Whether victims of sexual assault wait a few years, or a few decades to admit their experience, they are usually met with the same skepticism and are almost always asked this exact question: “why did you wait so long to say something?” As if the length of time it takes to muster the courage to speak out about an unspeakable act should somehow lessen the legitimacy of the experience.
I have thought about the reason for that question since mid-September, when Christine Blasey Ford came forward with rape allegations against then US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh – 37 years after the incident had occurred.
With the turn of events this past week, as the newest local porn video involving a minor, made its rounds on social media, I have concluded that it does not matter if you wait five minutes, three years or nearly four decades after an assault to speak about it. The public response is virtually the same.
While several individuals condemned the act and called on local authorities to work quickly on the case, hundreds of others did their bit to add fuel to the fire of rape culture. The Canada-based WAVAW Rape Crisis Center defines rape culture as “the ways in which society blames victims of sexual assault and normalizes male sexual violence;in rape culture, both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable.”
On Facebook, one user claimed if the child wanted to stop the grown man from having sex with her, she could have. But she didn’t because she wants to be in “big people’s business.” What is scary is that this person voiced the opinion of many others, which means that besides rape, pedophilia also seems to be something not many people care to condemn. But that is another topic for a different day.
I understand now why women and men would keep information of assault to themselves for so many years. And though I understand, that does not mean I agree that it is the best way of dealing with the situation. I want to encourage women and men to speak out, to share their stories of abuse so that they may be empowered to move on with their lives, and to stop their abusers in their tracks. But we all know what happens to victims once they speak out. That leaves me in a limbo.
Rape culture, I am afraid, is something so engraved in our social fabric that victims either get punished for sharing through victim shaming or are made to feel isolated from their families and communities while their perpetrators are protected.
Child sexual abuse, in particular, is rampant in every CARICOM country, and children are most at risk in settings where they are meant to be protected. Studies show over 40 percent of girls younger than 12 experience their first sexual experience usually forcefully – and those numbers are based just on reported cases.
The social media outrage/hype surrounding last week’s case is dying, and the silence from officials and other parties, is deafening.
As a society, we need to do a better job of protecting victims despite when they share their story.
It is time we get into the habit of providing and/ or suggesting support for victims of assault when they speak out instead of shutting them up quickly before they “embarrass” a husband, brother or father. In a place where everybody knows everybody, we can do better to protect our children and other victims of sexual abuse. We should demand better from our relatives, friends and neighbors to put an end to rape and rape culture in Dominica.