Sexual Assault Survivors Don’t Owe You Their Stories

Sexual Assault Survivors Don't Owe You Their Stories

By Jillian Leslie

A two-word hashtag started by actress, Alyssa Milano, filled up our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds this week. #MeToo was created to shed light on the amount of women who’ve fallen victim to sexual assault. It was successful to say the least. Countless brave, heroic women shared their horror stories and bared their scars for the world to see. Women spoke out in an effort to educate the unaffected and break down the barrier of silence our society builds around sexual assault. While scores of women participated, others purposefully left themselves out of the dialogue for fear of being criticized, judged or triggered. Do sexual assault victims owe the Internet their story? No, and here’s why:

I don’t think a single hashtag in the history of all hashtags has evoked so much emotion. With each “me too” appearing on my feed, my heart fell deeper into my stomach. It got me thinking: what happens to women, like myself, who decided to not take part in the discussion to avoid reliving traumatic moments of the past? As each woman spoke out, I began feeling consumed with guilt. Relentlessly beating myself up over my lack of involvement, I drafted a few posts and tweets but never sent them. As the half-crafted words lay pathetically in my drafts, I thought, what kind of self-proclaimed feminist am I if I can’t post a single damn tweet to help illustrate one of the largest female issues that exists in our world?

Many women I spoke to and heard from online said, it’s not just their own stories of assault that affected them in the recent days, but the stories of others. It’s the childhood friends, neighbors, teachers, and co-workers, the “me too’s” that came seemingly out of the blue. It’s the idea that sexual assault stops at no one; no race, class, or body type. Perhaps the most terrifying of all, is the ever-looming possibility that every single woman sitting in the room with you has fallen victim to some form of sexual assault. It’s ironic that well-intended activism has turned into a serious trigger point for others.

Sexual assault brings with it a lifetime of psychological struggle and emotional turmoil. As women, we are taught to forgive the inappropriate acts we’ve endured. We are asked to somehow move on, sweeping our victimization under the rug. We are taught to redefine and reimagine attacks as being our own fault. Our world asks women to speak out in order to prove that their stories exist. The social responsibility is carried on the backs of women, rather than correcting the behavior of the abuser. As we’ve seen recently in Hollywood, coming out against the abuser can result in career-ending, social suicide. With all of this ingrained deeply into our minds, how are women expected to shut off the years of attempted hiding, pretending and forgetting?

It is important to note that not everyone who identifies with #MeToo is going to feel compelled to share their story publicly. For some, living in the dark memory of an assault day in and day out is struggle enough. It is ok to not divulge your past if it doesn’t serve you. It’s ok to be afraid. You don’t owe stories of your past to anyone. Certainly, you owe it to yourself to cater to your own heart. If you do want to be a part of the conversation but haven’t yet participated, realize that these threads can impact you on a personal level. It is important to be prepared for the enormity of the cause and possible triggers that may arise. Always assess your needs first and take action in whatever way you see fit. However you respond to #MeToo is ok and you should never feel guilty for participating or not.

There is inspiration to be gleaned from every brave soul who speaks out about their experience. As much as I find solace in the amount of fearless women coming forward, I make a conscious effort to pull myself away from my screen. When it feels too much, too big and too difficult to digest, I tune out and turn my energy inward.

Activism comes in many forms and most importantly begins in catering to your heart first. If “me too” is a means of healing, and helps you feel empowered and surrounded with love, by all means type those words. In fact, scream them at the top of your lungs and stop for nothing and no one. But please, don’t allow anyone to make you feel apathetic for refraining from the conversation.

As Rupi Kaur says in her Ted Talk ‘I’m Taking My Body Back’, “It takes monsters to steal souls, but fighters to reclaim them.” This week, the fighters emerged. Not just in the form of social media posts, but in all of the survivors. Whether you took part in #MeToo or not, know that you are resilient, powerful and supported.

Jillian is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty on Tap. To apply to become a Contributing Writer, please click HERE.

{featured image via unsplash}

3 thoughts on “Sexual Assault Survivors Don’t Owe You Their Stories

  1. kristinmoras says:

    Thank you for sharing this. While it’s great to have visibility of a very important topic such as sexual abuse, it’s still social media and sometimes the lines get blurred between doing good and pressuring in the opposite direction.

    Liked by 1 person

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