CW: sexual assault, child abuse.
Healing from sexual assault is paved with setbacks, heartache, and desperation. The dignity, autonomy, and safety taken away from you is nothing short of dehumanising. When survivors bravely share their stories, they have to relive this brokenness again as they are forced to detail the worst day of their life.
We endure this because too many sit in a shroud of silence, unwilling to speak up when it would save lives. We are exhausted from delaying our healing because you are too afraid to be uncomfortable, to disrupt the grotesque rape culture that infects our society.
Recently Grace Tame, a sexual assault survivor and advocate, received backlash from national media, politicians, and the general public for refusing to smile in a photo with Prime Minister Scott Morrison at The Lodge several weeks ago. Journalists like Peter van Onselen rushed to call Tame “immature”, “childish”, and “inappropriate” for her expressions towards the Prime Minister.
However, in this nationwide display of misogyny towards Tame and the perpetuation of rape culture, there was minimal discussion in the media regarding Scott Morrison’s failure to act on calls to ensure justice for sexual assault survivors. As we watched the media vilify Tame, we felt the familiar dismissal of the bravery and agony that every sexual assault survivor knows from sharing their story.
Survivors’ stories in the media are ones of speculation, gossip, and malice, never concerned with the evilness of the perpetrators who harm us. Instead, rape culture preserves the systems that allowed our assailants to walk free.
When rape culture is perpetuated through national media, it filters into the minds of those around us, with reprehensible, fault placing questions asked by primetime journalists. When survivors see this vile abuse in the media, we stifle the cries of our trauma. How can we feel safe enough to share our stories when the standard is one of silence, dismissal, and ignorance?
Watching on as a sexual assault survivor and seeing the legacy of Tame discredited due to victim-blaming and misogyny obliterated my hope for meaningful change. However, it was not my inability to escape pain, trauma, and suffering from the media that wounded me. It was seeing friends and family failing to do anything to rectify the cruelty of this rape culture that many other survivors and I were broken by.
In the last few years, with sexual assault brought to the forefront of national conversations, the silence from non-survivors has never been more apparent. I have screamed to have my story believed while people in my life plug their ears or look away. While I have suffered through PTSD every day for 14 years, I have worked to educate others.
Survivors like me are tired of depriving ourselves of healing to fix an issue that we were never to blame for. Some of us have been screaming for so long that we are beginning to lose our voice. I am losing my strength to keep fighting this issue because no matter how loud I scream for justice, it never seems to fill the silence.
I cannot continue to explain why sexual assault is wrong, nor why I didn’t deserve to be abused as a child. Most importantly, I cannot keep reliving my trauma because the general public and those around me are too afraid to be uncomfortable with speaking up. You fear discomfort; we fear for our lives.
All I ask is that you make an effort. No one expects you to perfectly articulate the terrible effects rape culture has on a survivor’s road to healing. You will never understand the weight of sexual assault unless you have experienced it. So please, what I ask of you is to drown out the silence, scream for justice with urgency, share our stories, and not let our pain be forgotten.