The Importance of Speaking out About Sexual Assault
A difficult but necessary conversation.
According to the National Training Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, 1 in 4 girls has been sexually assaulted by the age of 18, and 1 in 5 has reported being sexually assaulted in college. If it hasn't happened to you, it's probably happened to someone you know: your roommate, your classmate, your best friend.
An important (but uncomfortable) issue like this one shouldn't be pushed aside—it needs to be talked about in order to make real change. Emma, a 16-year-old from Los Angeles, bravely shares her story in hopes that others who find themselves in trouble won't be afraid to say something.
Most people who've been subjected to sexual abuse take years to speak up. Sometimes they never do. This is heartbreaking to me, because only when you speak up can you really heal. Speaking up seems incredibly frightening, for many reasons. What if the person you tell doesn't believe you, or is in denial, or worse, doesn't want to do anything about it? These are all understandable and very normal worries.
But speaking up is always the best thing to do—for yourself, as well as for many of the people around you. Not only could you be saving yourself from having to go through something like this again, but you could also be saving many other people from going through the same experience. It may not feel this way at the time. In fact, you may be feeling like you're about to completely screw everything up. But it is for the better. It is always for the better.
I remember trying for months to tell myself what had happened wasn't a big deal and I didn't need to tell anyone about it. My mum's boyfriend at the time had already been in our lives for almost four years when he touched me inappropriately. Since he was someone I cared for so much and trusted with my life, it was very hard not to make excuses for his actions. Actions that I didn't even fully understand at the time. "It wasn't on purpose...he didn't mean to hurt me." These were my thoughts at the time. But eventually it bothered me so much, I just couldn't keep it in any more. Five months after it happened, I told my dad, with whom I've always been very close. And even then, it wasn't very willingly. He pretty much had to drag it out of me. Only after I told him did I finally realize how important it was that I did. I wish I had done it sooner.
Speaking up is different for everyone, and some may have an easier time than others. But you have to keep in mind that it can be hard for the people you're telling as well, particularly if it’s concerning someone close to them. One thing I learned is that, though it's hard to understand and can feel like a betrayal, it is very common for a parent's first response to be denial. This certainly does not mean that they don't care or don't love you; it just means they haven't quite wrapped their head around it yet. It can take time for the parent as well. I went through this myself with my mum, who had a hard time understanding what happened at first. This was very upsetting to me at the time. She came around, of course, but it took her a little time to process everything.
The people close to you are your greatest source of strength and comfort. If a parent is having a tough time with it, find other people and resources (school counselors, favorite teachers, other relatives, even a close friend's parent) to talk to. And don't be afraid to search for it. Healing from something like this can't fully happen without any help. It's okay to be helped. It is a wonderful thing to be helped!
When I expressed what had happened, I could finally start the process of healing and regaining all of my strength. Talking about your experience allows you to get the help, love, and therapy you need. Speaking up is cathartic and allows you to come to terms with and move on from what happened to you. It’s a long process, and it’s not at all easy, but I can't even put into words how much I learned about myself throughout it, and how much I grew, and learned, and slowly regained all of the passion I had in life. So if you're reading this and you've been repressing something—anything at all—speak up. Tell someone. Let it out!
Emma found support at The Rape Foundation's Stuart House, a program at UCLA Santa Barbara. If you or someone you know has been victimized, DoSomething.org is a valuable resource.