This is something that apparently a lot of people do not understand. One of two things often happen. People will tell you to keep quiet. They will blame you for what happened to you. They will go on about what you were wearing and how you acted. They will ask questions about whether you were high or inebriated. They will ask you to shut up because it’s shameful, because it’s taboo. Or, they will push you to talk about your experiences to other people. They may choose to tell people for you. They may tell you to pursue a case in court, to stand up for yourself, and to talk about it. But it is NOT that easy. It is NOT that simple.
The recent #MeToo campaign got a lot of women talking about their experience with sexual harassment. Women from all over the world have infuriating, bone-chilling stories. It is sad that most, if not all, women have experiences sexual harassment in one form or the other. It is sad that when I read through their stories, as a woman, I know exactly how terrified and disgusted they must have felt. I understand it now when people tell these women that they are “brave”, because this stuff is not at all the easiest thing to talk about.
Maybe this is not the time yet for me to tell you about my own experience. I am not ready. But that is what I want to talk about: it is I and ONLY I GET TO DECIDE IF AND WHEN TO TALK ABOUT IT. I get to decide when I want to share what happened to me, or if I ever will. I get to decide WHOM to tell. I get to decide how much of the details I will disclose. I get to decide what action I want to take, if I want to take action.
Some survivors put off talking about it for many different reasons. Maybe the circumstances do not allow it at the moment. Maybe they need more time to process what happened. Maybe there is denial and self-blame. Maybe they can’t trust anyone now. Maybe there is anger. Maybe there is fear: fear of judgement, retaliation, further violence and complications. Whatever reason, they are all valid and it is no one’s right to say otherwise.
This post is triggered by a recent event where, in the wake of my trauma, I told someone I trusted. I was angry about what happened to me. I still got nightmares. I wanted to track down that guy and make him pay for what he did. I wanted to sue his ass and put him in jail to make sure he does not do it to anyone else. I went to this person because I knew she had the professional knowledge to help me with my situation.
Enter another person I trusted (emphasis on past tense, trust-ED!!!) . I came to her as a friend. Just that. I was not expecting her to save me. I was not expecting her to kill the guy herself. All I asked for is someone to listen.
Now, what happened is that these two people convened and decided that it is best for me that THEY tell my parents about it. They told dramatic, incomplete, inaccurate, faultily framed versions to my parents (they referenced my mental illness to blame me for what happened). It pains me to think about the initial shock and hurt my parents felt upon hearing these twisted stories. But moving on from that, my parents decided to listen only to my version of the story, because that is what is true. And to them, all that matters is that I am safe and I am okay. (My parents are so cool y’all)
When I found out what they did, I called the first person in rage. I told her that it was the mandate of her profession to keep things confidential. I told her it was not her place to decide what is best for me. It is not her place to tell anyone what I told her, even if she claimed she was doing it with the best intentions.
I never heard from the second person. No apologies. Nothing.
Months after, I still struggle to see what “good” they thought telling a story that wasn’t theirs to tell would bring. They kept saying it was what they thought was best for me. Did they hope my parents would give me bodyguards? Did they hope that my parents would uproot me from my life in Manila? Did they hope that I would not be able to go out and do the things I want? Likely so, but I guess we’ll never know. They’re both dead. They are both dead to me now.
What they did was selfish. They wanted to play heroes in what they were probably fantasizing to be a telenovela. They wanted to be the ones that saved the day. They were basically asking for medals for their heroism. But we are not in a telenovela. I am a real person living a real life and battling real trauma every day. If they thought they were helping me, they are clearly wrong. If anything though, they taught me to be careful about whom I trust, even if or maybe more appropriately, ESPECIALLY if they are family. I speak for myself when I say this, but sexual assault made it difficult for me to trust. You can just imagine how hurt, disgusted, and livid I was when I trusted them only to find that my story was told for me, a fucked up version of it at that.
So if someone comes to you with a story, a gut-wrenching, fury-making story about sexual assault, just listen if they want to talk. Sit with them and let them know you’re there for them if they don’t want to talk. Most importantly, keep it to yourself because they are telling you in confidence. A story like that may be a heavy load to carry, but imagine how much heavier it is for the survivor. Be a friend. Be someone they can trust. That is sometimes all we ask for.