as published in the Blytheville Courier News on Tuesday, November 3, 2015
By TOM HENRY
This week I talked with a sweet, beautiful, mature young lady, just out of high school, and after hearing her story, I felt such compassion (and indignation). I write in hopes that others will not feel so alone if they have to go through what she went through. Please note that none of this happened in Arkansas.
She went on a date with a young man that she had high hopes for. They had known each other and he seemed to be a nice guy – respectable, possessed a trade and even attended church. Her evening turned dark though when she was sexually assaulted more than once.
Once finally able to get home, she began to reflect upon what happened and what she should do. She called a rape hotline for advice and immediately (before cleaning up, changing or taking a shower) went to a hospital to have a “rape kit” performed.
Subsequent decisions were more difficult. She wondered whether she should file charges, was it her fault, does she want to have him sent to prison, etcetera.
She began to think she was to blame. She also felt that no one would believe her. She worried that people would question what she wore and she blamed herself regarding her choice of “men”. She feared going through the process and thought of a hundred “if I had onlys”.
What was surprising to me is that she honestly did not know that her feelings were normal and common.
When she found the courage to report the incident to the police, she was victimized yet a second time. She was put into a room alone with male detective that she did not know. She was forced to recount every step and detail of the day (all the way down to how she physically puts on her dress). Her credibility was passively questioned and she was told, “saying NO is not enough”. She was devastated.
I tell you emphatically, no mean NO! No IS enough. An old-fashioned, narrow-minded viewpoint would ask why didn’t you scream, why didn’t you run away, why didn’t you bite him, etcetera. But the brutal truth is, fear and a person’s drive to survive sometimes makes people appear irrational. Sometimes, it’s all about survival. After she said no and especially after she said it a second time — it meant no! What she did after that did not make it her fault!
It is never your fault if you get raped. By definition, rape is non-consensual. No one EVER has the right to take from you what you don’t want to give, EVER! Do not allow yourself to feel false guilt. The attacker is to blame, not the victim.
Also, you can change your mind. You may begin kissing and “making out”, but if you change your mind and say no. All bets are off. No means no! Everything should stop right there!
Clothes are not an excuse either. While I personally believe that provocative clothes contribute to an escalation of sexual tension and can be inappropriate, it is not an excuse for rape. Rape is fundamentally not about sexual tension, but about power. The victim says no and the attacker takes any way. That reflects more about lack of restraint on the part of the attacker than the fashion sense of the victim.
Do not worry about how many people believe you. Stand up for yourself if this has happened to you. You know what the truth is, even if others don’t believe you. But the honest fact is, the fear of not being believed is an entirely normal and common feeling. Trust me, more people will believe you than you think.
Also, what you do afterwards is first and foremost about what is best for you. It is best if you are able to report the crime and help keep the attacker from doing it again, but if you can’t go through with that, then don’t hate yourself or feel guilty about it. Do what you need to do. Do not hide your head and just wish it all away, though. Then make a plan of how to move forward and work the plan.
You do NOT have to tolerate being forced to have sex against your will. No one does. The process can be hard and at times scary, but you can get through it. Sometimes victims are handled harshly, even by police when reporting this crime, but not always. Sometimes the attacker’s defense attorney will make life very difficult during a trial, but you can get through it.
Another thing that I was shocked to learn that the young lady did NOT know was that people that are well known and are close to victims perpetrate most sexual assaults and rapes. This spiral of silence is something that victims must overcome as well. The potential fear of reprisal by other friends and family members for reporting the attacker can be strong, but so are you.
If you need help, find a friend or family member that you can confide in or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE.