PRIOR PODCAST: #MeToo Series: Misconceptions Hurt Everyone, Except Perpetrators
THIS EPISODE IS FROM MY PREVIOUS PODCAST entitled "The Restoring Heart Podcast." Website names and social media handles have changed since then. You can now find me @theashleybaxter on social media, and on my blog at www.theashleybaxter.com/blog . Go to the 8th episode entitled "Helping You Find Courageous Worth" for the start of the Courageous Worth Podcast. This old episode is part of my 4 episode series on sexual trauma awareness. Misconceptions about sexual assault are incredibly damaging to everyone, except perpetrators.
This episode is the first episode in a 4-episode series providing awareness and education about sexual awareness and abuse.
If you have been here awhile then you know my story, and that I was sexually assaulted in 2013. That day changed my life forever in countless ways. But there is one way in particular I want to share with you today.
Before that day I held many misconceptions about sexual assault. Misconceptions that I have come to realize are not only false, but are also damaging in horrific ways.
You may be thinking, “ok, this is something she is very passionate about because of what she has been through, but I think she is exaggerating a bit because of how close she is to the issue.”
I wish that was the case. I wish it wasn’t a big deal, but it is. I hope you will stick with me thru this entire post to give me a chance to explain, break down some of these misconceptions, and show how you can be part of the solution simply by no longer holding onto these misconceptions.
I want to talk with you about how there are incredibly false messages in the media and the world that are very damaging to survivors and to those who know a survivor – which is everyone in this world.
You may be thinking, “I don’t know any survivors," but I promise you, you do. Since I publicly shared my story, I have had over 50 people in my life share that they have experienced sexual trauma. 50! These are people I had known for years, some even for decades, who I never knew this about before.
Believe me when I say the statistics are true. 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 6 men have been sexually assaulted. If you are listening to this while you are driving to work, then look around and know that for every handful of cars around you, most likely one of those people have been sexually assaulted. Next time you are in a grocery store, work, or anywhere in public, know that you are in a sea of survivors.
There are survivors in your life. And unless you have spent time being educated on the facts of sexual assault, and breaking down the damaging misconceptions - there is a high probability you are unintentionally thinking thoughts and speaking words that are harmful to survivors, but helpful to perpetrators.
Because that is exactly what misconceptions do. Misconceptions about sexual offenses are incredibly damaging to everyone, except perpetrators. Misconceptions distort the reality of sexual offenses in a way that shames survivors, misinforms others, and protects perpetrators.
Perpetrators need sexual assault to be something that isn’t talked about. They need victims to be shamed into silence.
The more the attention is on the survivor, the less the attention is on the perpetrator.
An example of how that plays out is victim blaming. A survivor once said, “Nobody asks what my rapist was wearing.”
Often when someone is sexually assaulted they are hit with questions such as “were you drinking? Where were you? What were you wearing? Did you lead the other person on?”
Now, I’ll be honest. Before being assaulted, I too believed so many of the misconceptions that are out there.
I believed the misconception that a victim sometimes shares some of the blame. But it isn’t true.
And honestly, that was a real struggle for me in the aftermath of what happened to me. I kept asking, "did I do something? Did I say something that made it ok? Was it a misunderstanding?"
The reason I was facing those questions in processing what happened to me, and the reason I believe most people stand behind that misconception, is because we want to live in a world where if you follow certain rules then you can avoid getting hurt.
We want to be able to point to something the victim did that was wrong, because then it makes us feel safe so long as we don’t make those same decisions. But the truth is unless you live on an island where you are the only person there, then there isn’t anything that could 100% guarantee you are risk-free from ever being sexually harmed.
I think another reason people lean to blaming victims is because it is so hard to comprehend someone is capable of such evil.
I know that was a very difficult part for me.
I always have said that if I had been raped in a dark alley, at knife point, by a stranger then I think it would be easier for me not to have those questions of “did I say something that made it ok? Was it a misunderstanding?”
Instead this happened at a high-end spa that I had been to for years and loved. It was a place where I felt safe. It was a place I went to once a month. And this wasn’t the first time I had seen this particular masseuse, it was the third time.
He didn’t threaten me, he just all of a sudden near the end of the massage started sexually assaulting me. His demeanor never changed throughout the entire time.
At the very end, he said chuckled and say, “That’s all the time we have today.”
It was so confusing. He acted like nothing was wrong. Like nothing had just happened. It felt like we were each part of two different realities.
In the moment I froze. I feel like my brain short-circuited. It didn’t know how to compute what was happening.
I know that sounds crazy to many people. People have said to me, why didn’t you jump off the table. But the thing with trauma is your body automatically has it’s own reaction. The reactions are either fight, flight, or freeze.
I didn’t tell myself "don’t fight, don’t run, just stay there." It was my body’s automatic reaction. There wasn’t any decision making in that moment.
In that moment it was as if I disconnected from my body. I just laid there and waited for it to be over. I was in shock, but not how I had always seen shock in the movies.
I always thought shock was you sitting in a corner, rocking back and forth, and barely able to talk. Instead, shock for me meant I was still able to function, but my thoughts, actions, and words weren’t lining up with what had happened.
I called a girlfriend immediately after I walked out of the spa to tell her what happened. But I wasn’t upset, I was bewildered, and I even laughed. I told her, “you’re not going to believe what just happened to me?!” I remember her immediately freaking out.
It was a moment when I realized something isn’t lining up correctly with my thoughts and reality. I know that sounds crazy, but that is what trauma does.
Often times people say, this person isn’t acting like a victim, but there isn’t a way too act. We are all wired differently and our default reaction to trauma can be very different than someone else’s.
If a victim isn’t meeting other’s expectation for what a survivor should act like, then the survivor is sometimes accused of lying.
If a person decides not to report what happened to them, then they are often accused of lying.
I think it would be helpful for me to try to paint a picture of what the aftermath of an assault can be like for a survivor. Now, again, every survivor is different, but I would think many could relate to at least certain parts of this description.
Think of a time you have ever been dizzy and disoriented. Perhaps it was from a ride at an amusement park, or you go knocked over and rolled by a huge wave in the ocean, or from where you were a kid spinning and spinning around. Now, imagine if that spinni