When a person is sexually assaulted, their ability to say, “no,” is taken away. Their words, and the weight of their words, are emptied out and left hollow, and all to frequently, unheard. One aspect of sexual assault, this aspect of taking away the, “no,” of silencing, is an insidious part of assault because it doesn’t happen once.
In the act of assault itself, a person receives the unwanted actions of another, and the assault roots itself throughout their body and being. The body, the mind, the heart, the spirit, and the voice, are all assaulted and each needs healing in its own way. The voice is assaulted by its very words being taken away by another person. For some, the word, “no,” never came out because of shock. For some, the word, “no” came out softly, if fearfully swallowed. For some, the word, “no” was shouted; the words were rightfully expressed. For all, and for each person that has been assaulted, a “no” was there in some form, and in whichever form it was there, it wasn’t heard.
The voice is silenced, and it isn’t simply silenced in the act of assault. Speaking out about one’s sexual assault can be silenced by one’s own self. Some women may not talk about sexual assault and bring up those painful mental and physical memories. Some men may not talk about sexual assault, for fear of being seen as weak if they talk about being hurt by anyone. Some women may not want to talk about sexual assault, because they choose to share, or not share, their story with whomever they choose. Some persons may not speak out, because they don’t know where or how to start speaking, or if anyone is listening.
Others, too, can silence a person from talking about sexual assault. Friendly jokes about rape, between friends, can silence a friend from sharing about their assault. Partners can avoid conversations about assault, because they do not want to bring up painful subjects. Parents can avoid discussing a child’s assault because the parent’s may feel somehow responsible, and not want their child to go through talking about a scary experience. Friends can encourage a friend to go talk to a therapist, and end a conversation before it happens.
Others, anyone really, can speak about another person’s sexual assault and use those words, that experience, and the pain, of the person for any convenient reason: to keep a conversation going, as proof that one is a trusted friend, to better inform others about sexual assault. Whether another person silences a conversation about assault out of politeness, or out of unintended blindness, whatever the intentions, the voice that needs to be heard is the one that was silenced.
If you have been assaulted, your story is yours to share. If someone you know has been assaulted, their story is theirs to share. This may seem trite, oversimplified, or a canned piece of advice, which in some ways it is. It is also the only way to hear a voice; for a voice to be reclaimed, one must speak, and for the voice to be heard, and healed, someone must listen.
(originally written July 22, 2012)