Praying for the voices of sexual assault who must remain silent in #notokay

I wholeheartedly congratulate the women adding their voices to the powerful chorus of #notokay, and I pray that they feel relief and a degree of healing from it. But I also feel a tinge of bittersweet regret from my own personal experience.

Paff | Stocky United

Like countless other women, I was in tears today reading the stories of sexual assault as part of the overwhelming response to the Twitter handle #notokay. I had not been affected in such a way in a long, long time. As I read these experiences, which occurred either in adulthood or, tragically, in childhood, I was taken back to my own story: When the judge in the trial of the man I had accused of rape finished his deliberations and said the words, “You are, therefore, free to go.”

It’s caused me to once again question the world we live in where this happens so regularly and where, staggeringly, it is too often deemed acceptable to blame the victim, or at the very least, to attempt to find some way to lessen the blame of the aggressor. The fact remains that in sexual assaults, something is stolen from the victim that can never be returned, whether that is innocence, trust, pride, a sense of control or, most likely, varying degrees of all four.

We have heard much about “locker room talk” in the past day or so, as well as the old mantra, “boys will always be boys,” and suddenly I am 19 again. I am being told not to tell my roommates what had just happened in my bedroom “… or they would all want some.” Suffering from period pain and having just had my virginity violently stolen, the last thing on my mind was to run to my friends and boast of the horror that just happened to me. About a week after the crushing verdict, trying to come to terms with what had happened and trying to complete my senior year thesis, I read a newspaper interview saying the man I had accused was now planning to sue me for defamation of character. This threat thankfully never transpired, but it certainly hung around for a number of years.

I spoke out when I made my accusation but in doing so, I have been effectively silenced because of the outcome of the trial.

Because of the legalities of my case, it has also forced me to stay silent about something that I have needed to scream out loud about from the minute it happened. Do all women feel like this? There has certainly been not a trickle but a tidal wave of responses to #notokay. Are women finally being given the opportunity to speak out and, even more importantly, receive support, encouragement and plaudits for doing so? Of course, I wholeheartedly congratulate those women for adding their voices to the powerful chorus, and I pray that they feel relief and a degree of healing from having done so.

But, I also feel a tinge of bittersweet regret. I spoke out when I made my accusation but in doing so, I have been effectively silenced because of the outcome of the trial. Sexual assault is #notokay and neither is being forced into silence. I hope that the current Twitter campaign helps every woman who has suffered a sexual assault, whether it happened years ago or yesterday; if it was reported and the case dropped; if it went to court and the accused was found guilty or not guilty; if the woman remained silent … Whatever her circumstances, let the woman who has suffered feel solidarity and support from the #notokay campaign. Let the shame and victim blaming stop and let us change the culture that allows this phenomenon to proliferate.

Whether or not a sexual crime is reported to the police, each woman affected must be supported. The crime will stay with her for the rest of her life, and it is important for her family and friends to remember this. To this day I still get the occasional flashback and that is despite being happily married with three wonderful children.

Sexual assault is not, however, the end, and the positives in all stories must be acknowledged.

What’s more, I still can’t help but wonder what parts of me died that night, what aspects of my personality were forever altered, and what path might my life have taken had I not called the doctor that evening in 1999 to report this crime. What does God want us to do with our traumatic experiences? What of our reactions to and our subsequent dealings with our friends, family, and strangers we encounter in our daily lives? I have always felt a strong pull towards helping others through the sharing of my experiences, including this one. Perhaps, then, I am wrong in my desire to speak out? Would God prefer me to submit quietly and forget what happened? Deep down I know this isn’t true, because he has blessed me with three daughters. Surely I cannot remain quiet and meekly submit to the horror of sexual assault for their sakes?

Yes, I did indeed move on and find happiness and a loving partner to share my life with. I am happy to acknowledge that my mother’s fear, that my life was ruined, did not transpire and I married in 2007. Sexual assault will never be okay, and we must continue to shout this from the rooftops.

It is not, however, the end, and the positives in all stories must be acknowledged–there are plenty of men expressing their outrage for womens’ experiences on Twitter and their voices should be welcomed and encouraged. Education is key and I hope parents of boys educate their sons about what is and what is not okay in their loving and sexual relationships.

Let us pray, then, that the voices being heard because of #notokay are not silenced, that more voices are added to that chorus. And most importantly, let us pray that those who would carry out such atrocities are humbled and persuaded to change their ways.

MORE TO READ: Sharing personal stories of sexual assault can be a powerful healing tool

Mary Ann Davison
MaryAnn Davison is a writer, archivist, wife and mother. With any spare time she can find she enjoys reading, eating good food and sleeping—sad but true. Find out more at www.maryanndavison.com (launching at the beginning of July) and www.facebook.com/writermaryann.

Leave a comment: