The Survivor’s Burden or A Survivor’s Burden

Perspectives

By: Jess Ward, News Editor

The summer after my senior year of high school, I was raped. It was not the violent and graphic kind of rape that is often depicted in the mainstream; it was quiet, personal and violating. I spent the majority of my first semester at the University of Southern Maine trying to cope through various self-destructive behaviors, with no clear path towards closure. With time, though, I learned how to claim the trauma through conversation and honesty. It became less painful to reflect on, and the anger and humiliation that sexual assault carries with it began to slowly disperse.

In short, I began to heal.

When the posts full of rallying cries of “Me too” began flooding my social media, I was awed. I read countless stories and narratives from people of all genders and sexualities, owning their truths in the name of change.

For those who are not aware, the “Me too” campaign began as a way to demonstrate the frequency of sexual assault through survivors coming forward into the public eye. It was created by Tarana Burke, survivor and activist, in 2007 to “let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible,” according to Ebony Magazine. Since its inception, the hashtag has been used by survivors and supporters alike to show solidarity.

I could not bring myself to say “me too.” With immense admiration for those who chose to step forward, I realized that I could not join them. I thought about my acquaintances and friends’ parents, my teachers and coworkers—people on the outskirts of my life. That is not a conversation I want to have with them.

I should not have to.

A year ago, I would have never written this piece. A month ago, I would not have put my name on it. Despite being open about my experiences with friends and partners, it can be painful to talk about it publicly. The stigma that surviving sexual assault carries is an enormous barrier in emotional recovery because it adds another layer of trauma. Rape culture hangs over survivors’ testimonies like an unsurpassable wall, casting fictitious shadows of doubt on our experiences.

It was not until I stumbled upon a different examination of “me too” that I began to think about why I would not say it. Activist Wagatwe Sara Wanjuki wrote in a longer post “It shouldn’t matter how many women, femmes, and gender neutral and non-conforming folk speak their truths. Because it isn’t about men seeing how many of us have been hurt; they’ve been seeing it for a long time.” She talked about the misguided focus of combatting sexual assault with its survivors “because it shouldn’t be on our shoulders to speak up.”

It is not my job to make you care about rape. I have no obligation to educate you, share with you or attempt to solicit your sympathy. Rape culture is perpetuated by the idea that survivors need to do the work to validate themselves; instead, the perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment need to own their actions.

I so desperately craved to read about men coming forward and discussing how they have cat-called women, groped someone at a party or slut-shamed. I wanted them to say “Me, I was a part of the problem. Me too.”

Until we are all willing to realize our roles in keeping rape culture alive, nothing will change. You cannot expect survivors of a system that oppresses them to destroy that very system on their own.

Every single “me too” I read left me aching with sadness. I have a deep respect for everyone who found it in themselves to do that. So, here I am, vulnerable, scared and speaking my truth. I was raped, as too many are. That is not the point, though.

The point is this: you cannot be a part of the solution until you acknowledge that you are a part of the problem. Own the truth, your truth. Recognize the ways in which rape culture manifests in behaviors, language and judgement. There should be no shame in surviving sexual assault, and there should be no obligation to supply the intimate details of our trauma.

We should not have to convince you that we are worth caring about.  

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