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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, October 09, 2018 1:00 am

Don't blame rape victims; believe and support them

Terri Noone

I was 18 years old and had recently broken up with my boyfriend. I was hanging out a friend's house, just the two of us. He was doing what friends do, making me feel better about the breakup, making me laugh and giving me a supportive hug.

And then he was removing my pants while I kept telling him no. The term “date rape” was unknown to me back then. It never occurred to me to tell anyone. I remember so much about that evening more than 40 years later, but not the date or exact time of night it happened.

I used to feel ashamed it happened. Now I feel regret I did not report and doubt I would've been strong enough to do so.

I am fairly certain if he is reading this, he is thinking I am talking about someone else, not him – because we were friends. It would be my word against his. There is no proof. Does that mean I should not be believed?

Since the #MeToo movement, the news media has been encouraging and difficult. When a survivor comes forward in a public way, all the armchair legal eagles weigh in dissecting holes in the stories. I read comments from people making fun of the victim. None of them were there, yet they have opinions on what happened or didn't, on how bad it really was.

The message I got was I could be the person out there being shamed again for something that was not my fault. That is the message we are sending another generation.

According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control: 1 in 5 women experience rape. Of those victims, 42.2 percent were first raped before 18, and 37.4 percent were first raped between the ages of 18 and 24. Just looking at these staggering statistics, my question is: Why wouldn't we believe a survivor? The odds are extremely good she is telling the truth.

I've worked in the domestic violence and sexual assault field for 30 years, first at the YWCA of Northeast Indiana, now for the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence. I know firsthand that most survivors do not report violence for a variety of reasons, but regardless of the reason given, shame was at the core.

It was rare that we worked with survivors who had any involvement with law enforcement because of their attacks. Sometimes their closest friends and family did not know. We believed them.

We were most often not working on active cases. It was not our job to judge our clients, to make fun of them, to discover whether they were telling the truth, or to press charges based on our findings. Our job was to support them in whatever way they identified would be helpful.

We used statements such as “I'm sorry this happened to you” or “You did not deserve this.” These are the responses you should provide when you hear someone disclose. Don't ask why, because that shifts blame back to the survivor. The “why” is simple power and control and entitlement. It is not alcohol, lust or any other reason brought up.

There are things we can do. For instance, talk to your children in age-appropriate ways about good touch and harmful touch.

Show them ways they can set boundaries and find safe people they can report to. Don't teach boys and girls that if a boy hits a girl or pulls her hair on the playground that it means he likes her. Teach your children that it is OK to not hug or kiss a relative goodbye. That gives them body autonomy.

As much as I relish when my grandsons hug and kiss me hello or goodbye, I am fine with them if that is not their choice. I know they love me and may love me more someday because I ask and respect, never force.

And, please speak up when you hear victim-blaming comments. Silence is seen as complicity. Remember that you may not even realize that an 18-year-old who was raped last night is watching and listening. Seeing how you react to others may help her come forward or retreat to the shadows for 45 years.

Terri Noone is technical assistance coordinator for the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence.