By Yvonne E Mwende
“In the end we remember, not the words of our enemies but the silence of our allies,” Martin Luther King
Most victims of sexual assault do not report cases of abuse until many years have elapsed. And in more than a few instances the silence is broken by some parental instincts — the fear that what happened to them might happen to their child/ren. Unfortunately, silence is more so the norm, not the exception which has nothing to do with the victims veracity.
There are a myriad of reasons as to why survivors keep mum and don’t disclose the assault right away, if at all: fear of retaliation, fear of not being believed, fear of being blamed, fear of it happening to someone else if they tell, guilt, shame, fear of something worse happening, fear of the offender, fear of getting in trouble, self-blame, denial, avoidance (If I don’t tell, maybe it will just go away and I won’t have to deal with it), lack of a support system, fear of law enforcement or media getting involved, threats, bribes and manipulation used by the perpetrator to keep the survivor silent. The list can go on and on.
The most worrying and catastrophic of the silences, is the silence of allies — parents who fold themselves in silence when their child is raped by someone they trust. The neighbor who witnesses the constant beating of a wife, but feels it is not in their place to intervene, it is after all a family matter. The young woman who complains to school authorities of a deviant lecturer keen on transmitting grades in exchange for sex. The Home that exploits and abuses children they are meant to protect, but then no one cares. Such things though despicable happen. The indifference of allies.
When we blame the victims. Her dress was too short. What was she doing out at such an hour? She willingly went to his house. She probably enjoyed it. At least he was paying for her tuition. Why is she the only one? She is not even that pretty. She was drunk, she probably asked for it. No one asks or deserves to be raped or sexually assaulted — regardless of what they were wearing, where they were, who they were with or how much they had to drink. Victim blaming reinforces the culture of silence, further protecting the perpetrator.
As a society, we are uncomfortable with talking about rape, sexual abuse and/or even body safety, and ill-informed about the realities of sexual assault. This lack of dialogue in our communities about sexual assault and body safety gives credence to sexual violence to continue to permeate our social fabric. When we are afraid to hear a disclosure of sexual assault, if our most common response is to blame the victim, if we are reluctant to help or support sexual assault survivors, if we are uncomfortable talking about body safety — we are giving away our power to offenders and allowing sexual violence to escalate further. When a survivor is inclined to believe that they might be believed and supported, they are much more likely to come forward and disclose sexual assault, thus breaking the norm of silence. We need to fear our silence, and silence our fear, if we want to consciously protect survivors of sexual violence.
It’s time for every woman to be heard and protected. Let’s reach out in solidarity by supporting I Am My Bodyguard impart skills to women to ensure their body safety. Indifference amounts to complicity!