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CAITLIN SEGRAVES | OPINION CO-EDITOR | email@example.com
Content warning: References to sexual violence are included in this article.
There’s this new true crime show on Netflix called “Unbelievable,” and being a true crime junkie, I had to watch it. Now, before you go and queue it up, take a huge pause because there are not enough content warnings in the world for that show.
Don’t get me wrong, it is a really good show and it’s super bingeable. However, it outlines all of the after effects of sexual assault and — spoiler warning — the police don’t believe the victim. In this show, there are multiple victims since it follows a serial rapist. The first one the audience is introduced to demonstrates — in excruciating detail — what it’s like to be a survivor trying to report an assault to the police.
She did everything right, she called the cops after it happened, she gave her statement, she underwent the invasive rape kit exam. But the survivor began to struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder which caused her to forget details of the assault. Quickly, police began questioning the validity of her accusation and she lost all ability to pursue a criminal investigation. With a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work, detectives from nearby districts were able to prove that she was also a victim of the serial rapist, but only because of photographic evidence.
Had they not been so lucky or worked so hard — that first survivor would never have been believed by the same police that she had originally reported the assault to.
But, I’m not here to talk about the show. I’m not even here to talk about how poorly the criminal justice system handles sexual assault cases. I’m here because our society doesn’t believe survivors.
If someone comes to you and discloses their experience with sexual violence, you have absolutely no right to question the validity of their experience. They are trusting you with that information — don’t ask them what they were wearing or doing, ask if you can help. Ask them what they need to feel supported during this time.
Most importantly, believe them. They need your empathy and your belief in them during this time because it may be the only thing they receive. Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults that occur, only 50 reports lead to arrests, and only 25 perpetrators will be incarcerated. Odds are, the criminal justice system will fail the survivor.
The reason I introduced the Netflix show was because yes, her friends and family believed her initially. Then, they began to question her reaction to the assault. The friends and family of the victim wondered if she made up the assault for attention, because she didn’t hide away in her room, she didn’t cry, she didn’t react the way they thought she should.
That’s the thing — everyone has different reactions to sexual violence.
Some people cry, some people retreat from others, some people don’t realize they’ve been assaulted until months or years later, some people become hypersexual and some people don’t seem to change at all.
The point is, you can’t tell someone that the way they are reacting to a traumatic event is the wrong way. Whatever that person is doing, they are doing because it’s how they need to cope with what has happened.
For most sexual assault survivors, there isn’t a clean and easy road to recovery. Some common experiences include feeling lost or out of control, depression, anxiety, feeling unclean and unable to get clean, feelings of shame or guilt or feelings of numbness, as well as a host of physical symptoms. According to a study published by Trauma, Violence & Abuse, a majority of sexual assault survivors will struggle with PTSD.
A common misconception — or rape myth, if we’re being academic — is that survivors of sexual assault always fall into a pattern of sexual avoidance behavior, meaning that survivors are almost expected to lose all sex drive and desire to be touched. This is absolutely true for some people. For some survivors, they can’t handle being touched by anyone for a period of time. It can be very triggering for them, and that needs to be respected.
However, that’s not true for every survivor. Some survivors actually experience the opposite and find themselves engaging in patterns of hypersexuality. For some, it can be an act of reclaiming control over their body.
No matter what path you take on the road to recovery, to reclaiming your identity, to continue growing — your choices are valid.
It can be really hard trying to cope with everything by yourself, so if you are a survivor of sexual assault, I encourage you to reach out. If you don’t feel comfortable or safe talking with a friend or family member, Butler has resources to help.
Of course, I have to recommend Jules Arthur-Grable, our sexual assault and prevention specialist at Butler University. She is a confidential resource who can connect you to whatever resources you need, whether it’s counseling, pursuing legal action, or needing someone to accompany you to the hospital, Jules is a fantastic resource.
Maria Kanger is Butler University’s Title IX coordinator; she can help you pursue informal or formal action against your assailant. Whether you would like to pursue a criminal investigation or have their status as a student at Butler University reconsidered, Maria can help.
If you’d like some resources as to how to take care of yourself or a loved one after an assault, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network has great recommendations on self-care after trauma, talking to loved one’s about their experience, a Survivor’s Handbook from Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, and Butler’s page for on and off-campus resources.
As always, if there is a topic you’d like me to cover or any concerns you’d like to see addressed, feel free to reach out to me!