In our world today, there has been a disturbing bias about reporting sexual assaults. The rape stories are on a high increase, and the unreported ones are even alarmingly higher!
– Why? because most women don’t report their rape or sexual assault! Most women even find themselves withdrawing in conversations about sexual violence just because they have shoved their traumatic experience(s) under the carpet and are probably too ashamed to bring it out. But these experiences need to be shared, talked about, brought to light not just to give women a deep insight on their rights but also that justice may be properly executed and to reduce the rate of future re-occurrences of assault.
On the other hand, Silence shelters the crime. It means that perpetrators escape punishment which clearly leaves the rate of incidences of rape and sexual assault unknown. Silence permits and encourages sexual violence. Rape survivors need to be encouraged to voice out more about their experiences, and this should in no way make some women over the others (who of course share the same experience), feel intimidated or not “strong enough” to share theirs too.
However, undeniably alot of impediments discourage women from reporting sexal assualt which must not be overlooked, one of which is that the legal process is also ridiculous, I would like to say in Nigeria but it’s almost the same worldwide. Some rape victims have described their legal attempt at reporting their rape experiences as “being raped all over again.” Another factor that discourages women from reporting sexual assault is the shame or neglect shown towards rape victims by family and friends, which is even seen in some cultures as having brought “shame and dishonor” to the family.
Hence, due to this social stigma, many rape victims consciously or unconsciously accept social judgment on themselves which overtime, conditions their mind with the incapability of judging between people who are good and those who will treat them like objects.
Ashley Ford shares her rape experience with ELLE: “WHY I DIDN’T REPORT MY SEXUAL ASSAULT” (Even though I told everyone I did)
– “I became convinced that if someone found out I’d chickened out or panicked, they would assume they weren’t strong enough to file either.”
Almost one year ago, on a Tuesday night, a man made a choice. I was on the Q train, headed home to my Flatbush apartment. I was reading a book, standing though there was room for me to sit. I was in recovery from a torn ACL, and was trying to relearn to bear weight on my right leg. My knee was improving more and more every day, and I liked having the option to stand. There was a man sitting in the seat directly to my left. I barely noticed him until he stood. I thought he was getting off at the next stop. I barely considered his movements. When the train stopped, he stood before the open doors unmoving. Maybe that’s when he decided.
As the train pulled away, he turned and rushed toward me, pinning me to the back of the train car. He put his forearm under my chin, against my neck, and his other hand under my dress. My eyes got big, but wouldn’t focus on any one thing. I felt his warm breath on my ear, and I went limp. I hear this is a common reaction to being attacked, but I would spend the next several weeks punishing myself for it.
UNTIL THAT MOMENT, WITH THIS STRANGER’S HANDS ON MY BODY, I DIDN’T KNOW MY BODY REMEMBERED HOW TO GO NUMB SO QUICKLY.
I was sexually assaulted as a teenager, and while that person violated my body, my mind went somewhere else. Almost 15 years after that experience, my limbs reacted the exact same way, which is to say, not at all. I could have lived without the reminder.
Two men who’d been sitting at the other end of the train car ran toward us. They pulled him off me, and wrestled him to the ground. The minute his skin left mine, I snapped back into myself. One of the two men yelled, “Call the fucking cops!” I reached for my phone to call 911. My assailant stared at me, eyes wide and incredulous.
“You’re really gonna call the cops on me?”
He said it like we knew each other, as if this was a game he and I frequently played and the men who held him simply weren’t in on the joke. I hesitated. I stared back at him. Then it all hit me: the fear, the proximity of danger, the intensity of the situation. He never considered I would do anything. He thought I would take it. He thought I would chalk it up to one of the many things that make a bad day bad. As if his body crushing mine against the back of the train, his fingers pulling at my underwear, and his sticky mouth near my earlobes could be likened to a missed train, a traffic ticket, or coffee on a white blouse. Or maybe he didn’t think of me at all. Maybe he looked at me and saw feminine vapor in the shape of what rightfully belonged to him.
The men who held him let him go and formed a wall with their bodies between us. My attacker ran into the next car. Then another. And another. One of the men started after him, and I pulled it together enough to ask him to stay. He was a stranger too, but I felt safer with the both of them there. I lost sight of the man who attacked me. We all did. The two men asked if I was okay. They kept their distance. They were smart.
At the next above-ground stop, I called the cops. I made a statement, and the two men offered their perspectives, but the officers didn’t write anything down. They were nice enough, but very clear: the chances of finding this guy were slim to none. Adrenaline was simmering right under my skin, all of the fight I didn’t have when I needed it started to rush back into my body. I told the cops that if they found him, I wanted to press charges. I felt brave, and it felt like my duty. I walked the rest of the way home, wishing someone would try to grab or hurt me. I’ll kill them, I thought. I’m different now, and I’ll kill anybody who touches me. I left something on that train, though. That night, I barely slept.
I WANTED TO PRESS CHARGES. I FELT BRAVE, AND IT FELT LIKE MY DUTY.
The morning after being assaulted, I called my editor, told him what occurred, and said I wouldn’t be coming in that day. I wanted to go to the police department and make sure they wrote something down. I wanted to press charges. I didn’t know how any of this worked, but I knew if it had happened to someone I loved, I would have encouraged them to file an official report. I got dressed, walked to the train, rode it exactly two stops then ran out onto the platform and vomited. It felt like I’d contracted the flu in about five minutes. My whole body was slick with sweat, my stomach rolled, and I thought I might pass out. Sometime in the night, all of that adrenaline turned poisonous in my veins. I stumbled up the platform stairs, and walked back to my apartment. This was a panic attack unlike any I’d ever experienced, and I was not only terrified, I was ashamed.
THIS WAS A PANIC ATTACK UNLIKE ANY I’D EVER EXPERIENCED, AND I WAS NOT ONLY TERRIFIED, I WAS ASHAMED.
Filing the report was supposed to be how I made up for my self-described weakness at the moment of attack. It was supposed to be how I proved him wrong, proved that I was not the kind of woman who did nothing. But I wasn’t at the police station, I was home, in bed, crying in the palm of my own hand and dry heaving into a plastic grocery bag. Some badass.
I’d already told my long-distance boyfriend and worried boss that I was filing a report, pressing charges, and sticking up for myself. But I didn’t make it.
Nevertheless, I kept a blog and wrote about what happened as if I followed through. I just didn’t want to feel alone. But I became convinced that if someone found out I’d chickened out or panicked, they would assume they weren’t strong enough to file either. I’m always trying to empower women to tell their stories, and I couldn’t tell mine this one time, not even when it might have kept another woman from being attacked by this man. I felt like the worst kind of hypocrite. I didn’t consider the consequences of writing about what happened on the train publicly. As a result of my “openness,”there were people looking to me, waiting, wondering how brave I was going to be. I was wondering the same thing, and my body was answering with depression and mania.
Depression is strange. It took me away and left me right where I was at the same time. Sometimes, when I was especially emotionally stuck, I would feel as if I were still on the train. Other times, I would be perfectly present. I’d almost forget. Then I’d be back on the train, feeling scared, confused, and weak.
Soon the depressive state left and mania showed up. I went back to work, but I couldn’t look anyone in the eye all day. They thought I was stronger than I was, and what I actually was, was a liar. Because I worked with some of the most amazing people in the world, there were cards and hugs and thoughtful words of compassion. My mentor sent flowers. My gut twisted with guilt. These are flowers for strong a woman. I am not that woman. The mania encouraged me to tell everyone about the DIY projects I wanted to do to my room. I did them all in one night. I spent a lot of money. I wanted to spend more money. I wanted to spend all of my money, and I nearly did. The Internet became my refuge. I couldn’t stop tweeting. My tweets were erratic, jumping subjects, too close together, talking to no one and everyone. Look! See! I’m okay! Bad guys can’t get me down!
I was fooling no one.
After another talk with my boss, I didn’t go to work for a week, and because I worked for a great company that understood mental health, I did so without penalty. I spoke to an emergency short-term therapist, but I spent most of my time curled up in a ball on my bed. I’d gone numb pinned against the back of that car, but my body insisted on reminding me what I’d missed. It came back in moments; his arm against the tender part of my neck, and my own sour thoughts. Lucky for you, I don’t visibly bruise.His other hand under my dress. I hated that hand. I’d like to remove that hand from its person. I’d like to split its palm, break the knuckles, spit on it and say, “Nobody gets to touch me.”
It felt like I carried an invisible gaping hole of guilt and anxiety on the left side of my body. I wasn’t entirely sure I was entitled to it, but it was there. I thought things like, This isn’t even the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, but that just made me sadder. I thought, I bet this happens to women all the time. I’m not special, but that didn’t do the trick either. I thought, If you don’t get your shit together, Ashley Ford, everyone is going to think you’re a freak, but I couldn’t bring myself to truly care what other people thought about who I was after what happened, because I couldn’t make anything else matter. It felt like I’d lost something and I wanted it back. There was still part of me on that train, but the part that got off was pissed.
In the midst of my shame, I was still very angry. The beautiful part of that anger fed the little sections of my heart and brain that still believed I was entitled to my sadness. No, I didn’t file a police report, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t strong. No, I hadn’t fought this strange man, but that didn’t mean I wanted him to touch me. No, this wasn’t the worst thing that had ever happened to me or any other woman, but it did happen to me. A man made a choice, and why should I be ashamed of being forced to bear the consequences? The more I asked myself these questions, the more I let myself cry, and the more I talked about why I was ashamed, the less shame I felt.
NO, I DIDN’T FILE A POLICE REPORT, BUT THAT DIDN’T MEAN I WASN’T STRONG.
The road back from debilitating shame is neither linear nor paved for comfort. There are potholes long and wide. I won’t ever be sure what made that man attack me, but I no longer believe it was because he saw something in me that spelled “weakness.” I’m no longer buying into the idea that my behavior after that night makes me the right or wrong kind of victim. I have nothing to be ashamed of, and I refuse to add my name to the list of women who carry the shame of a man’s choice in their hearts and bodies. I’d rather be free. I know now that every part of me got off that train at the same time. There was no part of who I am left behind. He did not change me. He does not define me.
I am more than the choice he made.
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