Unfortunately, there are many more cases of sexual violence than we think. The World Health Organization cites the following figures: “Every third woman (35%) in the world is physically or sexually abused by an intimate partner, or sexually abused by another person during her lifetime *.”
Lawyer and author of How To Read People Wendy Patrick writes that her court practice has shown that many victims of rape are not ready to seek help and file a report with the police. Why? There are obvious reasons that have been discussed more than once in the context of the problems of sexual violence: shame, guilt, embarrassment, fear of “dishonor” or close (including family) relationship with the offender.
But also, one of the common reasons victims of violence and harassment remain silent about what happened is because they force themselves to believe it wasn’t rape.
Researchers Laura Wilson, Kathryn Miller and their colleagues who have studied this issue have called such cases “unrecognized rape.” Their consequences and impact on the psyche of women are not well understood. A certain number of victims, the scientists found, preferred to consider the violence “bad sex” or “misunderstanding.”
“It was a long time ago, 20 years ago,” says 36-year-old Olga (name has been changed). – I was only 16, and I was in love with a grown man (then I thought so), he was 7 years older. We met when my parents were at the dacha. Kissing him was nice, but I wasn’t sure about the continuation, I had never had sex with anyone before. And he began to undress me …
I resisted, but for some reason I was ashamed to just shout or call for help (and who?), And he just translated my words as a joke. And I had a thought in my head – I myself invited and started kissing, and he is a man, they do not know how to stop, such is nature. She herself acquitted him, it turns out. In general, I decided to assume that it was bad sex. “
Calling it “the psychological adaptation of survivors,” Laura Wilson and her colleagues refer to an analytical study and write that this view of the situation of violence is chosen by about 60% of female survivors.
What influences this choice? There are two main factors: a fairly close acquaintance between the victim and the aggressor and the degree of physical force that was used in the crime.
“It was at a student party. We all then had fun walking and drinking. This time we were hanging out at a friend’s house, after the exam I did not get enough sleep, so I quickly got drunk and went to bed. I woke up from the fact that one of the guys pounced on me – we were already half naked. I screamed, but the music screamed so that no one heard. He said: now everyone will come, and he will tell me what I wanted, everyone will see me naked. I seemed to have lost the strength to resist and just turned away so that he would not touch his face … And then he began to convince me that I myself wanted. No bruises, nothing like that on me … ”- says Evgenia, 30 years old.
Scientists note that beliefs about traditional gender roles often lead to women resigning themselves to violence and not treating its authors as criminals. “Somehow my husband didn’t ask me very much, I want – I don’t want to. And I didn’t think it’s bad, we were brought up that way, since we’re married, it means we have the right, ”recalls 72-year-old Valentina Iosifovna. – The granddaughter will now treat this differently, and rightly so. And I am not angry with my late husband – I don’t think that he is out of malice, he just didn’t think that I might not even want to ”.
An important role is played by sexism and victim-blaming (from the English victim – the victim; blame – to blame), and often they come from the family, close circle of the victim. Often it is victim blaming that prevents a woman from sharing what happened, gaining support and being able to realize the drama and illegality of what happened to her.
“When I was little, more than once I heard my mother and a neighbor discussing some cases, such as“ it is her own fault, why did she walk through the wasteland, why in a short skirt, why did she twirl her tail, ”recalls 45-year-old Tatiana … – Therefore, when my second cousin harassed me in the summer in the village, she did not even share at home. In general, I did not tell anyone for a long time. For some reason, I was ashamed, as if it was her own fault. And the reason is not at all what my clothes were! “
“The victim should not solve this problem alone.”
Anastasia Gurneva, psychologist
“It is important and necessary to talk about the experience of violence. But if you look more closely, who and why? Of course, the victim herself needs this to restore a sense of security, receive support, and thus heal the pain of what happened. To do this, several conditions must be met in the conversation:
- trust on the part of the one who hears and is ready to provide this support – trust in words and experiences;
- willingness to keep the focus of attention on the experiences of the victim, and not on their own opinions, advice, accusations about this;
- it is important to clearly distinguish between areas of responsibility, to be sure that the author, and not the victim, is responsible for the violence;
- not to doubt her words and not to say that she came up with everything.
And where can you get such an attitude? With close people – rarely, sometimes with a psychologist, if he has competence in helping victims of violence (that is, does not suffer from victim blaming and does not offer a violent response to traumatic experience).
But in general, it is difficult to find someone who meets all these conditions, and sometimes it is easier to remain silent. Not better, but simpler, because if the victim hears an accusation, distrust of her words, secondary trauma may occur, a wound over the wound.
Violence itself is an experience of helplessness, vulnerability, and shame, but telling the wrong conversation partner also triggers similar experiences. And when choosing whether to speak or to be silent, the victim often chooses to be silent because that is actually the best way she can take care of herself. So it turns out that the pain does not move to the surface, to contact with other people, to healing, but goes deeper, sometimes even partially erased from memory, is recalled as a dream: either it happened or not.
After all, this story has no witness, just as there is no mourning and grief, anger, restoration of justice and security. What happened continues to influence behavior and life, determine whether the boundaries with other people will be rigid or, on the contrary, blurred, how easy it will be to relax in the presence of men, how personal life will develop.
But since the history of violence has not been lived through, it is often incomprehensible why everything is not going the way we would like. It requires completion and integration, but in silence and loneliness this work is difficult to do.
It seems to me that the decision – whether to talk about the experience of violence or not – cannot be a problem that the victim must solve alone. This is a question for each of us: about our own worldview, the fight against prejudice, the rejection of the role of judge, the willingness to hear without judgment and provide support to the victims, then talking about violence will have the potential to heal, not traumatize. “
About the expert
Anastasia Gurneva – a psychologist.
* Based on the 2017 World Health Organization Study on Violence Against Women.