By Dr. Joey Tadie and Dr. Erin Jacklin
This is an incredibly complex period in most of our lives. There are major debates around a number of macro issues that have led to intense emotions and divides. Whereas we can have many different opinions on various issues, it is well worth acknowledging that regardless of our perspectives, we can all be impacted by pain and suffering. Suffering takes many forms, but some of the most emotionally charged conversations are currently about the impact sexual assault has on individuals, families, and society as a whole. This article is meant to highlight the strength of those who have endured the effects of sexual assault (whether you’ve shared about it or not) and to offer hope that we as humans can collectively evolve to promote deeper healing, safety, and love in our interactions.
Many survivors of sexual assault might be feeling incredibly raw in the current climate of daily references across culture. It can be hard to know what to do with the intense feelings you might be having. Maybe these are feelings you had buried inside, but now they are rising again with some of the same searing pain as before. Watching our country grapple with the realities of sexual assault: some people unaware of their limited perspectives, others speaking out strongly from experience, many making massive calls to change the status quo, others struggling to recognize the power of the systems maintaining traumatic cycles. To be honest, It’s hard to know exactly where to start as we seek to end this cycle of abuse humans enact on one another. Regardless, the answer must stem from a deeper dive into love, empathy, sensitivity, and respect.
Healing is a long and powerful process. As psychologists, we have the incredible privilege to supportively walk alongside those who live with the memories and emotions from their traumas. Sometimes we hear the stories that the rest of the world will never know. We bear witness to the hurts the world can’t see or handle. It is from this space that we recognize the immense bravery it takes any individual to tell anyone about their assault experience. Seeing individuals, who also know something about the pain you bear, speak out publicly about their story (on every major network) might create a conflicted maze of emotions for us.
Some who have experienced assault have or are currently speaking out. Does this mean that we should also feel compelled to speak out if we have not already? What if no one knows what happened to you? Are you doing something wrong by not sharing? Our culture has done so much to teach us to stay silent. We have been taught to feel ashamed, to examine our own responsibility for what happened, to avoid hurting others’ feelings, being rude, or making a scene (god forbid). These fallacies result in a vast number of people who suffer in silence with no real outlet for safety or support. Although we deeply desire to help those in pain feel they have a safe, supportive space to share their darkest pains, we empower anyone to share any part of your story in the way and timing that is best for you. This might mean you are not ready to share and might never share on a public stage. But know that you are not compelled to remain silent because broken systems and people told you you must. If you choose not to share about your assault, we invite that decision to be a reflection of you doing what is best for you. If you feel you want to open up about a previous experience that haunts you, we invite you to do so in a setting and with people that are on your terms.
When someone else takes the enormous personal risk to speak out against a powerful person or system, it is important to listen with sensitivity and care. Even when we hear someone share about their pain that we can’t understand or don’t want to believe, we must strive to make room for the story. It might require us to dig deeper in our humanness toward the place where empathy and compassion reside. But that is where we must go if we are ever to evolve beyond this endless and destructive assault cycle. It is where we must go if we are to evolve toward a culture where anyone from any gender identity and any age can live, work, love, and speak in a safe environment that promotes their best potential. In this light we state that no matter who you are, or what happened to you, or whether anyone knows about it, we believe you and support you. This journey is not over, but know that you are not alone or forgotten.