The Men in my Life

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

I have some wonderful, progressive men in my life. They care deeply about the women in their lives, and are aghast at the treatment sexual assault survivors have to endure when they try to do the right thing. They speak loudly, and publicly, about the need to believe survivors when they muster the courage to tell, and they have fury in their hearts for the entitled, amoral shits who would perpetrate such a crime. 

And yet. 

This story in the Washington Post reminded me that even the most sensitive of men, even the most progressive, the most supportive, still don't fully understand the scope of the problem that is sexual assault. 

The author of this piece points out that stories of harassment and assault have been pouring into her inbox daily, and many of the writers will not tell their fathers about their experiences. They have many reasons for this choice, but most boil down to an attempt to protect their fathers' feelings from the horror that was perpetrated on their child. These survivors are afraid. They're afraid their parent won't see them the same way. They're afraid their parent will subconsciously blame their kids for their suffering. They're afraid it will break their parent's heart. And they're afraid their parent will take some action that will land them in prison, or worse. 

When I was assigned at a Naval Training Station, I acted as a sexual assault victim advocate in a program that was the precursor to the DOD's SAPR Office. When a sailor on our base was sexually assaulted, a member of my team would be called out to act as a support system for that person. It was almost a given that the victim was without family in the area, and let's face it - dealing with such an event is hard even for the emotionally mature, let alone an 18 year old away from home for the first time who was attacked by someone they thought was their shipmate. These young adults needed help, and our team tried to provide it. 

And each of the individuals I advocated for, with only one exception, had one thing in common: They refused to tell their family about their experience. Their reasons were myriad, and not mine to share, but suffice it to say that the WashPo author gives a pretty good representative sample. 

Men with whom I would associate would never disbelieve a sexual assault survivor because they chose not to report the crime in a timely manner. They would advocate for these survivors, and do everything in their power to ensure the perpetrator was held accountable. Their hearts would break for the survivors, and I believe they have the emotional fortitude to manage this emotional burden. 

And yet, I wonder how many of them truly understand that in their own circles, among the women they know personally or professionally, those who are casual friends or acquaintances, one in six of those women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. They understand the statistic, to be sure - but have they looked at their circles and wondered, "Who among my friends and family have been through this horror?" I know I do, often, usually when I'm contemplating (again) what behavior will keep me safest in an unknown situation. 

I guarantee you, men - you know people who have been sexually assaulted. They won't tell you, for a variety of reasons, but it's true. The survivors are all around you, and you really have no idea who they are. Because, through no fault of your own, you have the luxury of not having to think about it.