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  • JL Whitehead

Calling Out Abuse

I have interviewed many women who have been the victim of abuse and sexual assault. I’ve heard their stories and as moved as I was in the moment, I moved on to the next interview after giving pause to their stories almost as if they hadn’t said anything at all. When you hear the same story repeatedly…so often that it becomes normalized. Except sexual assault should never be normalized. Assault at the end of the day is assault. And trauma is trauma. It should not be accepted as normal simply because you hear it often because I guarantee you, the victim, whether they are male, or female does not think of it as normal.

When I was assaulted by a predator at the age of thirteen, I can’t tell you the day that it happened. I cannot tell you the exact time of day…I just remember that it was late and that I was waiting for a cab to come take me home. My attacker had deliberately kept me out all night long. During the night, he assaulted me. I don’t remember much about the night except for two things: the assault was painful, and a song played on the radio. It was a song that for a few years, I couldn’t bring myself to listen to.

I never cried about what happened to me that night. Thankfully, it never happened again, and I wasn’t stupid enough to put myself in the position that I did that night. This is not to say that anyone who wound up in this position had control over that particular circumstance.

"Every victim has the right to be believed because most people don’t deliberately want to ruin someone’s life by providing a false accusation of sexual assault. ~ J.L. Whitehead"

To anyone that had been the victim of assault, I want to say the following: what happened to you is not and was not your fault. You were probably trusting. You were innocent. You may have thought that you were even a willing participant. I assure you that you were not. You were being manipulated by someone that was aware of their intentions before you ever entered the room.

We are now living in a different era. We are living in the era of the “MeToo” movement. But even while we live in this time frame, we are only now seeing the severity of these issues. We are only now notating just how many women have been the victim of sexual assault. We all stood by and watched as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testify to the best of her recollection what happened to her that night with now Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

I have no doubt that she was assaulted by Mr. Kavanuagh. The issue there seems to be that so much time has elapsed, who are we supposed to believe; the woman who came forward after all this time or the man that had a history of drinking to excess?

This is in part why more women don’t come forward. In many ways, it still a man’s world and a man is to be believed over the testimony of a female victim. And for every ten female victims, there is probably one male victim; and if it is hard for a woman to come forward, it is three times as difficult for a man.

Every victim has the right to be believed because most people don’t deliberately want to ruin someone’s life by providing a false accusation of sexual assault. This is not to say that there isn’t someone that does this but those people are far and few between.

As for me, I never told anyone what happened to me when I was thirteen. I didn’t tell anyone until I was fifty-one. That means that I carried those feelings of inadequacy for all those years. I never cried or even got angry about the assault because I never believed that an assault never took place. I treated it as something that happened…something that was an unfortunate event; a circumstance that culminated in sexual trauma.

And as I rationalized my feelings away, I can only imagine what it must be like for a woman. I can understand the notion to keep something like a sexual assault quiet.

I think that it’s sad that we cannot willingly believe a victim when they come forth. When I finally told my mother what had happened to me, she had given no response. There was no reaction…no questions. It was almost like I didn’t say anything at all. I thought that maybe there must at least be a question that she must have for me. But there was nothing.

I can’t imagine what it would be like for a woman who finally musters up the courage to finally tell someone what had happened to her. I can’t imagine what it must be like to not be believed.

And here’s the thing, an abuser has thought of all of this ahead of time. They count on the victim being silent. They manipulate the person that they are abusing. They may use liquor, drugs, blackmail, manipulation and coercion. And if the person decides to tell someone about it, the attacker will use the old playbook of denial.

We have a choice as to who we want to be. We have a choice in how we want to treat any victim of abuse.

So…who do you want to be?

~ J.L. Whitehead


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