These are trying times.
It seems that a new heartbreaking story goes viral almost every month with thousands of other stories going unheard, making us question who we’re really protecting in our society. In a world where silence can be violence or a sign of fear, those who take advantage of others thrive in the ambiguity of the situations where they abuse others.
And, as if to make matters worse, victims are either shamed into even deeper silence, are questioned for the validity of their statements/feelings, and are made to feel like all of this violence is “normal” and “accepted” and “to get over it.” This only further perpetuates toxic masculinity and male entitlement over women’s bodies. The more we normalize it, the less we see them for the heartbreaking, trauma-inducing, criminal actions that they are.
Another thing that many victims are asked is: Why did you wait so long before speaking up?
This question has plagued victims for so long. As if it’s so easy to step out of our own fear to admit that something happened to us, that someone violated us and hurt us. As if it’s so easy to process the actions taken against us or the people who robbed us of our agency in a moment of betrayed trust. We’re hurt time and time again when people ask us why we waited so long.
I’m here to tell you that it’s not a bad thing to take your time.
It’s such a huge blow to the self when one is sexually harassed. When someone tries to take advantage of you to fulfill their own pleasures, they are selfish and disrespectful of another person’s boundaries. That hurts and makes you feel very very scared for a long time. And no one should dictate the amount of time you need to overcome that memory and possibly even come forward and expose the actions taken against you.
It’s an act that affects how a person views themselves and their worth. They might think less of themselves after the act. And all of this takes time to process and to think about and revisit. It’s all painful. Pain they deal with every time something reminds them of the incident.
We treat war and childhood trauma as things that take time to confront, process, and heal from but why don’t we view it the same way when it comes to sexual harassment?
The confrontation is often the hardest part. For some victims, they recognize it immediately. For others, it’s not as easy, especially when the situations are complicated and the victims themselves are unsure if what transpired was harassment at all. But what matters is how the victim feels and not the intention of the abuser. Other victims may only recognize it days, weeks, even years down the road and then beat themselves up for not seeing it sooner.
That alone takes so much time and energy.
Next, victims have to process it and understand it for what it truly was: An act of violence. And to see their attacker as what they really are: An abuser. And, more often than not, these victims will be met with protest or are told to not take it so seriously because of how deeply we’ve normalized sexual violence. Which can set them back even more.
This entire ordeal takes a toll. Emotional, painful, and frightening. Especially in our society where we shame victims and internalize misogyny and an often backwards mindset when it comes to sex. This power imbalance is where abusers feel the strongest–they are hardly ever convicted or punished. This is another thing that can contribute to how long it takes to come forward: The system has failed victims before, who’s to say it won’t again?
The actual stage of coming out with their stories and calling out their abusers is a stage that many don’t even get to reach. By this time, time has likely passed. Whether it be days or years, a good fraction has transpired. And many people start slinging the same old question of: Why did this only come out now? But that’s not the question we should be fixated on. It doesn’t matter how long someone waits, what matters is that it happened and the abuser thought they could get away with it. Why shame victims further on the silence we’ve trapped them in from the day they were born? Our insistence on this question is just a reflection on how, societally, we ignore the severity of sexual harassment and the pain it brings.
The real questions are: Why did these abusers do these things? Why do we keep allowing them to do these things? And when will they be punished?