Tag Archives: Survivor

On Thursday, Slate’s Emily Yoffe published an article describing three incidents of sexual assault she experienced as a child and a young woman, and, until now, never disclosed. In light of the current Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse trial, Yoffe states she has recently begun to think more deeply about her response to these assaults, and why she remained silent on them.

As the writer of Slate’s Dear Prudence column, Yoffe understands the power in speaking up. Nonetheless, she also understands her reaction to the incidents of molestation she experienced growing up. She writes that she was not traumatized by the abuse because they were isolated incidents; she was able to put an end to them in the moment, though they were undoubtedly crimes. Yoffe quotes director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, David Finkelhor, who says that “From a cost-benefit analysis, it makes a lot of sense not to disclose” when the incident is isolated, as it was for Yoffe. From a child’s perspective, telling an adult would potentially lead to further conflict with friends and family.

Reporting sexual assault can be an empowering act for survivors, but taking a case to trial can also, sadly, prolong the trauma. One of Yoffe’s assailants was a well-respected priest and congressman, and Yoffe recognizes the sad truth that ending her silence on his assault may have negative consequences:

If my 16-year-old daughter had experienced what I did, of course I would want her to tell me. I would also act. A teenager who tries to molest his cousin should at the very least get intervention. A father who touches the breasts of his daughter’s friend should be reported to the police. But as much as I hate to say it, I’m not so sure I would advise her, if she were a young adult, to report a groping by a powerful man. As we’ve seen too many times, coming forward in a case like that opens a woman up to character evisceration. Father Drinan died in 2007, and I’m aware that I’ll be assailed for besmirching the memory of a distinguished man.

Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes. According to RAINN, 54% of sexual assaults go unreported and only about 3% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail. Yoffe spoke to an attorney who advised the importance of reporting such crimes, because “the likelihood is that the person who has done it will do it again.” Yet, despite the importance of preventing a perpetrator from causing further harm, survivors of sexual assault who do speak up are not always believed. When the Twitter hashtag #ididnotreport surfaced, many tweets cited fear of disbelief as one reason for remaining silent. Because of Sandusky’s status as a beloved coach at Penn State, one victim of his abuse says a school counselor did not believe him when he attempted to speak up. A family member of one of Yoffe’s abusers, Father Robert Drinan, released a statement that indicates some disbelief of Yoffe’s story. Due to these types of responses, Erin Gloria Ryan of Jezebel describes silence, social consequences be damned, as an act of self-preservation:

It’s a survival technique, silence; a tourniquet around a trauma. As the mind goes into shock, it’s not considering the social implications of self-preservation. It’s just trying to stay alive.

In the face of such disbelief, it is no shock that so few report sexual assault. To fight sexual assault it is crucial that more people speak up, but rather than simply encourage more survivors to speak up, we should also ensure that we are more inclined to believe them.

My Molesters [Slate]


Former model Carré Otis has already written a memoir that details the sexual abuse she faced at the hands of her agent. Now she speaks as a survivor in an article for the Huffington Post, where she advocates for women’s rights in the face of the burgeoning war on women. It is a difficult choice to make to disclose one’s personal history, but here Otis uses her story to fight for her fellow women’s safety and freedom.

Now I find myself at another crossroads, wondering about the potential benefits of sharing more of my personal experience in the public sphere. After careful thought, I’ve decided that by opening up about more of my past, my voice can contribute to the fight to make a difference in the present

Both Otis’ memoir and her recent article demonstrate bravery in speaking about her own history of sexual abuse. In this article she advocates for women’s basic right to safety and autonomy over their body, a right that politicians, policy makers, and other people in power continue to infringe upon, and a right that so many women have already been denied. All else I can say about the article is that it is well worth reading.

Sisterhood Now: The Political, the Personal, and the Just [Huffington Post]

Teju Cole published a very well-written piece in The Atlantic yesterday titled “The White Savior Industrial Complex.” I would highly recommend the essay to anyone, and in particular anyone involved in or interested in activism. Cole talks specifically about the recent Kony and Invisible Children phenomenon, but his essay is also a broader critique of recent American methods of activism and journalistic language that both cater more to protecting the comfort of the privileged few than to effecting any real change. Cole says it better than I can, and there are many good lines to illustrate this point, but here is one choice quotation:

People of color, women, and gays — who now have greater access to the centers of influence that ever before — are under pressure to be well-behaved when talking about their struggles.

Anything but well-mannered language would risk making people, such as privileged white, heterosexual men, uncomfortable, and it is no coincidence that these people still control these centers of influence. “Neutered language,” as Cole labels it, is preferable because it is easier to swallow than the kind of language he used in his tweet above. And then theres Kony 2012. The Kony video resorts to sensationalism instead of such soft language, but still caters to the needs of the White Industrial Savior Complex over the people it purports itself to be helping. The video gained popularity because it allowed many (white) Americans to feel better about themselves by spreading its message. The narrative positions Ugandans as hapless victims of a single villain in need of a savior; it makes it seem easy for privileged white American to jump in and fulfill this role. This renders the Ugandans as passive and completely powerless to change their own circumstances.

It may seem a broad jump to make, but Cole’s essay made me think about why we at SACOMSS include “pro-survivor” as part of our mandate. Survivor is not a perfect word for everyone who has experienced sexual assault, nor is it a label anyone should be forced to take on. We use survivor however to supplant the word “victim,” the more common term given to people who’ve experienced sexual assault.

When someone is ascribed the label of victim they are rendered passive and thus unable to fight. To self-identify as a victim is another story, and anyone’s decision to do so should be honored. To label someone a victim however also opens up the door for another person to act as savior, whether or not the “victim” wanted this in the first place. The savior is allowed to be active, and the victim becomes passive. The act of helping then becomes more about the person doing the help rather than the person receiving it. One person is helpless, the other powerful. Rather providing aid, confining someone to the status of victim can reproduce the same structure that allowed harm to be done to this person in the first place; the structure wherein the privileged few possess all power and control, and others none.

This does not mean helping others always come out of a selfish need, or that anyone’s desire to help is always misplaced. Truly helping though requires, as Cole says, some humility and respect.

It begins, I believe, with some humility with regards to the people in those places. It begins with some respect for the agency of the people of Uganda in their own lives. A great deal of work had been done, and continues to be done, by Ugandans to improve their own country, and ignorant comments (I’ve seen many) about how “we have to save them because they can’t save themselves” can’t change that fact.

Some of Cole’s words may very well make certain people uncomfortable. His series of tweets from a few days ago (of which one is pictured at the top) certainly did. Unlike the Kony video, his words may have forced people to come face to face with their privilege; possessing privilege also means being blind to it, and thus looking at it can be an uncomfortable experience. It is a necessary step to take though when fighting for any cause, and is part of why activism is such hard work.

The White Savior Industrial Complex [The Atlantic] via Racialicious

Edited to add: For more on privilege, read Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack” (via Dear Black Woman)


3,493 tweets and counting have used the recently coined #ididnotreport to vocalize their experience with sexual assault. London Feminist coined the term only as late as March 12 and already many survivors have used Twitter to speak on an issue where they had otherwise remained silent. Many have cited past negative experiences with police, blame or poor treatment from peers, fear, and discrimination among other reasons for choosing not to report their assaults. The tweets are a powerful reminder of just how prevalent and harmful sexual assault is, and the many barriers survivors can face in achieving any justice. For proof of the far reaching consequences of sexual assault and the myths surrounding it, look no further than #ididnotreport.

Twitter Movement Highlights Underreporting #ididnotreport [SAFER Tumblr]

#ididnotreport #webelieveyou [London Feminist]

Archive: #ididnotreport [The Archivist]

What does it mean to be an ally?

The Crunk Feminist Collective linked to a post today from Brklyn Boihood, the original source of which is The Healing Center, that tackles this question very well. The best place to start when supporting someone who has survived sexual assault is to listen.

Many other great tips follow. It’s wonderful to see information like this floated around to various sources. Sexual assault affects many people, and the more support survivors and their allies have, the better.


This post appeared on Rookie Magazine about a month ago, but was recently brought to my attention. The article is about surviving assault, how to reach that place where one can be “OK” after a traumatic experience. Rookie’s target audience is teenage girls, and in my experience teenage girls don’t get a lot of adequate information on sexual assault, despite the fact that 1 in 4 girls will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18. This post is extremely important not just for its target audience, but perhaps for anyone who has survived sexual assault. As the comments on this article show, the internet is an incredible tool for connecting people through shared experience. You can survive, and you are not alone.

We’re Called Survivors Because We’re Still Here [Rookie]

Thanks to Sarah for the tip.

Above is a video by the creator of Project Unbreakable, a tumblr dedicated to helping survivors of sexual abuse through images and words.  I think the site is very powerful in that it gives voices to those who may otherwise not have it. The video is very moving as well. Everyone’s experience with sexual abuse or assault is highly personal; the video and site demonstrate this but also show just how widespread and common these experiences may be.

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