Sometimes I have to write simply because the idea won’t go away. Or perhaps the situation just keeps coming up, all too often. As a therapist I’m overwhelmed with emotion every time I hear or read about the injustice of sexual abuse and more recently the continuance of “rape culture” as perpetrated by Donald Trump and countless others.
It kills me every time I hear about the “resilience” of children. When people say this, I don’t think they have the slightest understanding of how trauma works. And I think the danger of believing that people simply bounce back from a wrongdoing is partly what keeps these crimes perpetually in motion. People do not simply bounce back. Bouncing back entails very long, grueling weeks…months… years and years and years of therapy sessions to find a way to piece back together a normal life where one can productively function as a working adult and maintain healthy relationships. And that’s for the lucky ones. The unlucky ones are unable to afford this type of therapy and support. Relationships are negatively impacted, ability to work is affected. Ability to get out of bed is affected. The unlucky ones often turn to things like drug addiction and eating disorders to cope. Sometimes people don’t even know what happened to them, but as Bessel van der Kolk points out, The Body Keeps the Score; even if you can’t consciously remember exactly what happened to you, your body will remember and in some way, shape or form, it comes back to surface.
But being enraged is not enough. Something has to change. Why are there still so many perpetrators out there? What don’t they understand? I know people who think like Donald Trump, in fairly close circles actually; I believe it’s more common than any of us would like to admit. I know people who associate themselves with feminism and still talk like this. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. If there are so many people out there who can identify with being inappropriately groped, ridiculed, at the receiving end of derogatory remarks, and flat out attacked – probably you know some of them. And just as likely, you probably know some of the perpetrators as well. They’re out there, just as much as the victims are out there.
So when you consider the 20 minutes that it took for Brock Turner to rock his socks off, please consider the exchange of energy that takes place in a scenario like this. The victim in this case did not suffer for 20 minutes; it’s highly likely that she will be struggling far longer and in many more difficult and numerous ways than the public eye will ever know. Turner’s slap on the hand is beyond insulting to victims everywhere.
Here’s my request. Say something. Use your voice. Look for opportunities to offer teaching moments to boys, girls, men, women of all ages. We can’t place the responsibility of speaking up solely on the shoulders of victims. And while campuses around the country are finally getting wind of the benefits of teaching safe relationships, it’s not enough Think about it, how many times did Trump make lewd comments and no one responded?
As one of my favorite writers on the subject of trauma wrote, “The victim’s greatest contempt is often reserved, not for the perpetrator, but for the passive bystander.”(Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 2015, p92).