Victim shaming courses through the veins of our society. It comes out in different ways depending on the subject matter, but we’ve all heard it. It’s something I have personal experience with so I notice it particularly often. As I’ve learned to navigate Twitter it’s so apparent how widespread victim shaming has become.
Some of it is borne out of ignorance, some of it just seems cruel hearted and some seems like a genuine lack of empathy. Remember when a crocodile leapt out of a lake at Disney World and killed a two year old? I’ll never forget how I felt when I was reading comment after comment from people berating the parents for not watching, for being irresponsible, for not reading the signs posted. My heart went out to the couple. Their child was just killed in front of their eyes without a thing they could do about it. I felt awful because that could have easily been me.
At that time, my autistic son wandered away from me constantly. I would take him to open parks and he would wander for days. I could picture myself on that shallow lake letting him wade in because I had to choose my battles daily. Of course there was outpouring of love too, but why do we have both?
I can find countless, COUNTLESS examples of victim shaming within the #metoo movement. Although, the best example I can think of is my own. A few years back I went to the police to make an accusation of childhood sexual abuse against my stepfather. By 26 years old I had finally found enough courage, while suppressing extreme embarrassment and shame, to turn him in. I didn’t go into it hoping for a certain outcome or any expectations. I just did it because it was the right thing to do for me. After nine months the state took up the case. I made two recorded phone calls from the police station to confront him. Both calls included my mother accusing me of lying, trying to ruin her life and belittling me.
Long story short, I went through 4 years of hearings and testified for hours in a jury trial. As a sat on the stand being asked incredibly explicit questions, I saw his side of the court filled with supporters. So many they were overflowing into the standing area in the back. All of them familiar faces. My side had a few, but nowhere near his amount. My own family, my own mother, were hoping for my demise.
During trial, his lawyer made me out to be a liar, told the jury I had false memories and suggested that me and the other victims planned this out to seek revenge on him. She’s ‘just angry’, ‘not in her right mind’, ‘just because you were making poor decisions doesn’t mean that this happened to you’. These were all things my own mother testified against us.
Throughout different periods of time family members would say, ‘sweep it under the rug’, if I talked about this, ‘it would cause more problems’. His lawyer was smart. He even presented a letter to the court that was authored by the other victim when she was very young. This letter was written to my mother and said how much she loved her. The lawyer then ask the question, ‘if she was getting abused, why would she still feel love?’
He purposefully lead the jury of our peers away from challenging themselves to understand more. He knew the jury would fall into the comfortable place of not making a judgement, we are taught ‘not to judge’ after all. He knew they would ask themselves all the common questions that come up with victim shaming. Where’s the proof? How do we know she’s not lying? Why did she wait so long to say something? She must be getting something out of this. Although we had ample evidence, two recorded calls and two credible victims with very similar stories, we lost the case. The easy way out is to assume we are lying. It’s easy to belittle us so you can tell yourself we don’t need to be believed.
For people that believe that victims accuse others for attention or money you’re wrong. I’ve been through the entire painstaking process and I got nothing from it but shame and abandonment. Luckily, I’m not a public figure so I didn’t have to endure public scrutiny like the women of the #metoo movement have to endure. I cringe every time they are accused of having nefarious motives or just want money. I’ve been through the process and, trust me, no one wants to go through it. The one thing that I can walk away with is the confidence that I am strong enough to do the right thing regardless of how hard it might be. I applaud women that come forward and I hope that the #metoo movement can be the catalyst to a more empathetic society.