As our society evolves from a historical past of silencing voices, it seems as if people have finally acquired the bravery to speak up now more than ever.
With exposure at our fingertips through social media and the internet, it also seems as if it’s more difficult than ever to put yourself out there. I mean how can you when the whole world is always watching?
This especially applies to cases of sexual assault. Who wants to expose themselves and tell the world about a traumatizing experience that’s been silenced for so long? Something that will be judged, speculated and may even turn people against them. Who wants to be known as the girl that got sexually assaulted—or better yet—the girl that got raped? Nobody wants to view their life that way.
And since that topic is so prevalent now. Let’s take a close look at the recent domino effect of famous men getting taken down one-by-one.
Ever since allegations of producer Harvey Weinstein surfaced just last month, we’ve seen a sickening amount of big names come under fire as multiple women finally spoke up about their past experiences.
Louis C.K. was accused of sexual misconduct by five women, Steven Seagal accused of sexually harassing actress Portia de Rossi and others, Kevin Spacey accused of sexually assaulting an underage boy, former Gossip Girl star Ed Westwick accused of raping a girl three years ago—and that’s just a few of them. Unfortunately, there’s a long list of more.
Something all of these cases have in common is that it wasn't their only act of sexual misconduct. More people exposed similar situations by each man once the first claim circulated. Coincidence? Probably not.
Someone asked, “Why are so many women just now telling people about this when it happened so long ago?”
Clearly people with these types of questions don’t understand how trauma affects people. So, let’s put it into perspective.
According to a study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the National Institutes of Heath, “The study revealed that only 18% of the adult women's rapes and only 11% of the assaults of children were reported.”
It’s a bit clearer why children would internalize a traumatic sexual experience—they’re scared, confused, too young to understand—whereas an adult is more aware—but is that supposed to make it any easier? With a head of fully-developed emotions and understanding of the world, even as adults, we still feel like children when faced with trauma.
So of course, a victim’s first instinct is to be scared. They retreat to isolation because it’s all they know how to do in a moment of fear and disillusion.
Scientifically, sexual trauma has a particular kind of effect on the brain.
The Cognitive Neuroscience Society published a study about the complex neuroscience of sexual trauma and how drastically it affects the victim.
“The rate of false report in sexual violence is actually low, estimated by most studies to be around 7% (to compare, this is considerably lower than the rate of insurance fraud)."
The study further reported how even a simple altercation or uncomfortable moment can trigger a wave of distress. It not only disrupts emotional well-being, it creates a “cascade of hormonal changes, which includes oxytocin and opiates, associated with pain management, adrenaline, commonly associated with “fight or flight,” and cortisol."
"Functional connectivity between different areas of the brain is affected.”
So, as we all know the old adage, “time heals all wounds,” that just may be what helps these victims finally come to peace with their fears. Another is when someone else with the same experience speaks up first—finally the victim can fill the void of loneliness they’ve felt their entire repression. Finally, someone else who gets it.
As humans, we should be encouraging this type of unity and bravery for a victim. Help each other stand up for justice. Why as humans do we blame the victim? Why do we defend a man just because he’s our favorite actor or we thought he was a good person?Especially women—shouldn’t we encourage them to speak up when their voices have been silenced for so long?
It's never too late to speak up. The National Sexual Assault Hotline is free, confidential and 24/7: 800-656-HOPE