6 Things to NEVER Say to a Victim of Abuse

I'm excited to have the amazing Christian Feminist Sierra White guest posting on the blog today. We've been talking about rape culture this week on the blog, and I'm grateful that Sierra is bravely sharing her story. Thank you Sierra for your openness and your wisdom. Y'all give Sierra some love in the comments!

 

6 Things to NEVER Say to a Victim of Abuse

Sierra White

Assault, rape, and abuse are all things women worldwide face at an insanely high rate.

  • Did you know 1 in 5 women have been/will be raped while 1 in 10 men will be raped. Also, the majority of offenders are male. 
  • Did you know 1 in 2 women will be sexually abused?
  • Did you know females ages 16-19 are four times more likely to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or assault?
  • Did you know 90% of adult rape victims are female, and 82% of all underage victims are female?
  • Did you know only about 45% of rapists are actually arrested? Also, an estimated 944 of every 1000 rapes end with the perpetrator walking free.

For more info check out: nsvrc.org, nsopw.gov, rainn.org, mendingthesoul.org, nij.gov, and victimsofcrime.org

Every victim of assault, abuse, rape, etc handles it differently. Some carry the trauma their entire lives while others are able to heal and move forward in a matter of months or a few years. Some victims commit suicide because of fear, shame, and the feeling of worthlessness their assailant left them with. Other victims face continued harassment and threats from their abuser. 

Victims of abuse are often blamed, shamed, and humiliated in court by male judges and lawyers siding with the (usually male) offender. 

Victims are often silenced by their abuser with threats and intimidation—scaring girls into further trauma and forcing them to stay silent about what happened to them. 

Following abuse, trauma, rape, or assault family and friends often don’t know what to say and end up saying really, really stupid things (in an effort to make them feel better) that end up being hurtful and painful for the victim. 

I say, ENOUGH. Enough victim blaming. Enough trying to lessen the reality of a victim's experience. Enough silencing them. Enough shaming then. Enough humiliating them. Enough stupid questions and comments. 

Here is a list of SIX THINGS NOT TO SAY to a victim of abuse, assault, or rape:

1. What were you wearing? How intoxicated were you?

I have heard a lot of rapists say, in court, that the girl was “asking for it” by the way she dressed or because she was flirting with him. 

First off, women in the Middle East are covered from head to toe and are raped at an absurdly high rate, even higher than women in the US (which is 1 in 5). So, what a woman was wearing while she was attacked means nothing. It is completely irrelevant.

Second of all, no girl “asked for it” by wearing a short skirt, a low top, tight pants or shirt.  No girl going out to a club with her girlfriends puts on a short, tight dress thinking, “I hope I don’t get raped for wearing this dress!” That is absurd (and I am sure you thought the same when you read it). Yes, some girls dress that way in hopes of taking a guy home for consensual sex—not rape or assault.
 
If a girl is drunk, high, or passed out from being wasted, she is not able to make a conscious decision—she is unable to consent. This should be obvious, but many times it is not. Girls are often dragged in front of their attackers in court and asked, “How much had you been drinking” as though her alcohol consumption played some part in her being raped or that her being raped was somehow justified because she was wasted. 

I don’t care what she was wearing, how drunk she was, how high she was, how much she flirted with him, or how many drinks he bought her—she was not asking for or expecting to be attacked. She doesn’t owe him anything.

 A rapist, abuser, or attacker makes his own decisions—he alone is responsible.
 
The case of Brock Turner is a great case to look at. The victim was a college girl who was drunk and passed out. The rapist's lawyer grilled her with questions asking how much she partied, if she had ever “blacked out” before—all completely irrelevant questions that led up to him basically saying she was partially to blame for being raped because she was drunk.

This was a girl who was out for a night of partying and stated that she had no intentions of hooking up with anyone and had not expressed interested in her rapist. In an open letter to Turner the victim said, "…listen to your attorney attempt to paint a picture of me, the face of girls gone wild, as if somehow that would make it so that I had this coming for me."
 
When a judge asks a victim what she was wearing or if she was intoxicated, he is implying that she is partially responsible for her assault, and it gives the attacker an “out” or a “reason”. This is called “victim blaming” or “victim shaming” which is never OK.

What a girl was wearing or how much she had been drinking is not relevant. She is not responsible for the actions of a man. He alone is responsible for his lack of self-control, his entitled mindset that women are for his use, and his decision to rape, abuse, or assault her. She did not deserve to be assaulted, she did not ask for it, and she is not responsible for it.

2. Did you say no or at least fight back?

It absolutely blows my mind when I hear people say to victims of assault, “You should’ve fought back or continued saying ‘no.’” Most women (and men) when being raped or sexually assaulted completely lose the ability to fight back, and many victims, out of fear or shock, cannot even move much less fight off a man who is already overpowering them.

Many women, when being raped or sexually abused, feel helpless and end up just laying there, terrified to fight back because they fear fighting back will cause the man to beat them or worse, kill them.

A friend of mine was raped by a guy she had just started dating, and when he assaulted her she lost all sense of reality and couldn’t even think straight, not just in the moment but for days following her attack.

3. It’s been __ years; you need to get over it.

Every victim is different. Every experience is different. I was sexually abused as a child from ages 7-12 and to this day, at 30 years old, I still cannot sleep in the dark. I have tried, numerous times, I end up shaking and within a minute have to find a light to turn on. Unless I am sleeping in the same room with someone I trust, there has to be a little bit of light.  

My abuser has said to me over and over, “You need to fu***** get over it and quit holding this against me”. That sounds great and all. If only we could just “get over” trauma and violation. It has been 18 years and I can still remember the terror I felt when my abuser would come into my room at night, or would violate me in other ways. It’s not that I haven’t forgiven, because I have. But, a violation like that doesn’t just disappear. I know a woman who was raped as a teenager and 24 years later still flinches when someone walks up behind her. Another friend was raped by a family member, over and over. Her abuser said the same as mine, “You need to get over it.” This is a form of abuse and is manipulation abusers use to silence their victims.

Every person’s experiences are there own, and every person deals and heals differently. Just because a victim still has side effects from what happens to them doesn’t mean they haven’t moved past it. I have forgiven my abuser and am “over it,” but that doesn’t mean I don’t still carry the effects of what happened to me. It doesn’t mean I would ever feel safe in a room with him. It doesn’t mean I want to be friends with him on social media. It doesn’t mean I trust him or ever will—and I am not obligated to.

4. You really shouldn’t tell people; it will just embarrass you.

I have been told that I shouldn’t be so open about what happened to me because it will embarrass my family or my abuser further. I have been told that it is shameful to admit to being abused. When I would hear these things it made me feel ashamed, like I had done something to be ashamed of. 

Thousands of cases of rape/assault/abuse go unreported because the girl was told to keep it quiet, or keep it in the family. Thousands of rapes and assaults go unreported because the woman has been told by her abuser not to tell anyone because either no one will believe her or she will just embarrass herself—which is a disgusting lie.

Silencing a victim is a form of victim shaming. A victim should never ever have to feel ashamed of talking about what happened to them. 

A victim does not owe their abuser anything. They don’t owe them their silence to keep from embarrassing them. They don’t owe them discretion by not using their name. A victim should never ever be shamed, guilted, or embarrassed for reporting their assault to the police, being open about their story, or using the attacker’s name publicly. Yes, if the person is a family member, talk with your family and see how you can be open without dragging your family through it all again, but remember, it is YOUR experience and it can and will be helpful for other women. 

I am very open about my story because I refuse to be a statistic. I refuse to be a number on the internet, part of the 1 out of every 2 girls that is abused in their lifetime. 

I am someone who has conquered what happened to me and now uses my story to help others. 

5. Be grateful at least ____ didn’t happen. It could’ve been worse.

I don’t get the point of statements like these. So, a rape victim should be grateful that although she was raped at least she wasn’t killed? Or, a victim of abuse should be grateful that although he/she was abused, they weren’t raped or burned with acid?

Never, ever compare. You don’t get to tell a victim of a horrific crime that they could’ve had it worse. You don’t get to tell a traumatized victim that others have been through worse things. Besides, who is the judge of “worse?” When a girl is raped that is the worst thing to her. When a girl is molested it is the worst thing to her. You don’t get to tell a victim of assault “it could be worse.” That is irrelevant, and it minimizes a person's pain or experience.

6. It was all part of God’s plan.

I hate this statement with a burning fire from the pit of Hades. I hear this statement used when people are abused, when bad things happen, when people die. It is a terrible thing to say to a person going through grief or trauma. Also, it is NOT truth.

It is never God’s plan for bad things to happen to us. It is NEVER God’s will for a woman to be abused, assaulted, beaten, raped. Ever. Rape is not a form of punishment for a “loose” lifestyle. It is not part of God’s perfect plan. God does not sic bad things on us to “teach” us lessons. I have heard of girls who have been assaulted and were told, “This is all part of God’s plan. He will use it.” Yes, God can use the terrible things that have happened, but He doesn’t cause rape or abuse. That doesn’t line up with the loving Father that He is. 

The story of Joseph, in Genesis, is a great example. His jealous, resentful brothers sold him into slavery, but God took the evil they intended and used it for His glory and Joseph ended up the King’s second in command and used him to save Egypt from starvation during famine. Joseph’s brothers made a terrible choice but God took what they meant for evil and used it for good. 

"But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive" (Genesis 50:20 NKJV)

God does not cast evil upon us, but He surely can take a traumatizing, horrific experience and use it. God didn’t cause my abuse, but He is surely using it every single time I talk to another person about what I have been through and how God has brought me through it.

 

Thank you Sierra for sharing your story and your wisdom with us.

If you, or someone you know, has been raped or abused you are not alone and there is help. Call 911 if you are in immediate danger or get help here.

 

Sierra comes from a background with childhood abuse and spends a lot of her time advocating for victims of sexual abuse, ranting on Twitter about Christianity and feminism, and leading worship for her church. Sierra reads a lot of books, drinks coffee like it's water, and sings everywhere she goes.

Follow Sierra online at sierrawhite.com, on Twitter @isierranichole and on Facebook at facebook.com/ChristianFmnst/