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There’s never a good time to report sexual assault

October 9, 2012

This is a piece I’ve been thinking about writing for weeks. Perhaps longer, perhaps all of my adult life. Which might have started at about 12 (although this is highly arguable).

I’ve not been sexually assaulted. I’ve never been hit as an adult. And I count myself very, very lucky.

But I know friends and family who have been on the receiving (and giving) end of domestic violence. They haven’t reported. And I understand why.

Simply writing the above sentence – “But I know friends and family who have been on the receiving (and giving) end of domestic violence,” will potentially alienate me from some of my family. I’ve thought and over-thought the consequences. I’ve considered what a curse some might find it to be a friend or relative of a writer. This piece will spark some hurt perhaps. I’m not happy about that. It might start rumours. But, perhaps interestingly, no finger-pointing.

I’ve been thinking about why that is. Why so, so many people, not only victims and perpetrators, not only mothers and fathers, but siblings, mates, cops, military, GPs, family, friends and neighbours know about domestic violence incidents. They know about sexual assaults. They know about people, women, men and children, getting bashed and hit and raped and threatened and their lives made miseries.

But we do nothing.

People who I’ve spoken to have said different things. My Mum said, “He hasn’t hit me that many times,” as if that made it ok.

A friend who was sexually assaulted before she knew what that meant has never reported because she thinks it would destroy her parents.

A friend assaulted by a colleague has seen him protected and women who have reported him demoted.

There is never a good time to report sexual assault. A child who grows into an adult fears hurting their parents, their grandparents, their own children, tearing a family apart. An adult fears hurting their partner. Many victims rely on perpetrators financially.

So, so many victims feel that reporting wouldn’t change anything except hurting people who care for them, and destroying families or friendships. I suspect they also feel that it will change the way people think of them.

So, so many victims blame themselves, or (quite rightly) expect that if they come out, the first person who will be questioned will be them – what were they wearing? Were they flirting? Did they ‘ask for it’? Does one partner in a marriage have a right to deny the other sex? As if these were ever excuses for assaulting someone.

As a result, offenders go free. People who are assaulted often become victims or perpetrators. It’s a vicious cycle operating at every level of our community.

What disturbs me is that many perpetrators will keep offending so long as no one stands up. So long as victims feel that reporting is more painful and has less gains than staying silent, perpetrators will keep offending. And some perpetrators will become worse and worse offenders. Until someone is killed. And then society bemoans how this monster could walk amongst us – when we protect people who show all the signs of growing into this monster every day.

Perhaps we created them in the first place by not protecting them as a child.

I don’t have an answer. I’ve been part of hiding this kind of behaviour.

I think that as a community if we can agree to make victim’s lives better if they report than if they don’t that would help. I think if we promise to protect them that would help. I think we can promise not to judge them for their clothes or character – but simply agree that everyone has the right not to be assaulted or sexually assaulted.

I think we perhaps need to step back and say that although humans are just animals, we choose to evolve and that hitting, bashing, raping and evoking fear to control people aren’t accepted behaviours anymore.

We might think they haven’t been for a long time. But the fact that we protect people who perpetrate this behaviour says otherwise. The message our children and young people get is that they’re better off keeping quiet. That being assaulted is something to be ashamed of and hidden. The message we send perpetrators is that they will get away with it.

The people who are reporting assaults who are on my radar are younger people. People who perhaps don’t consider the huge risk to their career or reputation. I commend them. And I am heartbroken that women my age have been conditioned to think reporting isn’t worth it. At the end of the day I believe not reporting enables the perpetrator to continue their behaviour. If not with you, with the next person.

That said, if I was choosing between my perceived safety, my (thus far imaginary) partner’s peace of mind and my (completely falsified potential future) children’s lifestyle. With the current state of social stigma and inequity I honestly don’t know what I’d do.

I think perhaps we need:

– to accept that we have a real problem here. Women, men and children of all walks of life are being assaulted. And assaulting.

– to stop asking victims if somehow they asked for it – even just a little bit. No one asks to be assaulted.

– to agree that the benefits of reporting, and dealing with assaults, outweigh the benefits of hiding them – and make that true.

I’d love your thoughts on how to deal with this.

What would you do if you were assaulted in the workplace or at home? Would you report? Would you trust the systems in place? Would you be prepared to tell your family?

There are no right answers and I suspect we’re at a stage where many people would say no – but from there we can work out what needs to happen to change that. If you think that’s the direction we should be heading?

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. busichic permalink
    October 10, 2012 12:25 pm

    Great piece, Lou.

    You know that piece that you wrote about Unintentional Misogyny? Is it also possible that people are telling themselves that they haven’t committed sexual assault? ” and what responsibility do we as men and women have to tell our friends that they’ve committed sexual assault and that it’s not on?

    We condemn (as we should) the Catholic Church for hiding molestations which they did under the belief that the person would repent and “not do it again” given a fresh start in a new place. So why do good men and women turn a blind eye when a person not only sexually assaults but then in some cases go onto use their power and influence to intimidate and destroy the careers of their victim/s?

    • LouPardi permalink*
      October 10, 2012 1:17 pm

      I completely agree Cheryl. In fact it was a lot of hits on Unintentional Misogyny after Jill Meagher’s experience that made me feel an urgency to write this. Unintentional misogyny and assault are completely different things, and one requires a far more urgent and measured response in my opinion.

      Love your thoughts on how we can create a community where we feel #safetoreport.

  2. October 10, 2012 12:34 pm

    I agree. We should make lives better for the victims. But how? Being a victim myself in my teen years has changed who I have become. Confidence and self-esteem decided to walk hand in hand out the door.
    Ethnic communities frown upon such acts and usually blame the victim (who in most cases snd mine, a girl).
    I was popular, had good grades and was a social butterfly but once family got themselves involved my life changed.
    I sat in a dark place for a very long time. I was treated differently. They all disowned me.
    The perpetrator was a family member and he has since served his time. I’m not even angry at him. I’m angry at the people who I thought were my “family” and said they were there and would fix it all. They thought a generous payment would make me feel better but it was them turning their backs on me that destroyed me.
    It’s what happens to me afterwards that torments me.
    Numerous times I’ve been approached by grotesque men of all ages. Grabbed and dragged right in broad daylight, I luckily escaped but I didn’t report. Look what it did to me last time.
    No I didn’t ask for it. I was wearing appropriate clothing. I still wonder why it’s always me. I can be covered up from head to toe and they’d still want to drag me. I ask myself, am I asking for it? What am I doing that gets me in this situation? I sought counseling but that proved to be a waste of time.
    My comment is to put all of it in a box and lock it away. Even when caught perpetrators don’t ever serve the time that they deserved. Not are they sick in any form of health. In this fight, they win, all the time. Being incarcerated does nothing for the perpetrator yet the victims have to spend the rest of their lives living with the trauma, the secrets they hide. They always win.

    • LouPardi permalink*
      October 10, 2012 1:13 pm

      Hi Susie

      I’m so, so sorry about your experience.

      And sadly, I think your assessment of the balance is accurate.

      I really believe we can change this for future generations.

      I know you have a really painful insight into this insidious, awful, current balance.

      I’d love any ideas you have on how to change it.

      Love
      Lou

  3. October 10, 2012 12:46 pm

    Excellent piece. I have been on the receiving end of violence. You know, it doesn’t just help for people to speak up, it’s essential. Just be smart and sensitive about it and make sure you don’t inadvertently make life unsafe for the victim.

    • LouPardi permalink*
      October 10, 2012 1:14 pm

      Thanks Jenny. And sorry to hear about your experience. Thanks for sharing.

      I’d love to start sharing ideas about how we can make it #safetoreport. What do you think needs to change?

  4. November 9, 2012 12:40 pm

    I came here after the discussion on facebook. I am a survivor of an abusive relationship. I was 18 when it happened. It had a gigantic impact on my life. I did not report it. I couldn’t really function at the time. I wrote a show about it though and feel like I’ve finally faced it and found myself again. It took 15 years though…

    • LouPardi permalink*
      November 9, 2012 1:10 pm

      Hi Morven – what an awful experience. thanks for your insight. x

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