I have been compelled to shine a light on this issue because of what Melania Trump said a few days ago regarding women who have come out to say that they were abused by some powerful men, a case in point, Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Melania questions why it takes such women ages to report the sexual abuse and that such women should show evidence to prove that they were, indeed, abused.
I would imagine a woman asking her attacker to pause for a while so she can get her camera ready to take a video, picture or an audio clip that they are being sexually attacked. This then, they can use whenever they decide to tell their story, whether its 50 years later.
The most recent question people ask victims of sexual abuse is why it has taken them such a long time to talk about the sexual violence?
I believe victims of sexual violence have valid reasons they don’t tell their stories immediately, while others take it to their grave without anyone else knowing.
You don’t have to be a trained psychologist to have an idea why victims of sexual violence take time to report their ordeals.
Just so we are on the same page, Psychology Today, an online journal of psychology studies says sexual harassment includes behaviours such as inappropriate touching; invasion of privacy; sexual jokes; lewd or obscene comments or gestures.
Of course, some women experience what more aptly could be described as sexual assault; being forced to perform oral sex on a man in a position of power, a man in power forcing himself on the woman either orally, vaginally, or anally.
One of the main reasons victims of sexual violence keep it to themselves for such a long time is because they feel shame—because they are often blamed for being sexually assaulted. Even, today, women are accused of causing their own victimisation with comments such as: “What did she expect when she dresses like she does?” and “She shouldn’t have had so much to drink.”
Women feel shame when men make fun of their bodies or make disparaging remarks about the size of their breasts or behinds. They feel shame when their entire being is reduced to how attractive or unattractive a man finds them. There are men who just don’t know how to compliment a woman. They usually make comments such as “Koma ndiye ukuoneka bwino, ungakometu” (You look edible). This is sexual harassment and make women, I, for one, feel shame and worthless.
This sense of shame has a cumulative effect. Depending on how much a woman has been shamed by previous abuse or by bullying, she may choose to try to forget the entire incident.
Sometimes they don’t say it because of denial. They tend to downplay the abuse by comparing what happened to them to that of other women. They tell themselves to forget the whole thing and move on. But, in reality, they don’t move on. This is why even if it takes 100 years, they don’t forget such an incident.
Some keep quiet because of fear of the consequences. The fear of losing a job, promotion, friends and even a husband. For some it’s because they have a vague memory of the assault because they were drugged.
Instead of focusing so much energy on trying to figure out why victims don’t report, it would be far more productive to ask: ‘Why do we allow men to continue to sexually harass and assault women?’
Perhaps even more important, we need to stop asking why victims wait to report and instead focus on how we can better support victims in their quest for justice and healing.