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 revealing what men have done to us. We’re watching, and we see that though more women are speaking up, the reception hasn’t really changed. We know what happens next.

You attack us.

You humiliate us.

You scrutinize our lives for a way to turn the blame and shame our way.

You say we asked for it.

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

You investigate our motives and our morals.

You call us liars.

You jump on any weakness in our story.

You call us snowflakes. Whiners. Cowards.

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

You dismiss us for not speaking up right away if we wait to report what happened.

You ignore our trauma and refuse to show empathy for how hard it is to report sex crimes.

You make excuses for the man we accuse.

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

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

You say the man should suffer consequences if our allegation is proven to be true.

Okay, maybe you wouldn’t do anything of those things. But plenty of people do. I’m asking you to recognize that this victim-shaming, disbelieving treatment is typical. It is loud and humiliating and drowns out sympathy.

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. Because you may not have fully developed empathy. Because you don’t want to admit that suffering a sex crime is not the same as being the victim of any other crime. We are used to being disregarded, judged, shamed and used even though you are not.

Girls are taught early to internalize responsibility for how boys treat us and how people judge us. We are expected to limit our public activities and police our dress and behavior so boys don’t use us and people don’t belittle and ostracize us for even innocent missteps. Boys aren’t judged the same way. There’s no male version of the word “slut.”

If we are harassed or assaulted, many women react by 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. We try to forget and hope no one finds out.

Please try to put yourself in our shoes. And remember, any woman who does speak up expects nothing but humiliating negative attention. So when we do speak up, 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 dared to go before. We’ve already been violated. Why would we subject ourselves to that?

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

Yeah, we know. There was that woman that time who lied. But we see how often that rare incident is brandished to attack the integrity of every woman who dares to speak the truth. 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.

So we stay quiet. 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.