Navigating Tough Landscapes: Sexual Assault and Abusive Relationships

The past year has seen a multitude of women beginning to speak up about their sexual assaults. It has been seen with women coming forth about feeling like they had to have sex with someone they went out on a date with (in the Aziz Ansari case). The #MeToo movement has opened up the dialogue for so many women to actually come out and be able to talk about what happened to them. In addition to sexual assault, many women have gone through abusive or possessive relationships – which can range from physical abuse to psychological abuse. Any of these experiences are equally traumatizing in their own.

Sexual Assault

The current political climate is helping our ability to discuss and address topics of sexual assault and abuse, which will help to raise money for research and services. Increasing the discussion will allow women who have gone through it to be more able to find the resources that they need to. It’s emphasizing the importance of being able to talk about a healthy sexuality, consent, and sexual assault which in turn helps survivors feel less isolated. However, the increase in discussion is causing many survivors to be re-traumatized, especially when stories have been shared that very closely resembles their own. In an isolated case – one girl’s rapist shared the story of her rape on their Facebook as their own rape story, which re-traumatized the victim all over again, especially as her own friends shared the story without knowing the implications. Some victims may get re-traumatized when seeking out information about their perpetrators, however, this same process can be healing as well.

Interestingly enough, some victims go through captivity syndrome – a step beyond Stockholm syndrome – where you cannot distinguish where the perpetrator ends and where you begin. This happens with some who have had an extended experience with the same perpetrator.

In addition, “casual” sexual assault, which can be anything from grabbing someone’s ass or having a part of you touched that you don’t want to be touched – can leave the person feeling embarrassed and powerless. Often, women may think that it’s because of what they were wearing that night/day, but really, it’s your right to choose what you want to wear. If this is something that happens to you, and you’re in a bar, you can tell the bartender – they will more often than not throw the guy out, if not even arrested. It might also be a better idea than just confronting the guy directly – since violent men tend to be unpredictable.

Often, women feel like they have to tell somebody in their lives that this happened to them. If you’re scared, it’s important to take your own time to process what has happened and to seek a support system when you want to. If you can, and are able to, you should go see a rape counselor. Within BU, SARP is a resource that you can utilize. Many different campuses offer similar resources.

Abusive Relationships

I think the best line that I’ve heard is “domestic abuse is an invisible prison, so stop asking why victims ‘don’t just leave.'" It’s true that when you’re in an abusive relationship, you may not be able to see clearly about what is going on. Often, when you’re looking from the outside, you see things a lot more black and white than does the person going through it. You may not be able to see the full spectrum of issues that the person is going through – for instance if they leave, they may lose the place they have to sleep, they may lose their finances, etc. The abuser often isolates the victim to the point where the victim no longer has contact with their friends and family, and therefore no one to tell them that what is happening is not okay and that they should take back control. The abuser can also blackmail (for a lack of a better word) the victim to stay with them using suicide threats, or other means. Furthermore, a woman is more likely to be murdered when trying to leave an abusive relationship, than if she stays. It takes a lot to be able to actually leave and leaving is something that takes a lot of strength and wisdom. Often, when they leave, they become happier and more resilient. However, it can still be terrifying to see your abuser after the relationship is over. Even after they are safe and no one is hurting them anymore, it is likely that there’s that remaining fear of their abuser.

What makes someone leave? Often it’s something that’s the final straw – the first time they were hit, ticking off red flags from a checklist, someone pointing out that it’s not okay to treat someone like that, hurting your kids, or something that they said. Sometimes it’s a book that they read – one person told me that they read the book “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men’ by Lundy Bancroft, after which everything just clicked. It’s that moment when they can no longer stay blind to the years of abuse that they were going through.

If you want to be able to do something, bystander intervention is extremely important and effective. If you witness something that seems to be harassment, don’t be afraid to speak up and speak out. It can even be as simple as distracting someone, standing beside someone, making a phone call or telling that person off. To support someone going through an abusive relationship, just ask the person how you can help them – just knowing that there’s someone out there that wants to help them can give them the courage to leave their situation.

In addition, educating ourselves, and sharing that knowledge that we learn can definitely make an influence in our immediate circles, as well as in a greater realm if you have a great outreach. Supporting the victim services in your area, whether it’s by volunteering or taking an initiative can help out more than you would expect. It is also important to keep pushing your policy-makers to further the interventions for sexual abuse and other programs.


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