Tag Archives: silence

Why Women Don’t Just Speak Up About Abuse

When women don’t say anything about their abuse, it’s because we’ve spent a lifetime observing the high cost of speaking up. Starting as girls, women get special training in the costs of revealing what men have done to us. We know most men don’t understand that, but we see than the reception for speaking up hasn’t really changed since Anita Hill.

If we speak, we know what happens next:

You would attack us.

You would humiliate us.

You would say we asked for it.

You would question what we were wearing, whether we were drinking, why we put ourselves in a vulnerable position.

You would question our motives and our morals.

You would call us liars and look for something to expose from our pasts and any weakness in our story.

You would call us snowflakes. Whiners. Cowards.

You would say what happened wasn’t that bad and should be brushed aside to avoid “ruining a man’s life.”

You would refuse to face that you have power that you feel entitled to and that we can’t reach for without being beaten back down and shamed.

You would ignore the impunity the man assumes he has when he attacks us (well, as long as he’s white). You would decline to consider that men attack when we are vulnerable and even less likely to speak and to be believed.

You would make excuses for the man we accuse.

You would say we shouldn’t rush to judgment without the facts. Because our word is not a fact.

You would say the man should suffer consequences if our allegation is proven to be true. But it’s just her word against his, right?

If we wait to report what happened, you would say we were lying since we didn’t speak up right away.

Okay, maybe you wouldn’t do anything of those things. But plenty of people do. They’re doing it right now to the women accusing Roy Moore. I’m asking you to recognize that this treatment is typical.

If you can’t imagine enduring abuse or rape or harassment, it’s because it never happened to you. Because you are used to power. We are used to being disregarded, judged, shamed and used.

Girls are taught early to internalize responsibility for how boys treat us and how people judge us. We are expected to dress and sit and limit our public activities so boys don’t use us and people don’t belittle us.

If we are harassed or assaulted, many women have developed the reaction of doubting and blaming themselves and fearing condemnation or suspicion. So we don’t say anything. We tell ourselves we can deal with this on our own.

Please try to put yourself in our shoes. And remember, any woman who does speak up expects nothing but humiliating negative attention. So why would we lie? What would we gain? We already feel powerless after an assault, so why would we want to lose more? We see how you treat the women who dare to go before. We’ve already been violated. Why would we subject ourselves to more?

We know the man has more power than we do. That’s why he abuses and expects to get away with it.

Yeah, we know. There was the woman that time who lied. But we see how often that rare incident is brandished to denounce every woman who dares to speak the truth. Interesting that when people falsely accuse blacks of a crime, there’s little reduction in the willingness to believe the next crime victim who accuses a black person. We see that too. We see that people with power can control what is perceived as the truth. Dare to speak out, and you are putting yourself at risk.

We rationalize that it could have been worse. We soldier on, pushing the pain and fear down. And if we summon the courage to speak up, and we’re dismissed while the man is protected, yeah, every other woman sees that.