Survivor Solidarity

KaylaJo O’Lone-Hahn: I’m tired of the isolation of survivors. Every day we hear how 1 in 6 women are sexually assaulted, and 1 in 33 men are too. We hear the statistics: 73 precent of rapes are perpetrated by someone the survivor knows.  Numbers come in and out, numbers tell us what to fear. These statistics keep the real, breathing, heart-beating survivors trapped in obscurity. We know the numbers, but not the faces. Countless survivors share their stories in acts of bravery and others never can–the world doesn’t always want to know the real, down-in-the-dirt, cold hard facts of the matter. Rape exists, and survivors live on every day carrying what we’re told should be a secret.

Survivors are a group. Survivors are the people you see on the subway and walking down the road and you’d never know unless there was a sign on their forehead, or they told you. Unlike other rights groups such as women and people of color, you can’t just look at us and know what society says we are. There is nothing like “gay-dar,” for survivors. There is no stereotype on how we should act, because we are expected to assimilate from the start.  Many groups fight the assimilation of an oppressive culture, yet survivors, who have just as unique an experience as any other rights group, don’t have this option.

I’m tired of this isolation, assimilation, and shame. I’m tired of people looking the other way when they talk about sexual assault, sick of people tip-toeing around calling someone out as being a rapist. I’m tired of not telling people about being a survivor, and how proud all survivors should be of having survived in the first place. I’m tired of people being called victims. Victims are helpless and alone. We live in a society that creates victims rather than survivors. We create a society that makes survivors feel helpless after the fact, a society that doesn’t help. We create a world where we tell survivors that their experience is shameful, they should feel awful for this reason or that, rather than telling survivors that they can move on and that their attacker should and will experience the shame, not the survivor.

I’m sick and tired of a world that allows for survivors to continue being attacked even after the instance.  I’m furious at this world that gives women rules on how to not get raped, rarely tells men to not rape, and then creates a stance that if the “rules” aren’t followed, it’s the  survivors fault.  I’m furious at a society that says men can’t be victimized and women can’t rape, I’m tired of this world creating a safe-haven for post-traumatic stress disorder to develop. I’m tired of a world allowing for traumas to be held in so long that the survivor eventually breaks.

Survivors are questioned by the cops and blamed for the acts committed against them. We are joked about, we are tip-toed around. The subject changes when a survivor tells their story,   the people in the room often don’t look at the survivor the same again. When we develop post-traumatic stress disorder, rape trauma syndrome, or a myriad of other mental difficulties due to the attack, we are discriminated against in the workforce, education, and social settings should these institutions discover these issues. Survivors are told that their experience is invalid for a myriad of reasons. Survivors are shamed, beaten, and abused by family members and friends who are too weak to deal with the subject. Survivors are told that they will never again have normal relationships, that they are homosexual if they’re attacked by someone of the same sex, and that they can never fully experience the joys  of consensual sex. Survivors are told how to deal with their problems without the survivors opinion having any matter.  Survivors are continually harassed or attacked by the perpetrator and live in a society that never quite gives a damn. Survivors are ignored because of their reputation, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, intoxication level, mental background and sex. Survivors are just ignored. Survivors watch the world around them perpetuate a system that creates sexual assault.

I’m tired of watching this silence whir around me and other survivors. I’m tired of meeting loved ones too ashamed to tell anyone  but me, tired of watching loved ones cry, waiting for the right time to come out. When will we stop telling survivors to be ashamed of being attacked, but to be beaming with pride that they survived? When will we stop pretending assault never happens? When will we band with survivors to get rapists out of the picture? When will we stop telling survivors how helpless they are, when we can actually help? When will be stop being so afraid to call attackers out for exactly what they are? When will we stop being afraid to defend our loved ones, the survivors in our community, the people we see on the street? When will we stop telling survivors to keep in their secrets, or stop saying that they may never find love, or that they can never have a functional life after the fact?

I can’t watch this world go on around me anymore. Because of this, I’m making a call for survivor solidarity. I am asking myself and fellow survivors to not be ashamed of being attacked, but to be proud of having lived on. I am asking myself and my fellow survivors to not be afraid to say exactly what happened, to not be afraid to call out their attacked, to not be afraid to stand up and call out sexism, sexual assault, and abuse when we see it. I’m asking myself and my fellow survivors to shout down every stereotype, to live on, to heal, to exist as we have always wanted, forgetting what society says. I’m asking myself and my fellow survivors to call out survivor-blaming and experience shaming. I am asking myself and my fellow survivors to create a support base between each and every one of us. I am asking for a world in which survivors can unite and through that, stop being so afraid. I am asking for a world in which survivors know they can do anything, and through that, they can survive.
Zach: I am a male survivor of sexual assault. I was raped. I am a man who was once raped. My name is Zach.  I cringe and shudder with shame and pain as I re-read the words I just wrote, and that makes it only more evident to me that I have to go on. Because there are guys who face the same reality as me.  I’m writing because I don’t think it’s doing me any good to keep this terrible secret hidden anymore. A man shouldn’t feel ashamed, or like less of a man because someone hurt him. He shouldn’t feel weak because he wasn’t Superman. He shouldn’t feel like he’s lost his “man-card” because something beyond his control happened. That’s like feeling weak because a hurricane destroyed your house. It’s absurd.  Yet, it’s reality. Male survivors of sexual assault are often considered broken in a way that can’t be fixed. They are called faggots and are assumed weak. This sort of discrimination isn’t just an issue with men.  Women face similar coldness. They are asked what they were wearing, or if they were flirting with the guy, as if that makes it okay for anyone to hurt someone else and force them to do sexual things against their will. Most survivors are aware of this paradigm, we are afraid of people seeing us differently, of our friends judging us, of not being believed by our loved ones.  So our voices are silenced, and we carry this burden alone. We deal with the pain and haunting memories every day of our lives, we dwell on what happened and try to make sense of it all. Alone.  I think this is a terrible reality,  but one that can be changed. I know that survivors of sexual abuse are strong and courageous. We somehow find the courage to love again, we find the courage to keep living, to try to make our way in a world that doesn’t seem to want us or the ugly truth we hold inside. We find the strength to get up in the morning and live our lives, trying to move past the trauma. Each of us who survived rape, has strength. Some of us are stronger than others, but I sincerely believe that if we all come together as a group and help one another, we can all heal faster. Together our voices won’t be stifled, and there will be no reason to be ashamed or afraid.
KaylaJo and Zach: So go out into the streets and don’t be afraid to call out your attacker. Don’t be afraid to tell others about your experience, your valid, meaningful experience that reflects a society that has created such atrocities. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help, and to help yourself. Don’t be afraid to confront your attacker, and don’t be afraid to  make them know that they are a sexual abuser. Don’t be afraid to be open, don’t be afraid to let others tell you of their experiences. and don’t be afraid to help them heal, to grow, to live on. Don’t be afraid to dance, to sing, to shout your anger in the streets. Don’t be afraid to live exactly as you have always wanted to. Don’t be afraid to fight back against this world. We are calling for a new scenario in which survivors can be open, proud, and free. A new system where survivors band together to heal themselves and one another, a system that eradicates sexual assault. We are calling for a new system of action which fights for the rights of survivors, and for non-survivors to stand with us and do the same. We have rights to ourselves and our bodies, we are a group of the strong and the brave. Just by living another day, you are showing the world what you are capable of. It’s time to take this to the next level and create survivor solidarity.
–Zach and KaylaJo O’Lone-Hahn

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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