As almost 20 women across the country have come forward to accuse an iconic entertainer of sexual assault and many other express outrage, hundreds of people give him a standing ovation at a comedy performance in Florida. And this is not unusual. People who speak about being sexually assaulted or abused often find that the general public seem to feel entitled to pass judgment on their motivation, their character and even the truthfulness of their claim without the benefit of any knowledge of the facts in the matter. All the while the accused perpetrator is lauded and in many cases defended.
Knowing that complete strangers, who may only have a hint of information, find it acceptable to discuss these personal, intimate matters, while voicing strong, and not necessarily positive opinions about the victims, can be part of what prevents those assaulted from coming forward. Unfortunately, there are many obstacles standing between those who experienced abuse and justice.
Victims quite often blame themselves about what they could have done differently, or how they should have known the assault was going to happen. There is often fear of the perpetrator. Whether real or exaggerated, victims often are afraid of what other harm could come to them or to their loved ones.
There is also a great deal of shame for those who have had their bodies violated. When we are shamed, there is a huge urge to avoid any situation or interaction that will bring attention to what happened. So the idea of being asked intimate details and then having those answers scrutinized is just too much for many people. When the perpetrator is famous, there is even more negative attention.
What can also be particularly discouraging for those who have not felt comfortable speaking up, is hearing friends and family criticize other victims. Many of us do not realize that 20 percent – or two out of every 10 individuals – are sexually abused. That means that when we share these comments in a group — wondering out loud why a victim didn’t speak up sooner or commenting about a victim’s clothing or choice in companions — we may be contributing to a victim’s reluctance to come forward for fear of being hurt again, Yet telling someone is the only way to start the healing process.
The Baltimore Jewish community provides a channel for victims to tell and that is CHANA.
CHANA provides crisis intervention, education, trauma therapy and consultation for victims and their families while advocating for community awareness, safety and healing.
While it is the job of the staff at CHANA to directly respond to these courageous victims, it is everyone’s responsibility to be mindful of their words and actions in the face of stories about abuse. Let us not allow our thoughtless comments create any additional barriers for the silent victims in our presence to come forward to find help, hope and healing.
Learn more about CHANA.