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 spinning and disorienting didn’t stop – that feeling just kept going, and the entire time all these different thoughts are shouting at you. Some thoughts are your own voice and some are the voice of others. Some of the voices are telling you their opinions for what you should do next, some are questioning your actions. Again, all of this over and over again.
At the same time you have flashes of images, flashes of memories of what happened. Some of them are so real that it is as if the event is happening again. You experience physical pain and emotional pain. You feel like you just want to rip in two.
If I had to roll it all into one scene, that is how I felt. And I presume many other survivors would say the same thing.
So imagine being in that state, and trying to answer questions. Trying to make decisions about what you should do next. Wondering if you should press charges.
In an instant their entire life has been turned upside down and inside out. Their concept of safety is shattered. There view of there body is damaged. They are in a brand new reality and it is scary and vulnerable.
Victims already have a mountain of pain and suffering to work thru, but when we are also met with disbelief or being blamed for what happened – it is unthinkable.
It is a breaking of a whole different kind of reality. People who we thought would support us, don’t.
We have experienced one of the most gut wrenching acts and we expect that the police and everyone who hears what happened to us would be devastated and take action to do whatever it takes, but instead survivors are often faced with being told they are partially to blame, that there is nothing that can be done, or they should just forget about it and move on.
I hope you are getting a glimpse of how these misconceptions are so damaging to survivors on top of everything they are already having to face.
I always say I had to fight two battles. One was my personal healing from being sexually assaulted, and the other was dealing with the reactions of others.
As I said in the beginning, misconceptions about sexual offenses are incredibly damaging to everyone, except perpetrators. We’ve talked about how they are damaging to survivors. Let’s talk more about how they aren’t damaging to perpetrators.
Perpetrators need sexual assault to remain something you don’t talk about. They need you to think that these heinous crimes only happen according to the misconceptions. That it could never be someone who is trusted and thought well of by others. That there are certain places where something like that would never take place.
When we hold onto misconceptions that all assaults happen in dark alleys by strangers, then when a victim says they were assaulted by their gym teacher, their youth group leader, or their father – then our brains have trouble computing it.
That victim could be faced with responses like, “How dare you? That person is one of the most loving people out there.” Typically a victim will then remain silent. The pain and damage will fester and continue to wreak havoc on their life.
Perpetrators are master manipulators. The vast majority of assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. They are often people who are very likeable. People who are very easy to earn the trust and esteem of others.
When we don’t allow those truths to be part of our understanding of how a perpetrator can be, then we make it very difficult to believe a victim when they come forward about someone who we think would never do something like that.
Think of Larry Nassar and all of the gymnasts that he sexually assaulted. That one man was convicted of sexually assaulting at least 250 gymnasts. 250!
Most perpetrators don’t just harm one person. They typically harm many and will keep on until they are stopped.
Misconceptions and blaming victims create the thriving environment for perpetrators.
But, we can change that. You can change that. Here are two ways that you can help.
#1 Educate yourself on misconceptions. It is as simple as googling “misconceptions of sexual assault.” You can also go here on this website for some misconceptions.
#2 Speak up any time you hear people voicing misconceptions. Misconceptions are false information that people happened to learn. It isn't intentional. But that false thinking is damaging on so many levels. By educating yourself, you are able to educate others.
The more these misconceptions are replaced with truth, the safer we make this world for survivors and the scarier we make it for perpetrators.
There are two more misconceptions I want to provide some more clarity to before we end today.
First, as we’ve said, a common misconception is that a victim may be partially to blame because of what he or she was wearing, doing, or saying.
But the truth is that there is nothing any of us can do that could compel someone else to sexually harm us. PLEASE let that sink in. There is nothing someone can do that has the power to compel someone else to sexually harm them.
That is what we are in essence saying when we victim blame. We are saying that a victims clothing gave permission and compelled someone to sexually harm them. Which is ridiculous when we take a moment to actually think it through.
The other misconception I want to mention is the lie that most sexual assault accusations are false.
The truth is that only 2% of "reported" sexual assaults are false. Notice, that is of reported cases. The FBI estimates only 25% of assaults are actually reported. Which means that if 100% of sexual assaults were reported, then the number of false reports would be closer to 0.5%. The point is our initial response to someone saying they were assaulted should always be to believe them. Always.
I hope this episode has helped open your eyes, and also helped show how you play a crucial role in the fight against sexual assault.
Sexual assault isn’t something to be joked about, it isn’t something to turn a blind eye to. It rips a person in two. It thrives in secrecy, in silence, in victim blaming, and in misconceptions.
Please, take just a little time to educate yourself. It won’t take long, but it can make all the difference in the world.
Please share this post or this podcast episode. We need to break as many misconceptions as possible, and this information is one of the ways we can do that.
Together we can make a difference in the fight against sexual assault.