Letters & Opinion

The Decision Not To Believe

Image of Souyenne Dathorne
PROSAF — Surviving Sexual Abuse In The Caribbean By Souyenne Dathorne

There seems to be an issue when it comes to believing survivors of sexual violence. For many it seems that there is a decision from the beginning not to believe, but to question, to blame the victim. They confide in us and we very blatantly insinuate that they are lying or have lied.

In most cases, our first instinct is to ask whether they misunderstood what happened to them or are over reacting to an “innocent” situation.

We don’t hear them out, we don’t ask any questions, we make statements, and we don’t support or validate them. Instead, our first reaction is to blame them or tell them it never happened or that it was some misinterpretation on their part.

We don’t have the same reaction when someone is robbed or falls victim to other forms of physical violence. In these instances we freely believe the victim; we sympathise and are willing to aid them in their recovery process. Yet, with crimes of sexual violence we fail to feel or react the same way.

We treat the victim as if the sexual assault was because they did something wrong.

It baffles me as to  why we see nothing wrong with an individual forcing themselves on an innocent individual regardless of the circumstances but instead chose to blame survivors in those circumstances.

Remember that sexual violence isn’t about sex but about power, domination and control. If we understand that then we understand that no victim caused their sexual assault.

We also understand that by believing them, we give them hope and support. We tell them that they did nothing to cause their assault.

Much of life is based on a system of hierarchy and it seems that in the criminal justice system and the wider community those survivors of sexual violence are placed on the bottom.

Survivors find that even within the places that they should feel safe, that they are treated like a perpetrator and made to feel guilty and ashamed.

So much of the guilt associated with healing from sexual assault could be reduced if upon telling their stories, survivors were supported and validated. Hearing that it wasn’t your fault, that you did nothing wrong, that you have nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about helps a survivor tremendously.

For so long those very words were twisted to make her/him feel complicit in the act. The words she/he was threatened with seem smaller and carry less weight knowing that she/he is believed and validated.

I think that part of the fear of believing a survivor who comes forward is partly because we don’t want think that someone we know is capable of committing this crime.

It makes us feel vulnerable that we could have fallen victim, so it is easier to believe the accused could never do that, that the victim must be fabricating the entire allegation; however, very rarely does someone say they have experienced sexual violence and have it not turn out to be untrue.

We tend to air on the side of guilty until you implicitly prove you did nothing to cause your assault.

Most times we find a way a reason to blame the assault on the victim anyway.  We have to begin eradicating the excuses we concoct as a way of not getting involved and effectively not having to face a very true reality.

Survivors of sexual assault don’t share their “Fake” stories easily, which is why it is uncommon for these stories to be “Fake”.

It takes a great deal of courage, strength and desire to heal to begin speaking about something that has for so long been a dirty secret. So please think before you flippantly disregard a survivor’s cry for help.

Think about what you would want had it been you, your daughter, son, husband, wife brother, sister, etc. I ask that you please BELIEVE, support, validate and listen when a survivor chooses to share with you.

Survivors of sexual assault need a supportive environment to begin the healing process. They need to believe and feel that they are part of a culture that doesn’t support individuals who commit sexual crimes.

We have to be the difference we want to see in our country. We have to be willing to start to make change.

We, at PROSAF, have acknowledged that violence against women is a problem in St. Lucia and the wider Caribbean. We are here to begin the metamorphosis that is desperately needed. We are always here to listen and if you are not ready to come forward but need a listening ear, feel free to contact us.

Remember that Sexual assault is something that happens to people, it does not define them, and it is something that was done to them.

Survivors, Victims, Thrivers remember you are a strong, beautiful, intelligent woman/child/man who has suffered a trauma through no fault of your own.

You are not guilty of any crime, something was done to you against your will Sexual Assault is something that happened to you, and it does not define you.

You are worthy of love and happiness.

Always remember that you are not alone, that you have nothing to be ashamed of. We are taking the baby steps necessary to make it better for all.

KNOW YOU HAVE A SAFE SPACE IN PROSAF.

If you are interested in finding out more information about sexual violence and what you can do as part of this community, please feel free to contact us at:

Yours Sincerely,

Souyenne Dathorne, Velika Lawrence

Email: ssaitco@hotmail.com – thepowerofone_v@hotmail.com

Facebook: SURVIVING SEXUAL ABUSE IN THE CARIBBEAN: https://www.facebook.com/pages/PROSAF-Surviving-Sexual-Abuse-in-the-Caribbean/165341356853908

Webpage: http://www.prosaf.org (under construction)

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