I remember looking in the mirror and thinking, wow girl that mix of cherry and grape Kool-Aid really looks good in my hair this time! How many ladies remember dying your hair with Kool-Aid back in the day? You couldn’t tell me anything.
But then the phone rang, and then the doorbell rang and then HE entered my house. I still remember that camouflage army jacket he wore with those black horn-rimmed glasses and those beady little eyes that said so much without him saying a word. Within a matter of minutes, my innocence was taken at the hands of the man my mother was seeing at the time who was attempting to groom me for human sex trafficking. A piece of me died. That 14-year old happy, vibrant, outgoing little girl was left in the basement of my house, left to try and make some sense of what has just happened to her…
Fast forward 10 years to that night in November. As I arrived that evening, I was met at the front door of my apartment building by a masked gunman who pointed a pistol at me and demanded my purse. He marched me to a wooded area behind the apartment building, walked around, stood in front of me and put the gun to my forehead. I can still feel the cold steel on my forehead from time to time—when the gun was placed right in the center of my forehead. I begged and pleaded for my life, but what happened next I would never wish on my worst enemy.
I clearly remember his chilling last words to me, “You bet’ not scream, or go to the police or tell anyone. I know where you live, and I know what kind of car you drive—I will find you and kill you” and then he ran off into the woods.
Once I made it to a friend’s house, he demanded that I tell him what happened, so I did as best I could amid my screaming and crying. I screamed at the top of my lungs, “HE RAPED ME!!!!!!” My friend immediately drove me to my Mother’s home and then they both accompanied me to the hospital. That particular hospital did not administer the SAFE Exam (Sexual Assault Forensic Exam) so the Police were called to escort me to the appropriate hospital to receive the exam.
I did everything that he told me not to do, if I wanted to remain alive. I thought, oh no! He will surely kill me now!
This is happening all too frequently; it didn’t just happen to me. There are countless others out there and if we are being honest, there are far more reading this article right now than are willing to admit that they too have been sexually assaulted. Why? Because as Survivors, we are afraid to tell.
I’d like to share with you 3 reasons why Survivors of Sexual Violence don’t tell anyone that they have been raped, molested, sexually abused or sexually assaulted. The first reason I’d like to share is:
1. We are threatened. I shared that the second perpetrator threatened me before he disappeared into the woods by saying, “You bet’ not scream, or go to the police or tell anyone. I know where you live, and I know what kind of car you drive—I will find you and kill you.” Honestly, had this not been such a violent attack, I probably would have not told anyone out of sheer terror and fear of being killed as he stated. We are oftentimes threatened into silence as yet another way to control the situation. Sexual assault is not about sex, it’s about power, control and dominance according to an article by the World Health Organization. Perpetrators want to keep Survivors in fear and in silence so that they may continue to inflict harm on the innocent for their own desire.
Which brings us to the next reason below:
2. We are afraid of being blamed. According to the website Women Against Violence Against Women, Rape culture is a term that was coined by feminists in the United States in the 1970’s. It was designed to show the ways in which society blamed victims of sexual assault and normalized male sexual violence. This proves that there are countless numbers of those who blame survivors. Sometimes, people don’t realize that they are blaming survivors by asking questions like, “Why did you go over there to see him or her?” Or, “Why did you wear that?” But whatever the circumstance, it never grants a perpetrator permission to rape or sexually assault anyone. However, time and time again we are blamed by not only others, but we blame ourselves by thinking, “Well, I shouldn’t have gone there” or “I should have just worn sweats instead.” One of the worst things you can do is blame the Survivor as it re-victimizes them, or puts them in that place of vulnerability that they were in at the time of the assault which forces them to relive the event(s) all over again. The Best thing you can do is be supportive. Don’t cast blame or try give advice as it is important to let the Survivor make the choice of what he/she would want the next step to be. Remember, sexual assault is about power and control which was taken from the Survivor, so you would want to be careful not to tell them what the next step should be, let them decide.
My final reason is:
3. We want to protect the Perpetrator. Research shows that 73% of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger. And because of this, we often don’t want to get the person who hurt us in trouble or arrested at the expense of our own sanity and good health. Perhaps it was a family member, close friend or even the spouse (yes, spousal or intimate partner rape does exist), it is important that you tell someone or report it to the police. You never know, whose life you might save. Research also shows that by the time a perpetrator is caught, he will have assaulted over 100 victims. Alarming right? Suffering in silence in an effort to protect Uncle John, Cousin Pookie or The Love of Your Life only causes you to develop unhealthy alternative methods to mask the pain such drugs, alcohol, suicidal thoughts, promiscuity and unhealthy relationships just to name a few. But every time that you don’t break your silence and tell someone, the effects have been known to make Survivors feel like they are dying inside. Suffering in silence is no longer an option.
So if a family member or friend discloses to you that he or she has been sexually violated, please hold it the strictest of confidence, be supportive and let him/her tell you what they’d like to do next. Having a support system of those who care and believe the Survivor is of utmost importance. I had an incredibly awesome support system which included family and friends. However, there are some Survivors who may not have access to those who support them. If this is you, please connect with us via our website at phynyxministries.org. You are not alone and help and healing are available to you, but you must take the first step in reaching out to obtain assistance. At Phynyx Ministries, we believe that there is Life After the Silence, let us help you break yours.
I am Angela D. Wharton, Best-Selling Author, Speaker, Survivor Advocate and Founder of Phynyx Ministries, a Christian-based Non-Profit Organization supports women survivors of sexual violence as they heal.