I was talking to a male friend the other day, and we somehow ended up on the topic of sexual harassment and assaults—how we need to discuss our own experiences to prevent more incidents. I couldn’t agree more.
However, it’s not as easy as it sounds. I’m going to be very vague, because I still choose to be vague on one thing that has happened in my life, and I don’t want to share it with the rest of the world.
As human beings (male, female, black, white, straight, gay, bi, trans, etc.), we accumulate moments of guilt as we move through each stage of life, which helps build the moral code we possess (for example, “I hit Tommy, and Tommy hurts now. Maybe I shouldn’t be hitting people because it hurts them”). But when we place guilt on ourselves for another person’s actions, it’s an entirely different ballgame. In this case, shame can develop—shame says “I’m bad,” while guilt only says “the behavior is bad.”
That said, my friend didn’t understand why we as women don’t speak up more about our experiences with sexual assaults and harassment.
I had to tell him that it’s not about letting your close friends know, it’s about verbalizing the words versus texting it to someone. It’s about your sweet, conservative grandmother hearing what happened to you. It’s retelling the story to the police. And in the past, when people have gone to court for rape, it’s infamously referred to as “the second rape,” because you end up fighting for your dignity and reputation, rather than the accused. It’s about your parents knowing you’re not a virgin, or that you were alone with some guy (didn’t they teach you better than to be with someone you didn’t know, even though 90% of victims know their attackers?).
I don’t speak about all the incidences I’ve faced in my life because I don’t want everyone to know my business, and frankly, that’s because I still have a lot of feelings to deal with. Maybe that’s why the #MeToo movement has been so progressive, yet still has a lot more to learn.
For now, let me be patient with those who have not spoken up. It may seem like everyone has shared their story, but I guarantee you, they have not. Please don’t put the pressure on anyone to tell the whole world. Their words will come in time when they’re ready, and with whom they want to know.
If you’re ready to share your story, look around. See how the power of words and stories have changed our world and the way we view treating each other. You have the voice whenever you are ready, and it’s not your shame to carry—it’s someone else’s.
I’ve had many conversations about the issue of silence amongst sexual assault victims, and the confusion for why it happens. I say keep the conversations going, and more stories will come out soon. Maybe even yours or mine.
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