Why It’s Hard For Sexual Abuse Victims To Come Out Sooner

Last year, the internet went into a frenzy as one of the biggest social media campaign in history, the #MeToo movement, erupted on every communication platform including both traditional and modern mediums.

The movement has successfully highlighted how sexual assault cases are more common than you think — from unwanted advances to forced sex acts, people who had been harassed, abused or violated finally had a platform to go public with their stories.

It was so big that even major Hollywood celebrities including Rose McGowan, Alyssa Milano and Lady Gaga chimed in and shared their experiences. But now, a new question has surfaced: Why didn’t they say something sooner?

Victims tend to blame themselves

More often than not, the victims would mistakenly feel at fault and question everything they did leading up to the assault. They would blame themselves for drinking too much, going out to the party, being too friendly to the harasser, or worse, didn’t even realise that they had just been sexually harassed (although it feels so damn wrong). By doing so, the victims will then be in a constant battle between forgiving themselves or not, since they “allowed” that to happen instead of finding ways to avoid it from happening.

An embarrassing personal baggage

Sexual assault is traumatic and the first thing one would do is try to look for that delete button and forget it ever happened. I know, because I did the same thing. The overwhelming majority of victims never report their violation, as the idea of telling a bunch of people and having the assault go public can feel humiliating. I mean, why would a person want to share the most horrible experience of their lives with family, friends and the public?

It can be nerve-wrecking to say something, and not believed

Let’s face it, when the victims do come forward, they’re commonly savaged and dismissed. People would say things like, “you deserve it because you dress like a slut,” or “that’s what you get for socialising too much”. It’s a cruel double whammy in the aftermath of being violated, which could cost them in the long run.

And with social media, it has become so easy for news to spread and have the victims’ lives scoured for dirt. Even in cases that aren’t high-profile, going public in places like a workplace is bound to leave friends choosing up sides, or have the situation exaggerated with false rumours.

It could take months or years for victims to process their trauma

As I’ve mentioned earlier, it may take a survivor a while to process that trauma, and even to identify what has happened. People can easily criticize survivors’ decisions to come forward 5, 10 or 20 years later, but the reality is — Yes, it may have taken them that long to understand those moments for what they were and get to the point where they feel secure enough to share it with the world.

“The victim doesn’t act like one”

Like after a break up, there is no one emotional response to sexual assault. Different victims will behave in different ways to cope with the traumatic incident, in which they can easily appear calm, distraught or overtly angry according to how well they handle their feelings. In some cases, victims might even be more active on social media and use “likes” as a measure of self-esteem to deal with post-traumatic stress.

“Why didn’t they didn’t fight back?”

When people are mugged or robbed, they are not always asked why they did not resist. Unfortunately in sexual assault cases, failure to resist can be one of the biggest strong points for the society — where they would question whether it was consensual. Of course, in an ideal world, the victims would fight back. But what if the attacker is larger and stronger? Some girls would just give in to the assault as they fear for their life. You just can’t win.

Having said that, people who have survived harassment or abuse may experience intense shame that they were not “strong enough” to fight off an attack, leading many of them to stay silent. The thing is, it can happen to anyone, regardless of gender or sexuality, or age.

Some victims may have little choice but to stay in contact if the offender is a colleague, boss, teacher, coach or relative. That is, until they finally realise the devastating reality that the abuser is getting away scot-free. And as we all know, when the victim finally comes out, the question of “why now” will start pouring in, where people tend to choose sides. Some might believe her, while some may not.

So before we start criticizing or questioning their motives for taking years to come out, let’s put ourselves in their shoes and understand why it is hard for them to do so.