Nearly every woman I know has told me about one or more times in which she was sexually assaulted, molested, threatened or raped, or they personally know someone who was sexually assaulted, molested, threatened or raped. I was molested as a child, most vividly by a stranger in Woolworth’s in the 60s, and I am also a victim of date rape. I hesitated to tell anyone until recently, fearing I’d be judged. Very few of the women I know told anyone or went to the police. This is hardly surprising when you look at what often happens when they do.
Trump says women lied about sexual assault for fame
The number of women attesting to being the victim of Donald Trump’s groping or kissing continues to grow while he continues to claim they are all liars. He said at Wednesday’s presidential debate that the women accusing him of sexual assault or harassment are spreading fiction: “They get their 10 minutes of fame, but it was fiction. It was all lies, and it was fiction.”
That victims want fame, publicity or attention is one of the biggest misconceptions about reporting sexual assault. The trial process for those cases that end up in court is hard and stressful, and often re-victimizes survivors. Who would voluntarily put themselves through an examination process about intimate and distressing violations of their sexual integrity? No, there is no fame in speaking out. Even victims of lesser crimes of sexual assault, such as unwanted groping or kissing, are discredited. Reports of sexual harassment boil down to a he-said-she-said scenario in which the victim has to prove it happened.
Fortunately there is proof that Trump is a perpetrator of sexual assault: his own words.
It’s also interesting that Trump questioned why the former PEOPLE writer Natasha Stoynoff didn’t write about her alleged assault at the time. Rape is the least reported and convicted violence crime in the U.S. In a landmark report on harassment in the workplace, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that the most common explanations victims give for staying quiet is “they fear they won’t be believed, nothing will come of speaking up, or that they will face retaliation for doing so. This dynamic is even more difficult to overcome if the perpetrator holds a position of power, as Trump did in all of these instances.”
What women want
Women who speak out years after an assault most often do so because they are tired of silence. They are tired of having to deny to themselves what happened. They want to say “This happened, it was wrong, and it hurt me.” It took me 40 some years to internalize that I wasn’t to blame for an incident that took place when I was nineteen. Speaking out about it was terrifying, even though I didn’t even name the perpetrator. I was afraid no one would believe me. I was afraid I’d be blamed.
In my research for In the Context of Love, I attended a Take Back the Night rally and listened to dozens of women tell their stories of sexual assault. It was an intimate and private event, a safe place for sharing openly. Some women shook when they spoke, others wept. Some of their stories were shocking. None of them wanted fame or recognition. They simply wanted to be heard and acknowledged. Sharing helps a woman own her story while no longer being defined by that story.
When we speak out we let go of the burden of holding our memories outside the story of our lives.
This is what women want: To be heard. To no longer feel alone. To be acknowledged and validated.
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the author of In the Context of Love, adult contemporary fiction
2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist in Fiction
2016 Readers’ Favorite Finalist for Women’s Fiction
“…at once a love story, a cautionary tale, and an inspirational journey.” ~ Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of National Book Award Finalist, American Salvage, and critically acclaimed Once Upon a River, and Mothers, Tell Your Daughters
“Stories of women who have suffered sexual abuse have been at the forefront of media recently. How do we empower these women to find strength within darkness? How do we ensure that they are heard? Those are questions Sienkiewicz has us think about in her debut novel.” ~Jennifer Bairos, A Splendid Messy Life blog