280 characters doesn’t seem much, to tell a story with any impact or punch. Fifty words, give or take a few. But right now on Twitter, there are hundreds, thousands of tweets telling stories packing a huge punch. Horrific stories, brave stories, grief-filled stories. Stories of abandonment and cruelty. Stories of shocking and unforgivable injustices. Stories of #WhyIDidntReport You may have read some yourself. You may have tweeted one. I haven’t, yet, though I have more than a few that I could.
Every one of them is about sexual assault, sexual abuse, rape. Many are about the failures of friends, families, colleagues, teachers, employers, doctors, military personnel, and anyone else who didn’t care enough to believe the victims, or to act with compassion, or to do anything in their power to help bring the perpetrator to face the proper consequences.
The tweets are stark in their simplicity and lack of detail, pared down to the bare bones of what happened in the aftermath. Snippets that show not what happened, but, exactly as the hashtag says, why the people it happened to didn’t tell. Or didn’t try to tell again. Or did tell, but telling did no good.
#WhyIDidntReport They remind me of in memoriams etched into headstones striding in rows through a graveyard. Epitaphs to the death of trust.
“The day after I was raped, his dorm mates came and told me they would kill me if I told.”
“I did. The police just laughed in my face.”
“I did. The police destroyed my rape kit.”
“I was drugged and raped in the Navy. The MilitaryPolice told me if I filed a report I would be charged with adultery because my rapist was married. I would lose my benefits and face a dishonorable discharge. ‘Let’s chalk this up to a bad choice on your part’. “
“I waited over 20 years to report my sexual abuser. Because I was 14. Because it was my hero. Because it was my priest. Because I thought I’d be expelled. Because I feared no one would believe me. Because I thought suicide was easier than telling 1 person.”
“Because people like you [Trump] exist and make us feel ashamed of ourselves if we come forward.”
“I told my mom. She reported it but in the end decided to stay with him because he put food on the table.”
“I was a child. He was a family member. He threatened me. I was terrified. I told my mother decades later. She didn’t believe me.”
If you use social media at all, you’ll have seen the #MeToo campaign, and read the myriad sexual abuse incidents people shared. You’ll have seen posts from those standing in solidarity against sex pests and sex criminals. You’ll probably also have seen the onslaught of responses from doubters and blamers, the narrow-minded and ignorant people who ask if it’s true, why did the victim not tell, or leave it so long to tell, or not tell an account that recalled every minute detail in perfect accuracy, or only tell a friend and not the police, or… or…
These people aren’t really asking a question. They don’t want to know the answer. For one thing, any cursory search of Google for the psychological impacts of trauma after sexual assaults would tell them. All they are trying to do is discredit the victim. To deny ‘it’ happened, whatever the it was. Or to blame the victim for ‘it’ happening.
And this is the behaviour that should attract the whys. Not why didn’t she/he tell, but why do people seek to blame victims? To undermine victims? To shame victims? To malign victims?
Often, the answer is obvious. Take the case of Christine Blasey-Ford’s allegations, that Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s pick for Supreme Court, sexually assaulted her at a party, when she was 15, and he was 17. It suits the agenda of the Republicans to smear her. They want Kavanaugh in the Supreme Court for making-him-Scotus reasons. It suits Trump to throw doubt on her claims, while he emphasises Kavanaugh’s good guy qualities. He wants Kavanaugh in the Supreme Court, for keeping-him-out-of-jail reasons. So of course they will say things like if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says and [he] is a fine man with an impeccable reputation.
But what about the people who aren’t anybody in particular on twitter threads accusing Blasey-Ford of telling lies? What about the people who have sent her death threats? What about the police who laugh at victims? The military police who threaten victims. The teenage friends who threaten victims? The parents who blame victims. The siblings refuse to believe victims? The strangers who abuse and smear victims? What about them? Why do they do it?
Perhaps it is fear. Fear that they too could be raped or sexually assaulted. It happens so often. Blaming the victim weaves a fake spell of protection and righteousness around the blamer. I won’t get attacked because I don’t get drunk, or wear revealing clothes, or walk alone in a dark street.
Perhaps it is denial. Denial of an incident of sexual assault on themselves that they don’t have the emotional ability to admit or acknowledge. Refusing to believe sexual assault happens allows them to pretend it didn’t happen to themselves.
Perhaps it is wilful ignorance. Ideas that sexual assault is uncontrollable lust or passion, or that if the victim doesn’t fight back, they really wanted it, or intimate partners can’t rape their partner, or the body has ways of shutting down to prevent rape if it is really rape, or a victim can’t get pregnant from rape, or unwanted touching is not sexual assault, or victims ‘ask’ for it by the way they dress, or if it really happened they would report it, or any number of other stupid ideas and claims that show a complete lack of understanding.
Perhaps it is discomfort. Sweeping nasty truths of life under a massive carpet. It is less disturbing to believe someone might lie, than it is to believe someone might rape.
Perhaps it is guilt. They are perpetrators themelves, bent on justifying their actions and casting the victims as the villain.
Perhaps it is selfishness. Perhaps it is deliberate power games. Perhaps it is rage, hatred, jealousy. Perhaps it is lack of empathy and compassion.
Without doubt, it is an abdication of humanity. And we need to resist it. We need to hold them to account, the doubters and the blamers, we need to challenge them. Every time they suggest a victim is at fault, we need to turn their whys back on them. Why are you accusing a victim and excusing a perpetrator. Why are you such a snivelling, mean-spirited human being? Where is your heart?