Please be warned that I talk very openly about matters of sexual assault and this article may be very triggering. Please do not read it if you are not in a space to be able to do so. It’s okay! One day you will be. But if that isn’t today, that’s fine.
If you’re anything like me, then you’ve probably felt deeply perplexed and even disturbed about the Kavanaugh hearing. In situations like this, I oftentimes find myself not really even knowing what to think on a number of levels.
I will not provide any kind of political opinion about Kavanaugh or how the hearing went. I aim to be non-partisan in my thinking and find any conversation about Democrats versus Republicans to be a little beside the point in this post here.
With that being said, I decided to do a little reading about false rape accusations and found these two articles below:
Regardless of your political opinion, I think these are good to read. We’ve moved beyond just the Kavanaugh case and now we’re looking at how do we deal with accounts and accusations of rape and sexual assault. So regardless of how things turned out, I still think this topic needs some honest, mindful consideration.
A Quick Aside
Men, women, and trans folk can ALL commit sexual assault. Men, women, and trans folk can BOTH be on the receiving side of sexual assault. This is not a gendered issue. You will see me use gender neutral language when it comes to both sides of this topic. If you think women have a tendency to under report sexual assault, men who have been assaulted report this even less. We must address both sides of this if we are going to continue.
I will also admit that yes, there are cases of false accusations of rape. It DOES happen. It may be rare, but there are some legitimate cases that we really must acknowledge. If we throw the baby out with the bathwater, we’re dismissing someone else’s important story.
Based on the BBC article, you can typically tell a report may be false because the person is looking to get out of trouble of some kind. They also tend to be young. I found the common thread of family to be interesting as well, that, for example, the son or daughter may be participating in consensual sexual activity, but the family may not want to fully accept this. So the event is labeled as rape.
Again, these may be less common, but I believe they are important to address here as being a real issue.
Brief Article Summary
The BBC article makes a great distinction looking at case studies where rape was falsely accused vs when it was a legitimate accusation. Both articles also clear up some misconceptions of statistics around false accusations of rape. In short, false accusations of rape are classified as rare.
I understand that due to the nature of low sexual assault reports that we still can’t know as much as we’d like to.
Ultimately, I hope that anyone who may be appointed as a supreme court justice or any government official, regardless of his or her past, would do his or her due diligence and go above and beyond the call of duty in guiding our country in any capacity. I do believe people can change and grow and mature. I would dearly hope that anyone in political power would continue to grow as an individual and stay true to the good of the people.
So at this point, I think the conversation has now shifted.
We need to talk about what to do when someone comes forward saying they have been sexually assaulted.
If someone comes to us saying they’ve been sexually assaulted or raped, we need to take into consideration that opening up about such events takes such monumental courage. More often than not, trauma victims relive the traumatic memory as they retell it, especially if they haven’t had the chance to do therapy yet or have coping skills.
The professional term for this is called flooding. It’s exactly as it sounds. Your mind becomes flooded with the memory and you can’t control it, like when a dam breaks. The secondary outcome of flooding is called re-traumatization.
If you ever do trauma work with a therapist, they will usually stop you from completely re-telling your memory. We don’t want to be insensitive and we’ll get to the details as therapeutic work progresses. However, we want to avoid flooding and re-traumatization in order to continue to make the therapeutic space a safe one. This is almost a type of exposure therapy. I typically do not allow my clients to retell trauma without a plethora of coping skills in their arsenal.
Hopefully it makes more sense why so many people don’t report sexual assault.
It’s not just the shame. Retelling traumatic events causes substantial psychological distress. If posttraumatic stress disorder is involved, it may even trigger flashbacks or other serious symptoms of trauma.
So the next time a friend, MALE OR FEMALE OR TRANS, confide in you about sexual assault of any kind, keep in mind that the science suggests that you’re pretty safe believing them.
Remember, it’s not about you in that moment. It’s about them. And that’s okay.
This also doesn’t mean any of us are entitled to overshare because that doesn’t actually help most of the time. If you have ever been sexually assaulted or raped, please guard yourself against flooding. Learn grounding skills as soon as possible in order to help communicate your story to others in a way that is also not damaging to yourself.
If you’ve gotten this far, thank you. It means you are willing to be uncomfortable because you want to understand. I can’t begin to communicate how much I appreciate that.
I don’t think this is just a “women’s issue.” Having worked with a variety of people in my job, I know that women and men alike can commit sexual assault.
I do not believe that every man is a predator. I do not lump all men together as being entitled or rapists or misogynists. I enjoy doors being held open for me as I enjoy holding doors open for other people, regardless of gender.
Men are my allies as much as women are. When discussing this subject, I want it to be clear that I am not blindly accusing anyone en masse. I am simply trying to shed light on a subject that I believe needs to be addressed. It is difficult and uncomfortable for all of us.
If you are a man and you’re trying to understand and you receive a lot of displaced hatred, I am sorry that you have had this experience. I encourage you to keep seeking wisdom and cultivating patience. There’s a lot of hurt in this world and we’re not going to communicate it well.
But it’s time to stop being divided.
Victim to Victimizer?
This is worth talking about as much as everything else.
I have worked with some people who have legitimate sex-offender charges. So I see this subject from a few different angles. The scientific evidence suggests that people who have been abused in some way during their childhood are more likely to abuse or commit sexual assault later in life (Widom & Massey, 2015). You can read the full study I am referencing here:
This is just one among many and since I am writing a blog and not an academic article, I will not go into the fullness of a literary review that I normally would. I will tell you though that the articles are out there if you want to have a read yourself.
Abuse as defined by Widom and Massey (2015) includes, “bruises, welts, burns, abrasions, lacerations, wounds, cuts, bone and skull fractures, and other evidence of physical injury” (p.2).
Being abused does terrible things to the mind. Especially as children. We’re taught that we have no power over our bodies. That we have no rights. That we are subhuman. That maybe we even deserve to be beaten.
So how does this turn into it’s okay to lay hands on someone else? It’s usually the idea of regaining power and control. It’s also been normalized. Imagine growing up with someone who was abusive and mistreated you but claimed that it was because they loved you. As a child, you have no way of knowing that’s wrong. Thus, abuse becomes normalized and if it’s okay to hurt you, it’s probably okay to hurt others.
I’m not condoning this. I’m merely explaining plausible reasons why it can happen this way.
Because sexual assault is a multi-person, multi-generation, multi-layered mess.
Even in cases where sexual assault is confirmed beyond the shadow of a doubt, while believing the person who was assaulted will need help, I am also a firm believer that the person who did the assaulting needs just as much help. But instead, they are merely incarcerated where they will receive even more traumas just to rinse and repeat this systematic, cyclic nightmare.
Yes. It’s Complicated. There is No Getting Around It.
This is not just victim versus perpetrator. This is not just false accusations versus true ones. This is a very complicated, cyclic, systemic, nightmare.
The attitude of you’re either with me or against me is never helpful, including in this conversation. I’m not telling people on the receiving end of assault to suddenly become all friendly and forgiving of the people that hurt them. You have the right to never see those people again.
But this is extremely complicated and it’s even more of a mess than Kavanaugh’s hearing. The only good thing about Kavanaugh’s hearing is that it’s now stirring up some necessary conversation about this topic.
Let’s be civil. Let’s acknowledge that we’re ALL going to be triggered by this. Let’s be as kind as possible. And let’s step away from conversations when we’re not able to maintain respect, even speaking tones, and fair language until we can come back to them.
A Closing Word About Consent
Being a purveyor of equal rights, I propose that there needs to be some new guidelines around consent.
If you are going to touch someone in any way, especially someone you are not already familiar with, it is always okay to ask permission. It shows you care. Some of us simply do not like hugs because that’s just the way we are. It has nothing to do with the other person. We’re just not into that. Some of us don’t like it when even a platonic friend drapes their arm around our shoulders because it bothers us.
And especially ask in romantic contexts. I don’t care if you are male or female or trans. No matter who is initiating what, be it a kiss or sexual intimacy, ASK IF IT’S OKAY. This is going beyond the New Girl “do you feel safe?” viral clip. These are healthy clarifying questions about asking permission to touch someone in an intimate way. It also makes it very clear if both parties are consenting to physical intimacy and thus bypasses the ambiguity if something is sexual assault or not. Clear communication typically makes for better intimate settings anyway because you’re both able to more easily relax and enjoy the moment or address whatever is causing discomfort.
I promise you that it is probably more attractive than you realize because it shows that you care about the other person’s comfort zone. Plus, this avoids the ambiguity if something can be labeled as assault or not. If you get a clear yes without coercion, then go for it! If you get a no or a maybe, then ask what they’re comfortable with and stay at that level.
If someone is touching you and they’re not asking, it’s okay to tell them that you don’t like being touched that way. I implore you to tell them as people sometimes aren’t always on their best game and need a little help. It helps your friend understand how to interact with you in a way that you like. That’s a more genuine friendship in my opinion.
And if you don’t feel safe with a partner, you are allowed to call for help and defend yourself if they’re not being respectful.
Since sexual assault does not discriminate against anyone, I believe we are all responsible for this level of communication regardless of our gender.
Let’s be safe, respectful, kind, mindful, and open-minded. Let’s listen as much as we share. It’s time to start the discussion.