Recently on Facebook, I saw a post that read, "Dear people who have never been sexually assaulted: your opinion on when and how victims report or go public doesn't matter." Though I whole-heartedly agree with this, I think it is important to highlight that even if someone was sexually assaulted, they still do not have a say in how or when another victim goes public or reports their assault. Why do I say this?

For starters, not everyone has the exact same experience with sexual assault. Some may become more traumatized from theirs than others will. Some may know how to handle and defend themselves in the situation when it happens, others may freeze in the moment and not have a clue what to do. Everyone who has dealt with something along the lines of sexual assault has a completely different encounter that affects them in a variety of ways.

Also, feelings and mental health issues play a huge role in how someone deals with surviving a sexual assault. Some survivors may feel extreme guilt and may blame themselves for what happened. Some may develop PTSD or other mental illnesses from what happened to them. Some may even have behavioral problems. A lot try to block out what happened to them in order to avoid dealing with the pain of what they went through.

Lastly, every single survivor has a different way of dealing with their trauma, so it truly depends on many factors, including the ones I have discussed before, to determine when and how they become public with their story. It may take a few months, or it may take many years. For example, my mother waited about 40 years to let me share her story with the world.

Next time you ridicule someone who is a survivor of sexual assault, whether you are one or are not one as well, think of these circumstances. Think of how important it is to step into the shoes of victims and see the situation from their perspective. Try to be understanding of their circumstances and how they came about dealing with them. Instead of searching for every reason in the world not to believe them, give them the benefit of the doubt. It is terrifying to be public with such a traumatic story, especially with the judgment of the world.

Be empathetic. You never truly know what someone has gone through until that person decides when it is time to share their story. No matter how long a person waits to come forward, it does not invalidate their trauma. It does not erase what happened to them. No one has the right to decide for a victim when they are or are not ready to go public with their story. Only victims have the power to do that for themselves.