Breaking silence

2019-11-26 06:00

For many years I have been an unwilling participant of the stigma placed against victims of sexual abuse. And for that, I am a hypocrite.

While many may be quick to judge me for saying this, given my line of work, it may not be as you think.

It took me many years to realise and admit that I am a victim of sexual assault.

That may be a strange concept for some to understand, and maybe this is one of the underlying reasons people are quick to judge, pass blame and continue to perpetuate the stigmas attached to reporting and speaking out on sexual crimes.

When I was at high school I found myself the recipient of wandering hands, forced and inappropriate kisses and invasion of personal space in the worst way possible. I was asleep and awoke to this. As you can imagine, a moment of shock paralyses you and it takes a bit of time to comprehend that this is or has just happened. I was always reasonably physically strong, and I pushed so hard that this man lost his footing. I remember very loudly saying “NO!” as I did it.

I find it quite funny now that the response I was met with was: “Okay, is it like that?”. He was actually upset, as if I was the one doing something wrong for not accepting his advances.

While I knew this was not supposed to be happening, a moment of confusion set in. I had momentarily allowed his words to influence me into feeling guilt... “Had I asked for this?”

Society teaches women that it must have been their fault, that they had in some way invited the unwanted attention. While I admit, there has been strides in improving this, we would be ignorant if we attempted to convince ourselves that it has entirely been changed.

I always wanted to be a journalist and so growing up I was very intune and up to date with news. I was not unfamiliar with the brutality of sexual crimes perpetrated against women. Then becoming a working journalist in an area synonymous with violence and needing to actually become involved in sexual crimes of such a brutal nature, I actually convinced myself that what happened to me was not that bad.

I felt I had dealt with the situation in that moment. I was one of the lucky ones and that I dare not claim to be a victim of sexual assault when others had experienced so much worse. While I somewhat still agree with my then sentiment, I was naive.

I realise now that I unknowingly suppressed and buried the experience as a coping mechanism – that I considered molestation and “pre-rape” sexual assault as not serious enough to constitute being classified as a victim. Maybe perpetrators think the same thing. I was most definitely influenced by a variety of factors, including the stigma victims still face. As someone who has actually experienced it, I understand why so many opt to remain quiet.

No, that person is not weak for doing so and no, she did not ask for it. It doesn’t matter the clothing she is wearing, the way she conducts herself or the circumstances surrounding the incident.

We should shift the judgement and blame to the person on the other end and spend less time focussing on making the victims feel as if they are the one’s at fault.

And while we move into the 16 days of activism for no violence against women and children, I have but one thing to say.

This has become a public relations campaign, rather than a vehicle for effecting actual change. Companies and government should be raising their voices everyday, but more importantly, the change needs to be made behind closed doors, where the crimes are actually taking place. And it is not until society changes its perception and reverses the stigma, that we will really begin to put an end to the undue violence. In a time where violent crimes are so widely reported, more needs to be done that encourages women to break the silence. But this would only happen if they felt they would be supported, rather than judged.

– Samantha Lee-Jacobs

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