A Necessary Silence: #metoo & Non-Survivor Privilege

December 10, 2017

 

Cease striving and know that I am God...

--Psalm 46:10a

 

She sat only a few feet from me. 

 

Don't you dare apologize for your silence, I told her. 

Don't you dare allow this movement to shame you into speaking where speaking would cause untold suffering. 

 

She was a typical sexual assault survivor. 

Her years of torture ended over a decade ago. 

 

Like so many others, she maintains silence for so many reasons. 

 

Her rapist freely walks the streets of her small town, beloved by many.

Her children attend local schools.

Her own nightmares and daily flashbacks have mostly subsided.

 

And now #metoo. Nightmares and even a few flashbacks have returned. 

 

This conversation must happen, she told me. I am so thrilled to see this movement finally happening!

We even made Time Magazine's Person of the Year!

But, oh! How it hurts. How the old scars are tender again. 

 

How many times my finger, she continues, has hovered over the Post button on my Facebook page. How I have wanted to write #metoo. Because of course. For years, me too. 

 

And I am so freakin' ashamed. And I am so sorry. I just can't do it!

She cries, her voice so small now. 

 

Don't you dare apologize for your silence, I told her. 

Don't you dare allow this movement to shame you into speaking where speaking would cause even more untold suffering. 

 

I have thought often of this conversation in the past several days.

 

I have had many like it. What I have learned from sexual assault survivors over the past twenty or so years is nothing compared to what I have learned from them in the past twenty or so days. 

 

Doctors will tell you, when a bone breaks and heals again, the area around the break becomes stronger than ever. 

 

Sexual assault survivors are among the most broken and strongest people I know. The fortitude and faith it takes to survive and heal from such terror is like no other. The hell they will walk through again and again to find their healing is phenomenal.

 

As much hell as they will go through for their own healing, they are tremendously protective. 

That might be the understatement of the universe.

 

A sexual assault survivor will stand on hot coals to protect others from experiencing the wounds they carry. Those of us who have not been raped cannot begin to understand what they will do to keep it from happening to us. 

 

But there is something else they will also do.

They will protect themselves and their children and their spouses and their parents and their siblings. 

 

And so they should. 

 

What gets rather crazy though is that to us outsiders that protection can look a lot like they are protecting the abusers. We start asking absurd questions like, "What took you so long to come forward?" "Why, after so many decades, are you just now saying something?" "Why should we believe you now?"

 

Sitting with various sexual abuse survivors over the course of this wonderful and wondrous #metoo movement, the ones who were raped, and listening to their reactions to this national conversation, I began using the phrase Non-Survivor Privilege to describe these and other reactions that belie our inability and/or unwillingness to get into the skin of a sexual assault survivor and see life from their perspective. 

 

What took them so long to come forward is actually a litany of things. Here is just a sampling:

  • Sexual trauma breaks people in ways the rest of us simply cannot understand; healing from it, has completely different rules (mostly that there are no rules except what the survivor needs)

  • Rapists and abusers brainwash their victims into believing the assault(s) is/are their fault

  • Survivors are threatened into silence: their loved ones are typically the ransom

  • Survivors who do speak out are often not believed; too often even parents do not believe

  • The character of survivors is typically shredded in defense of the rapist

  • Abusers continue to roam free, beloved in their communities, wielding power 

The list could go on, but this is enough to stop anyone in their tracks. To stop a finger over the Post button. 

 

If the only remaining victim were the survivors themselves, what I have learned from survivors tells me they would not hesitate to report their abusers. The agony they live with knowing the abusers are likely/almost certainly abusing others is smothering. 

 

But they must protect their children, spouses, parents, siblings. They must protect them from people they know can hurt them in the worst way because they were hurt by them in the worst way.

 

As people who never experienced sexual assault, we are necessarily privileged. 

There is no shame in that privilege. 

 

But out of that Non-Survivor Privilege we must take great care not to unwittingly shame the already most ashamed among us.

 

Every time we say, "Oh! Not him too!" "Goodness gracious will it ever stop?!" 

Each adoring praise for those who have finally come forward (and yes, they deserve praise, but please pause for a moment for those who cannot come forward).

All the sighs of weariness about not being able to watch that show or this movie anymore. 

 

In our Non-Survivor reality we may very well weary of this national conversation. I am so exhausted by it.

 

I have been sexually harrassed multiple times. Who hasn't? But even I can walk away from the conversation when I am tired of it.

 

I can turn off the news.

Close Facebook and Twitter.

Leave Reddit behind and ignore the blogosphere.

 

That is my ultimate Non-Survivor Privilege.

 

Sexual assault survivors cannot do that. 

Survivors of rape, no matter the age or duration, do not have the privilege of turning off the conversation.

 

No matter how much healing they have experienced. 

No matter how many decades have passed. 

They will always have been raped.

 

They cannot turn off the conversation.

 

Yes. They know due process is necessary every time a new accusation is brought forth. Survivors are not asking for anyone to be unduly fired or imprisoned. They only ask us to believe them long enough to let due process take its course. To maybe not ask if they were drunk or sluts when they were six or sixteen or twenty-six, thus causing the rapes to occur. 

 

Maybe. Maybe it's time we start telling surivors something else. 

 

Don't you dare apologize for your silence. 

We are listening. We want to discover what happened.

We are sorry. 

 

Psalm 46:10a is often translated as, "Be still and know that I am God." A tender and gentle sounding refrain. Just settle yourself down and be still and silent and come to know God.

 

But there is nothing about Psalm 46 that is stilling and gentle and tender.

 

Friend and fellow-blogger, Bobby Valentine, and I were chatting about this very thing the other day. It is a Psalm that calls us to consider the great strength and power of God. A holy God who dwells on the Most High and is our refuge in our trouble. 

 

In the verses just preceding this call to "be still" we read:

 

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
Who has wrought desolations in the earth.
He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariots with fire.

 

The Hebrew word in Psalm 46:10 we translate as "be still" is raphah

Raphah is much better translated as cease striving.

 

Just stop. Stop.

 

"Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold. 

 

This is a difficult time in our nation. Houses of cards and living room heroes are falling all around us. 

 

It is easy in our own pain and fear and loss to unwittingly hurt the already hurt. 

May we all take a moment. 

 

Cease striving. Let God be God. He is our refuge. A very present help in our trouble. 

 

 

 

 

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