What You Should Never Do When Someone Reports Abuse

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As a victim of long term sexual abuse and rape, a lot of the stuff in the news this week has been a real trigger for me. This morning I was watching the news and a supporter of a certain presidential candidate came on to defend the allegations that have been made against him. Look, first and foremost let me say that this is NOT a political post. I am not making a statement about who I think should or shouldn’t be president (although I do have strong feelings about it) because I don’t want to invite the ugliness that invariably follows such a post. I don’t need the stress in my life. This post is about a much bigger issue, and I want it to be heard without the clutter of politics. So please hear me out,  OK? OK.

This supporter, when asked about the allegations some woman was making about sexual abuse on an airplane 35 years ago, started picking apart her account of the event and challenging the things she said — questioning if they really happened. He even passed judgement on her inability to remember every detail, saying that if he were to experience such a traumatizing event he would remember everything very clearly. When I heard that I wanted to jump through the tv screen and punch him in the face. Really. It triggered such an anger response in me I was nearly foaming at the mouth. How dare he say that??? How can he sit in his high and mighty chair and proclaim with pious, self-righteous indignation what he would do in a situation he had clearly never encountered? It’s just ignorance in its highest form and it is beyond offensive to people like me who have actually experienced the terror of assault.

First of all, I can tell you that he is wrong. Dead wrong. It’s been more than 35 years since my abuse history started and I don’t remember every detail. There are still things coming out that I had forgotten, and things I probably never will remember. That’s how the brain deals with trauma. Everything gets all blurry. Sometimes I even doubt my own memories because it seems too awful or too bizarre or just too damn painful to believe. It becomes a muddy murky confusing mess that takes years of therapy to dig through. So no, Mr. Know-it-all. You wouldn’t remember. You don’t have a clue.

Unfortunately, Mr. Know-it-all is not alone in his thinking. It happens to us a lot. We tell somebody about our abuse and the first thing they do is pick it apart looking for inconsistencies or accusing us of making it up. It’s one of the main reasons we don’t tell. Because the fear of being shamed and invalidated is as real as the terror of the actual abuse. We want to put it behind us, not be shamed and victimized again by other people’s opinions and remarks. Let me make this very clear. It has been 36 years since I was raped, and the lingering trauma of the accusations hurled at me in the court room are as strong as — if not stronger than — the lingering trauma of the actual rape.  Did you hear that? Let me say it again just in case.  It has been 36 years since I was raped, and the lingering trauma of the accusations hurled at me in the court room are as strong as — if not stronger than — the lingering trauma of the actual rape. Words are painful. Attitudes can be damaging.

Look, I know it’s easy to let your mind go to disbelief. Who would want to believe such horrific things happen to people? Who would want to believe that someone, especially someone you know or admire, would do such horrific things? I get it. Unfortunately, it does happen. So, please– as a person who is still trying to pick up the pieces of all that has been done to me, I’m begging you — when someone tells you they have been abused, don’t second guess it. Believe them. Sure there are people who make false accusations, but unless it’s your job to determine that (meaning a judge or a jury) then please, just believe them.


Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. – Romans 14:13

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