You Need to Listen to Survivors. Now More Than Ever.

TW: this post is about sexual assault, harrassment, and violence against women.

This has been a hard week to be on social media as a survivor of sexual violence. I was tempted to step away from the internet entirely but, well, I can’t really do that thanks to my job.

So I stayed. And I read the stories. And I sent love and solidarity to my fellow survivors all over the world, even as I felt increasingly hopeless and increasingly retraumatised.

I was 12 years old the first time a boy grabbed my breasts without my consent. I was 13 or 14 the first time I can remember having something obscene yelled at me in the street. The first time I felt creeped out by an adult man’s behaviour? I was 9. The first time a boyfriend pressured me into a sex act I wasn’t comfortable with? I was 15.

None of this is unusual. In fact, it’s heartbreakingly common. It’s practically ubiquitous.

All the stories that are pouring out on social media right now, in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard? If you’re not a survivor, I want you to listen to those.

If you’re not a person who experiences misogyny, I want you to sit with this and listen to it. Not because we think you’re to blame for the actions of all men. The point isn’t that all men are perpetrators, or even that only men are perpetrators. Obviously that’s not the case. The point is that virtually all women – probably every single woman you know – has been on the receiving end at some point or another.

Maybe someone walked a little too close to us as we walked home at night, or maybe someone yelled something disgusting from a passing car. Maybe we were raped or assaulted by a man we trusted. Perhaps we convinced ourselves it wasn’t really assault, it wasn’t really harrassment, it doesn’t really count. Perhaps we didn’t report because we felt like no-one would believe us, no-one would care, it wasn’t really that bad.

Or maybe we did report, and maybe we were gaslighted into believing we imagined it. Maybe we were told not to make a fuss, not to ruin his reputation, not to go out at night or wear that dress or have that second drink if we don’t want our bodies to become public property.

Many of us were children the first time this happened.

If you don’t experience misogyny and you’re not a survivor, I need you to hear this. We don’t need self-congratulatory posts about how you’re such a good guy and feel ashamed to be male because of what others of your gender have done. We don’t need to hear “I would never do that.” Instead, we need you to listen to us. To ask how you can help. To talk to your fucking friends and to stop asking that one creepy, gropey, rapey guy to your parties. We need you to step in and stop being a bystander.

I want to stop hearing about how people don’t think they’re part of the problem, and start seeing them be part of the solution.

But first I want you to listen.

And I want you to believe us.

Being Believed Changes Everything

Trigger warning: abuse and survivors not being believed

I logged into Fetlife this morning for the first time in a few days, to find a message from someone I haven’t seen in years. I regarded this person as a friend and I think I even had a little crush on them! But I met them through a community I was brought into by my abusive ex. A community I left behind when I walked away from that relationship. I cut every tie I had with everyone who was connected with him, because I had to.

I won’t go into detail about what my friend said to me in their message, but there was an underlying theme that immediately leapt out at me. That theme was I believe you. Lots of us believe you. We see him for what he really is.

It made me cry, because being believed isn’t something survivors get to experience very often.

Being believed changes everything

This is actually, coincidentally, the second instance recently of someone reaching out to me with a message that amounts to “hey, I believe you”.

When you’re a survivor of any kind of abuse, being doubted and disbelieved is something that comes with the territory. You speak out, and people question you, interrogate your story, or outright accuse you of lying. It’s painful, and it sucks. Maybe you keep speaking out and harden yourself to the world’s hostility, or maybe you shut up, retreat, keep quiet, watch your abuser continuing to have power and influence.

Imagine how different the world would look if we believed survivors as a matter of course. Imagine how much more effectively we could tackle the problem of abuse if our first reaction to it wasn’t to brand survivors as crazy, as delusional, as liars, as attention seekers.

If you do one thing for a survivor, believe them

You can’t rescue them, nor should you try. Inserting yourself into the narrative as a saviour does more harm than good. You can’t push them towards a specific path, like pressing charges. You can’t make the pain or the trauma or the fucking heartwrenching, eviscerating reality of what they experienced go away.

But what you can do is believe them.

The times in the last few years that someone has reached out a literal or virtual hand to me and said, “I believe you”? Those meant everything. They broke through the fog of doubt and guilt, the occasional intrusive thoughts that still pop into my head, saying but what if it was you all along? What if you were just too crazy, too broken, not good enough for him to love you properly?

Because being believed changes the game.

This one is for my fellow survivors. I love you and I believe you.

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