I’ve been trying really hard to find my opening into this conversation — that of the most recent sexual assault that is all over the news and social media — because this isn’t about me, but then again, it is. It’s about all victims.
We advocates love to jump in and share when the topic is in the headlines. While I am never, ever happy that another person has experienced such pain, I AM happy when a public conversation starts.
I could express outrage but I won’t. What I will do is share what justice does not look like.
Six months is not justice. We know this.
I’ve watched people do more time for property crime than personal crime. That has never failed to break my heart. In my experiences, I was left without justice, and despite my strength as a person, it still left so many areas in my soul broken.
My first abuser (attempted rape and sexual assault) did maybe 6 months in a “rehabilitative” camp. He went off and went on hikes and made arts and crafts, while I suffered at home, covering for him in school like I was his PR person who could never tell the real story, just a pretty version, a complete lie.
Then he came home and tried again.
My second abuser (sexual assault) suffered the “punishment” of having his dead wife’s wedding rings stolen. That’ll show him! That was literally the extent of action taken on my behalf. I still had to go to his house and see him. I still had to shut my mouth and pretend I hadn’t told because to mention it meant we could no longer do our laundry.
My third abuser (no idea how to classify his actions) was ignored. His “punishment” was that he would still have to buy things for my family. I would still have to see him.
My final abuser (sexual assault, rape) was my first husband, and since we were dating (I was 13) and then married (14), it doesn’t count. (It does. Of course it does. But the message I always got was that it doesn’t. A man can’t rape his wife!)
Sexual abuse “ended” in my life when I was 22.
Recovery is ongoing.
Healing is ongoing.
I’m sharing this today not to highlight my abuses but to speak about what life looks like afterwards with no justice. I can’t speak to healing and recovery from a place of knowing justice because I never got such a thing.
Not getting justice, whether from the judicial system or a parent who is supposed to protect you, is re-victimization. I can’t say that it’s worse than the actual initial abuse, but it’s certainly ongoing and can last longer in its own way. It feels like no one believes you, no one cares to protect you, no one is on your side. It feels like you were stupid for ever speaking up, for trying to tell.
A six-month sentence looks like me being asked, “Are you sure?” after fighting off my would-be rapist. I feel that punch in the gut, the feeling of, “He matters more than you.” I hear old whispers of, “You are worthless. You are stupid. You don’t matter.”
No victim should ever feel that way.
In 2012, I finally broke. That was about 15 years after my painful past “ended.” Sitting in the belly of all that ugly pain was this tangled knot of injustice. When I talked with my counselor, weeping and aching in every part of my being, it kept coming back to not feeling protected, not being taken care of… to injustice.
But let me tell you what happened in that small counseling room: my counselor believed me. She leaned into my story and she heard me and she saw me and she believed me and she wept on my behalf. And while I may never, ever see judicial justice, I got a big portion of it then, and more and more as I’ve spoken out and shared openly the ugly things no one likes to talk about.
When each of you lean in and listen too, you help heal that gaping wound.
I am more whole every single time.
So, when we talk about the lack of justice for Brock Turner’s victim, and for all the others who suffer in silence, lean in, hear them, see them, believe them, and weep on their behalf. To be heard and believed has been one of my greatest sources of strength and recovery. And I thank you.
To this young lady: I see you, I hear you, I believe you, and I weep with you.