As I resume writing again on loudislences.org, I was thinking about what people might feel about my ‘silence’ for the last couple months on this platform. While this was due to some life-evalution I was undertaking, I could not help but feel like I owed my readers an explanation.
But it was not the first time I have felt that way. And that is a feeling anyone who has dared to break the code of silence on their experience with sexual violence knows all too well- the feeling of you have to explain your silence ‘all these years’. Haven’t we heard it over and over? Busola Dakolo, Reneau Giwa-Amu (RIP), the many women who came forward in the #metoo movement, and no doubt my humble self. When people hear how long ago your experience was, even when they don’t ask, you can tell they are wondering.
I still remember the first time I came out to my family about my experiences with sexual abuse, especially from fanily- I can still hear the question- “why now”? “Why didn’t you say something all these years”? And it is a question we continue to hear as survivors. Well, if you are like me and most survivors, you may feel compelled to provide an answer to that question and perhaps, like most survivors- you open your mouth to respond and alas- nothing comes out. Why? Because you never really knew. The simple answer is- you are not ready until whatever point you choose to break your silence. But there is more, and for me, it took me a while to go through the layers of my ‘why now’.
Before I state what I found, let me identify the reasons people ask those questions. It generally would fall under these three categories:
- They truly want to know: Some people have this notion that if there was an unpleasant event going on, our natural instinct is to ‘scream for help’. And what can be more unpleasant than any form of sexual violence? As such, they cannot make the connection between your unpleasant experience and silence. A part of them feel for you enough to want to understand. Plus, the they can know enough to help someone in the future.
- Trying to get the truth: there are those who just don’t understand why survivors stay silent for so long, but here are others who just want to get to the truth to make informed decisions. And especially in a case where they have to take actions (e.g. lawsuits) against perpetrators, it is only fair that they ask the question- why now. It is not usually for a lack of belief, but for taking actions informed by truth and fact.
- It is a rape-apology tactics: There are rape apologists, full stop! And they would stop at nothing to continue to put down victims of sexual violence. And so when they ask the question of ‘why now’ it is not for lack of evidence, or not knowing the truth, but tactics of intimidation to shame, guilt and put-down survivors often with the intent of silencing them. More often, they know and have some affinity towards perpetrators and would rather protect said perpetrators than their victims. This continues to be the case with perpetrators who are authority figures.
For the benefit of folks in the first two categories I will provide answers to the question at hand. Because what they need is education and increased awareness. After which, they can make a conscious effort to become allies- because now they know. Or, join the third category of people because they choose to ignore the rationale behind prolonged silence by survivors.
Now that we have that out of the way, here are five reasons why survivors stay silent for however long:
- They were not ready: this is as simple as it sounds. Everyone feels ready to share at their own time. Too soon before then (especially without support), and it can cause more psychological harm than good. Let them be ready.
- They are scared: this can be for a number of reasons ranging from- if the perpetrator is a person of authority or in a position of power, there may have been threats. Especially for children this happens a lot where if they have been threatened, they lack the thinking capacity to realize it was a lie. In my case, as a child, imagine being told you would die if you spoke up. Or that you and anyone you tell will be killed. Sadly, we carry this lie to our old age until one day the scales off.
- Not being believed: this is a pathetic cycle in that when someone does come out to break the silence and another survivor watches them get shredded to pieces, of course the next person would want to keep silent until they think they are able to deal with the consequences of breaking their own silence. So you see how as society we fuel the silence?
- They are unable to remember details: some people’s way of coping with the trauma is to forget. Others forget because they were really young when it happened, and they are unsure of what they thought happened. When people are unsure of what they thought they experienced, they are likely to take their time on breaking silence.
- They are ashamed and embarrassed: This happen a lot with survivors who were much older when their abuse happened. Feelings like ‘I was so stupid’ and ‘how did I not see this coming’ are common. So excuse them if talking about it is the last thing on their minds.
- They didn’t think they could trust anyone: based on statistics, 79% of perpetrators are known to their abusers. In my instance, I knew all of my perpetrators- two of whom are family members. Why then would I trust another human being with that experience? Trust issue is already in the mix and your solution to my broken trust is to trust again? I am sorry, but that might take a while. This is why survivors need to know without a shadow of doubt who their allies are. And you don’t be an ally to a cause like ours and stay silent.
- They are emotionally and mentally spent: any form of sexual violence takes a lot of emotional and mental energy. Asking someone to be quick to recount the experience for whatever reason only takes more energy from them, not to mention relieving the trauma. This brings us back to the first point and why they may not be ready. When I was writing my book (sit tight for the launch date), I chose the middle of night to ‘grieve’ my experiences. So if needed, I could cry and reflect, because I had to relive the experiences in my writing. I have had years to deal with it, imagine someone fresh from the experience?
This is not an exhaustive list as there can be more depending on individual experiences.
For those truly seeking to know, I hope this helps you understand better why survivors tend to stay silent. As for rape apologists, I hope these reasons change your perspective, considering the layers of issues survivors have to deal with.
As for why there had been nothing on loudsilences for a while, I have returned to working from the office. Hence, it was mentally-wise to reevaluate the different things I do and resume them slowly. You, my amazing readers, deserve to know why, and you can learn about it here.