Wow, from April of last year until this year sexual assault has been in the news more often than it hasn’t. Which is an overwhelming, amazing, and disheartening thing all at once. I always dreamed of having a lasting impact by choosing to speak out about my own victimization, but never would I have imagined being able to witness the turning of the tide so to speak when it comes to this very important issue.
Over the last year I’ve been involved in many spirited debates about the subject of sexual assault, harassment and sexual violence. The most common denominator I’ve heard from people who don’t support victims coming forward is this: “if those women are telling the truth, why are they just now coming forward? Why wouldn’t you go to the police immediately after such a horrible crime was committed against you?”
My answer: “It’s not that simple.”
Even before the explosion of media attention a lot of people have asked me why it took me the better part of ten years to share my story. In addition to why I keep sharing my story over and over again, but mostly the question I hear most frequently is “why now?” I’ve been thinking about that aspect of regaining my voice for the past few months trying to come up with an answer.
Like any crime of an intimate nature such as sexual assault or rape there are many intricacies involved in the incident itself and the time immediately surrounding it. A big part of the reason it took me several years to begin to speak up about what happened to me is the fact that I repressed the memories for so long. The incident itself happened in December of 2005, and the first memory that resurfaced from the fog of repression happened in April of 2013. It took me an additional two years before I felt comfortable publishing my account, and an ADDITIONAL two years before I told my family what happened. Twelve years from the time I was violated so violently, until I built up the courage to inform my family. I didn’t even tell them, I printed out and shared what I wrote here to the world with them.
Why? Why did it take so many years before I was ready to confront what occurred and heal from it?
A lot of it stemmed from the fact that I entered into a relationship with my rapist soon after the attack. If I hadn’t been so busy loving my attacker, I’m fairly certain that the memories would have resurfaced more quickly. Instead I spent the next two years immediately following the attack, deeply in love with my rapist. That contributed a lot to the denial I eventually faced once my memories resurfaced, the guilt I felt if I were to “oust” him as it where.
The deeper intricacies surrounding that stem from my lifetime of emotional abuse at the hands of my mother. I felt that love was entirely self sacrificial and I maintained that stance until I began therapy in August of 2013. I was still very much in love with my attacker, even after our relationship ended. I felt that to remain true to my feelings of love for him and “prove” how much I cared about him that I had to maintain my silence. That is the biggest emotional reason I waited several years after my memories resurfaced.
There were also many logistical reasons that I didn’t immediately run to the police to file a report. For one, immediately after the relationship ended I moved to a different state. I returned to my hometown for visits here and there but never moved back making the legal system fairly defunct. I saw no point in reporting the case when I couldn’t follow through with pressing charges. I also saw no reason to drag up the past and put his family life in jeopardy. I thought that I was coping just fine and didn’t need to stir up emotions that I thought I had already dealt with. I was wrong. I hadn’t been properly coping, nor had I addressed all of the repressed emotions that accompanied the assault.
The third and final reason that made going to the police one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do in my adult life was fear. For all intents and purposes I was Emily Doe, and my assailant was Brock Turner. His father is an educated, successful, decorated military hero with many legal resources, money and political connections at his disposal. At the time I was a stay at home mom, who hadn’t yet finished my high school diploma let alone continued my education. My marriage and family was just getting started, and financially we ran a tight budget. Plenty of money to live comfortably, but not enough to spend on attorneys for a court case that would last several months at the very least and no political connections in my old home town. When I first walked through that door at the police station telling them that I wanted to report a crime, I was terrified that I would see jail time and my assailant would go free based simply upon his social status compared to my own. I’d like to think that my assailant’s father has more integrity than Brock Turner’s father, but I’ll never know since my case never made it in front of a judge.
The fact that I couldn’t be sure how much sway my assailant’s father would have over a judge caused my anxiety to spin wildly out of control, my PTSD to explode out of remission, and me to hesitate when calling the police for anything related to my assailant and his influence over my life. Twelve years later, I’d finally had enough. It got to the point where I would rather spend time in jail than have to endure my assailant harassing me and cyber stalking me any longer. I had reached my absolute whits end.
My fears weren’t exactly unfounded. As I said the case never went before a judge. If my assailants father had any involvement in the matter it happened entirely behind the scenes never making it to public knowledge. I was at least vindicated of my own alleged crimes even if I’ll likely never see justice for those committed against me. I was cleared of making false accusations, and I can speak my truth without fear of the legal system throwing me under the buss. That’s about as good as it’s going to get for me.
Would it have been any different if I hadn’t endured memory repression after the trauma, or if I had gone to the police immediately after the memories resurfaced? I can only speculate at this point, but no I don’t believe it would have. In fact, I think twelve years ago if I had come forward immediately after the crime I would have ended up in jail for “making a false accusation” or at least in a mental hospital against my will for incorrect treatment of a disease that wasn’t widely diagnosed in the general public until five years after I was raped.
This is where things get infinitely complicated… I regret that I didn’t recognize and get out of the toxic relationship sooner. I regret that I wasn’t able to come forward immediately after the crime took place. I don’t regret waiting to go through my most important phases of treatment and recovery before I came forward and I’m not ashamed that it took me eleven years to do so.
If I had one parting word of advice or encouragement for victims it’s this: take time to feel and process your emotions before jumping into the court system if at all possible. Police are trained to mess with your head as part of the interrogation process. It’s not easy to endure even with the confidence and undeniable proof that you have been victimized. If it takes you two months, awesome. Two years? Okay. Two decades? Great! In order for rape culture to finally reach it’s demise we have to be stronger. In order to speak your truth loud and proud, you have to be healthy. Take care of yourself first. Even if your assailant doesn’t see justice in this world, your recovery is the most important outcome of all.