On Victim-Blaming & Triggering

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I feel like there are so many people saying things far more articulately than I could say them, so I haven’t said much.  I was talking to a friend about this the other day… I hate the term “triggering,” but the last few days have been so massively triggering for me that I’ve had a hard time just existing.  What does that mean?  For me, it means I’ve canceled my classes because I don’t feel like I can be a good teacher right now.  It means panic attacks–lots of them.  It means I’ve slept way too much & drank way too much & pushed my body at the gym way too much.  It means I’ve avoided other human beings because I generally just want to violently shake (most of) them until they vomit from it.

Even as I start to type this, I’m physically shaking–my teeth are chattering & my arms are trembling.

In the little bitty poetry community, multiple women have recently come forward & accused another poet of abuse–sexual, physical, emotional.  They (& those of us who’ve adamantly defended them) have been challenged with doubt, attacks, demands for proof.  Then this Woody Allen story… journalists are participating in public victim shaming & blaming–& being lauded for it on my Facebook feed.  “This is interesting,” people write about victim-blaming articles.  It’s not interesting.  It’s dangerousmake no mistake.

Here’s what I’ve been told by the internet this week:  Your sexual assault was your fault.  I’ve been told that when a grown man preys upon a young girl, we owe him the presumption of innocence–that we don’t owe our girls, our women the respect of hearing their voices.  I’ve been told that if there are no bruises, no physical scars, no rape kit, no surveillance footage, then there’s no proof that anything happened, & if there’s no proof, then you–as a victim, as a survivor–have no right to speak.

Let me throw two key statistics at you:  [1] The incidence of false reporting of sexual assault is LESS THAN 3%.  [2] Only 3% of rapists ever spend a day behind bars.  Lena Dunham spoke it fabulously in saying this on Twitter: “I’ve noticed a lot of guys obsessed with the idea of being falsely accused, as if you would just be walking down the street one day, get accused of assault or sexual misconduct, and suddenly life would derail.” These are not stories that we make up for fun. This is not for attention or revenge or to make some bitter feminist point.  This is about the fact that every 2 minutes in America, someone is sexually assaulted & the fact that 60% of sexual assaults are never reported.  I mean, Jesus, I wonder why when this is what women are met with.  This is rape culture.

I haven’t been able to exist in the world the past few days because the Facebook comments mirror the things I was told to my face when I finally got up the nerve to tell someone about what had happened to me.  “Have you thought about how you’re ruining his life?”  “What about his family?”  “Are you sure it really happened that way?”  “Are you just doing this for attention?”  “If you press charges, your entire sexual history will be on display in court.”  “Do you have proof he said/did (x) (y) (z) things?”  “Why didn’t you say something right after it happened?  Why did you wait to come forward?”

I was a child.  Legally, mentally, I was a child.  I am an adult now.  I know that these things were textbook victim blaming & shaming.  But when I still see them being thrown around willy-nilly at women who are brave enough to speak up, it takes me right back to that tiny room where I sat at a round table across from uniformed police officers who were essentially pointing their fingers at a child because a predator had decided to screw with her.  It takes me back to the office where, the next day, I sat opposite the investigator who broke me down to sobbing tears, challenging every assertion I made until I left the room & threw up in terror, calling my mom to come pick me up because I “couldn’t do it anymore.”

Last night, a friend posted an article that contained the quote “Being disbelieved is a secondary trauma.”  This resonated so strongly with me, & here’s why:  Physically, I healed from the incident.  Even mentally, I exist well-on the road to healing from it.  But what I still haven’t come close to healing from is the disbelief, the blame, the externally-imposed shame.  Before I spoke up about it, it hadn’t really crossed my mind that I’d somehow brought on what had happened, that I was doing anything wrong by naming him.  Now every single time someone vehemently doubts & blames these women who came forward about this poet, doubts & blames Dylan for coming forward about Woody Allen, what they’re doing is doubting & blaming every woman who’s ever come forward–including me.

My Facebook “friends” are essentially sitting at that table beside the uniformed officers who pointed fingers at me.  They sit there & ask questions that all lead to their one implicit question:  “What makes you think you get to have a voice?”

 

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5 thoughts on “On Victim-Blaming & Triggering

    Valerie Rose Carey said:
    February 6, 2014 at 7:37 am

    I haven’t expressed any opinions about the Farrow/Allen story because I don’t feel qualified to do so. I’ve read a lot about it, but the only thing I’ve read that is emotionally convincing or resonant for me is Dylan Farrow’s NYT letter. As you know, I am the person who posted the Weide article on Facebook with the comment “This is interesting.”

    I just re-read the article. It contains not a word of victim-blaming or shaming, unless you believe that Mia Farrow is a victim. I don’t. I have always believed it possible that she is an abuser, which is exactly what Weide suggests. That is why I thought it was interesting.

    Certainly, plenty of others have blamed and shamed Dylan Farrow, and questioned her right to speak fully about what she remembers. I understand your reaction to this because I am outraged by it, too. Her complete candor is absolutely essential to her recovery.

    I think it very likely that it never occurred to you, Karissa, but when you attempt to shame me for posting an article on Facebook, you have become the person asking the question: “What makes you think you get to have a voice?” Except in your imagination, no one is asking that of you.
    I don’t feel shamed or intimidated by the question because it’s nonsense. I claimed my right to a voice long ago.

    I do feel other things. I feel sorry for your suffering, and I’m glad you expressed it here. I feel hurt and angry that you directed your scorn at me, because I know I’ve been actively and consistently kind to you. I feel bewildered that, if you were offended by my FB post, you didn’t challenge me on the spot. I have always been honest and up front with you. You know all this is true. I just wish you could remember that other people are as real and as important as you are, that’s all.

      Karissa said:
      February 6, 2014 at 8:38 am

      [1] Here is a nice account of why & how that specific article you mention participates in victim-blaming: http://thenewinquiry.com/blogs/zunguzungu/woody-allens-good-name/

      [2] Over a dozen people on my Facebook feed & probably another two dozen (at least) on my Twitter feed posted that particular article, amongst a number of other articles, most of them claiming it was “interesting,” “intriguing,” or “worth a read.” To turn my feelings about that into a personal attack on me is bewildering & extraordinarily hurtful. Not everything is about you. This certainly isn’t. The last sentence of your comment is mind-boggling hurtful because of what it implies about me, my personality, & my character. If I didn’t care about others’ experiences, voices, realities–if I didn’t find that important–there is no way I would even be saying any of this. As I said above, this conversation isn’t for fun. It’s physically & emotionally unpleasant to have to have it, but I find it important. The half-dozen women who messaged me last night to talk about their own experiences with this & how my words resonates with them–they found it important. I CARE about them. Because I know there are millions of REAL people who have experienced these things–some of whom are my friends who have grappled with them quietly–I wrote this. Not to point fingers at one person who one time posted one article in a grand, noisy mess of triggering articles.

      [3] Is it not possible, too, given everything I’ve said here that there is a good reason I didn’t choose to immediately & confrontationally engage in conversation with each of those three dozen or so people? A reason it took me a few days to formulate my thoughts into something semi-cohesive? A reason it makes more sense to speak them on a public platform than copy-paste them times infinity on each link?

      [4] I find it oddly ironic, to say the least, & offensive to say it probably more honestly, that you would choose to use the word “shaming” in what I did by writing this. In discourse (as a blog post becomes once the comment section is opened) about rape culture & victim-shaming, to take that specific word “shaming” & equate it with feeling offended that you may have posted an article I referenced as being offensive… it baffles me. Disagreeing with a voice (& in this case, not one specific voice–a cacophony of voices) is NOT equivalent to implying that any given person should not have a right to speak.

      [5] The comment that no one is implying I don’t have a voice “except in my imagination” is also unfair, even given only the instances I have briefly outlined here. Obviously, I have claimed my voice & my right to speak about this by DOING it, but that doesn’t mean that I have not been shut down both by people in power as I came forward about this, & by victim-blaming, ignorant nonsense as I’ve tried to engage in discourse about these topics over the years on Facebook, etc. This is a symptom of rape culture–teaching girls & women that they don’t have voices, & that those voices don’t deserve to be respected, to be heard as loudly as men’s. If you have not experienced that, then it am genuinely & non-sarcastically happy for that experience, but that doesn’t mean it’s the norm.

      [6] Now I’ll shut up because now that I’m sufficiently jarred awake first thing in the morning, I’m going to try to turn all this adrenaline into something positive today.

    Dee said:
    February 6, 2014 at 10:43 am

    Karissa,
    There is always going to be an empathy gap for some people who haven’t experienced sexual violence. They have no idea how damaging their ignorance is. I didn’t hurt you by disbelieving a sexual abuse survivor, you shamed me by calling me out for being hurtful= I’m not homophobic, gays getting married is discriminating against me for my religion! Or whenever white people cry reverse discrimination when someone calls them out for being insensitive. In other words, it’s a convenient way to shuck all responsibility and deny the fact that their insensitivity is extremely hurtful. I don’t know that there is anything you can say–some people apologize when they realize they’ve hurt someone’s feelings, while other people vehemently defend their hurtful behavior and try to turn the situation around until YOU have actually victimized THEM. I personally have no time for the latter. Your blog post will resonate with anyone who has survived sexual violence—and those are the people you are trying to reach. I don’t think you are obligated to feed trolls.

    Leslie said:
    February 6, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    Karissa,

    I admire your courage in coming forward, even if (perhaps especially because) some time had passed. I never reported my rape. Never realized it WAS rape until decades later. I only told a couple of people at the time, and when I brought it up recently to one of the people to whom I entrusted to get me through the trauma, she didn’t even remember it. Hard to believe, huh? It’s tough – our society doesn’t like to admit it’s got a dirty underbelly, or that some of our most upstanding public figures have hearts full of scorpions. Keep speaking your truth, and your sisters-in-game will stand beside and behind you. Some day, I hope the shakes will no longer take hold, and that the memory simply feels like a small weight in your psyche. I’ve been on both sides, and talking about it and refusing to accept guilt or blame goes a long way toward healing.

    Leslie

      Leslie said:
      February 6, 2014 at 5:54 pm

      Sisters-in-arms. Please edit if you can. Stupid autocorrect!

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