'It's not your fault'

A letter to survivors of sexual assault
Entire month of April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Dear survivors of sexual assault,

It’s not your fault.  You didn’t ask for it.  I believe you. 

You might be thinking that you’re not a victim of sexual violence because you weren’t kicking and screaming or because it was someone you knew. The truth is that 82 percent of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows.  Sexual assault is not only what most people think of as rape.  If another person has had any kind of unwanted sexual contact with you that left you feeling violated, confused, guilty or ashamed, you could be a victim of sexual assault. 

It’s OK if you didn’t fight back or say no. Most people don’t. It’s your body and no one has a right to touch it without your consent. Sometimes we are scared to say no. Sometimes we freeze and don’t know what to do. Sometimes we feel like we have to say yes even when we don’t want to. Silence, tolerance and submission are not consent.

Sexual assault can look like a friendly hug that turns into an unwanted groping. It can be a touch that’s made to look accidental. It can be a “if you love me, you’ll let me,” “you have to finish what you started,” “you’re just so beautiful I can’t control myself,” “have a few more drinks so you’ll loosen up,” or “I’ll be so depressed and kill myself if I can’t have you.” These are coercive and emotionally abusive tactics.  It’s scary and confusing to think about but this is not part of a healthy relationship. 

It gets even more confusing when it’s someone close to us that we care about. We don’t want to make them angry, hurt them, send them to jail, ruin their lives or have our friends and neighbors find out. What many people don’t realize is that by the time a sexual assault occurs, the victim has oftentimes already suffered emotional abuse that has given the perpetrator power and keeps victims silent and blaming themselves. So most survivors stay silent. 

Even if you do find the strength to tell someone, you may get responses such as “why didn’t you tell anyone sooner?” “why didn’t you defend yourself?” “I’d never let him get away with that,” or “what did you do to encourage him?” This might be hurtful and make you regret telling anyone.

These are victim-blaming statements, and sadly a lot of people unknowingly say things that will only make you feel worse. I hope that you have supportive people in your life and don’t have to experience that. Eventually you may come to a point in your healing journey where you don’t need validation from others. You know the truth, what he/she did, the kind of person he/she is and the strength it took to put the broken pieces of yourself back together.

You can make your own choices, you can tell someone or you can keep it to yourself. It’s not about getting justice or doing what you’re told is the right thing. It’s about doing what you need to do to heal and be whole again. Whatever you decide, this is what I want you to know. It’s not your fault and you didn’t ask for it. You’re not responsible for another person’s actions just because you’re pretty, sweet, understanding, a good listener or any other kind of wonderful.

You didn’t deserve it because of what you were wearing, how you treated him/her or anything that happened in the past. You might feel alone because no one understands and no one believes you.  You may be too scared and lost to search the darkness you’re in but there are others there with you, others who understand and who will believe you.

I'm sorry that sexual assault happened to you and I'm sorry if you’re suffering because of it.

Sexual assault is a trauma. The ability to take steps forward is often impaired and sometimes help is needed. If you’re struggling with feelings of guilt, fear, powerlessness, shame, betrayal, anger and denial, we have advocates you can talk to.

The Southwest Crisis Center provides a wide variety of support and information to victims and survivors of sexual assault in southwestern Minnesota. Our services are free, confidential and victim-centered, which means you will guide your own process, make your own decisions, and can count on us for information, support, and referral.  Please call 507-283-9917 for our Luverne office, visit our website www.mnswcc.org or call 1-800-376-4311 for 24-hour assistance.

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