#TimesUp | There are no perfect victims
I watched the victim impact statements from the gymnasts abused by Dr. Larry Nassar last Friday, and when Aly Raisman made the point that victims of his abuse were often dismissed for being 'overdramatic,' it really struck a nerve with me. I opened my laptop and wrote a very passionate post about how no victim of abuse is perfect and a victim's 'flaws' are used too often to dismiss abuse, which only serves to embolden predators and creates a systemic problem like the one plaguing USA Gymnastics right now.
But then this platform crashed as if the universe was telling me, girl no, and I heeded the warning. I'm glad I did. With the Women's Marches all over the world this weekend, reflection on my own life and experiences, some space and time allowed me to better articulate what I wanted to say to you guys about this instead of me just blindly ranting.
I have found the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement intensely triggering. Not because it stirs up memories of past abuse, but it stirs up memories of victim blaming and shaming... especially by women. When 'Grace's' story about a date with Aziz Ansari going bad broke, several of what I refer to as the 'Aunties' blamed her for putting herself there and staying in that situation with him.
"I would NEVER!"
"How dumb can you BE?"
"Surely she's being dramatic, it wasn't RAPE."
When I see those tweets and the Aunties acting like they're so worldly and know exactly what to do in such situations, I find it insanely triggering. I experienced horrible abuse as a child people knew about. Those brave enough to confront my mother got the line that I was being overdramatic, and were quickly cut out of my life or they were convinced into believing that maybe I was being overdramatic or attention seeking and it wasn't that bad.
In my adult life, I was frank and honest about what was going on in my marriage and blogged about it. While I internalize a lot of shame, I have always felt comfortable being frank and open about things. I was frank and open about something that was going on in that moment because I was somewhat isolated and needed to talk about it. So I took it to my blog...
"She has a past! Clearly she's lying."
"She keeps going back to him, so she's either dumb or it's not that bad."
It made me quit talking about it. I'm even nervous sharing this post.
"There she is trotting out her abuse to milk it for clicks."
"Get over it already! Why keep bringing it up?"
I'll see remarks like that. Fine. I'm much further along in my healing now, and it doesn't intimidate me in the way it used to.
Silence is no longer an option.
When my friend Lisa was murdered, the same thing happened. Because she was an avant garde artist covered in tattoos and piercings, the peanut gallery diminished the value of her life because she was a 'freak' and somehow less of a victim because she wasn't cookie cutter enough. Imagine being her family and friends reading that the person you loved made the world a better place being murdered because there were less freaks in the world now.
Imagine being her mother and reading that. Every person who typed something like that out killed her daughter all over again.
So when I see women who are coming forward getting torn down, questioned, judged, told they were dumb for putting themselves in 'bad' situations, because apparently the Aunties wrote a rule book they're not very good at passing out to the rest of us dummies, I go through everything all over again.
It's misogyny plain and simple. Women can be the worst misogynists of them all.
Abuse is like an onion. Getting to the root of it requires a lot of peeling through layers and crying along the way. There is no one size fits all roadmap. There is no, "Well I would never put myself in that position."
Shut up. No one accepts a date with Aziz Ansari and says, "Boy, I hope he is super aggressive about getting a blow job if I go up to his apartment."
"I want to be an Olympic champion. Fingers crossed the doctor molests me when I'm isolated from my family and then I get dismissed for being a dramatic teenager!"
Instead of picking apart victims for not reading that secret manual, maybe pick apart the people who cross the line. I can be in the shortest skirt, tits hanging out, drunk as a skunk on a date with a guy, go back to his place, and the second I'm uncomfortable and he keeps pressuring me?
HE is the perpetrator. Not me.
I can be the most extra, over the top drama queen who has an extreme reaction about anything, but the second I'm uncomfortable and someone crosses the line?
THEY are the perpetrator. Not me.
I can be angry, screaming even, and in someone's face in a heated exchange, but the second they lay a hand on me?
It's on THEM. Not me.
My boss can come into my office and start rubbing my shoulders, and the second I shrug him off and he keeps going?
It's on HIM. Not me. No matter what 'vibes' I may or may not have been giving off.
If I'm in a consensual sexual relationship with a superior, there is a power dynamic that keeps me in that relationship longer than I may want to be, and there may be repercussions to my career if I were to end it?
It's on the SUPERVISOR for entering into the relationship with a subordinate. They own the responsibility.
Are you getting it yet, Aunties? Victims get victimized all over again when the issue of provocation or the shortcomings of the victim come up. When you justify a woman's abuse by normalizing the behavior of her abuser and calling her actions and experience into question, you abuse her all over again.
"Yeah, but Jenn, you can only provoke/tempt/give off vibes/ send a message so much before they react."
Nope. Nope. Nope.
Let me tell you a personal story.
Many years ago when my girls were toddlers, my husband let my mother take them on an outing by herself. I was ENRAGED because she is not safe on the road, and I had a huge problem with her driving alone with my babies.
An altercation ensued between my mother and I in my living room. I have a short fuse, especially when it comes to my children. It was heated, I was yelling, she was yelling, and I said something about my past childhood abuse that 'provoked' her. She lunged at me, knocked me to the ground, and started hitting and kicking me.
I didn't hit her back.
I don't hit people. Even terrible people.
I was 'provoked' too. I could have easily beaten her in a physical fight. It would have probably been declared justified. Several people in my life to this day, over a decade later, wish I would have laid her out.
But it's simple. I don't hit people.
You can't flip a switch you don't already possess.
Do you get it now? You can't tempt someone in to behaving in a way that doesn't already exist within them. You can't flip a switch in me to knock out my mother. A guy doesn't get sexually aggressive unless they ARE.
If someone who commits a crime is considered innocent until proven guilty, why aren't female victims? Why is the first thing out of our mouths a question about the validity of what they are recounting? Why do we quantify and qualify the 'level' of abuse they have endured? Why do we make them assume responsibility? Why do we question their motives? Why do we assume there's something in it for them in coming forward? Why are their claims less if they're a woman of color, transgender, have a criminal record, are 'dramatic', have blue hair, are poor, are wealthy, are young, old, naive?
Misogyny. Plain and simple.
Describe to me the perfect victim you believe without a doubt the second she comes forward. I'll wait...
Now shut up.
Yes, every victim should be believed. Every. Victim. Yes, some lie, some have ulterior motives, but that is a minute percentage. The overwhelming percentage of women are the ones who need to be believed no matter who they are, what they are, or where they come from. Victims aren't obligated to pay the debts of a few liars.
Every time you question a victim, you enable and empower their perpetrator.