseling, support groups, advocacy, referrals and more. We see you, we hear you, and we believe you. You may contact our Jackson County office at 256.574.5826 for an appointment with an advocate.