Dear Silent Survivor,
The #MeToo movement has led to such a reckoning, we almost forget that thousands (and thousands) of men will never face an exposé, let alone a firing or criminal charges. With so many powerful men in the spotlight, the spectacle has cast a shadow on the silent victims. And even without you speaking your trauma, I can feel it. The anonymous arm pictured on TIME's Person of the Year cover is loaded with implications, with pain. That arm represents not only the women (and men) who are choosing to remain anonymous, but the insidious forces that make silence — your silence — necessary. But I am here to say: I see you.
The world isn't owed our torment.
I see you lingering behind the subtle looks women share with one another when they just know. I can hear you in the whisper networks we've created to keep each other safe. I can see the outline of your shadow behind the devastating statistics that remind us there are so many of us out there. And while those who broke their silence to come forward deserve our gratitude, so do you.
You are a reminder that our stories are ours to share when, and if, we are ready. The world isn't owed our torment. Our scars do not have to be ripped open repeatedly in order for our pain to be validated. Justice is a nice idea, but coming forward is mentally and emotionally exhausting. It's an additional burden on victims. We must protect the choice to stay quiet in the wake of sexual assault and harassment, even as people say things like, "If it happened years ago, why didn't she say anything until now?" Silence and even denial are fundamental pieces of the psychological damage incurred by this unique strain of violence.
The decision to speak up or stay quiet puts the power someone took from you back in your hands, and we must honor whatever decision you make.
You are why we, as a culture, cannot forget that we have more work to do. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 15.8 to 35 percent of all sexual assaults are reported to the police. Fear of reprisal, belief that the police cannot and will not do anything to help, fear of the justice system, and just not wanting others to know are just some of the reasons people like you choose not to come forward. We've created a culture that protects assailants and shames victims. We describe men convicted of sexual assault as "former Stanford swimmers" and watch as they only serve three months in prison for charges of raping unconscious women behind dumpsters. We have let you down, adding salt to a toxic environment that makes it unsafe for you to share your story and pursue the justice you deserve.
In your quiet solidarity, you mirror the true story of privilege and power that runs through all these stories. The intersection of prevailing racism and sexual violence makes women of color susceptible to rape and sexual assault at higher rates. According to the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence, 40 percent of Black women report coercive sexual contact by age 18, and approximately 7.9 percent of Latinas will be raped by a spouse, partner, or ex-partner during their lifetime. Indigenous peoples are victims of rape and sexual assault at a rate that is 3.5 times higher than any other race in the United States. Systemic racism has blinded those in positions of power and privilege from recognizing the injustices women of color face, especially when attempting to report a rape or sexual assault.
To the victims choosing silence: You have the unquestionable right to choose not to relive your trauma. It is not up to you to reveal and hold attackers accountable. Your mental, physical, and emotional health is more important than making a din.
While more and more women come forward and unearth the secrets of powerful sexual predators, we know that the person who hurt you is still out there.
By putting yourself first, either by necessity or choice, you have given us all permission to do not what we think is required of us, or what others believe they have the right to demand from us, but what's best for our lives and our truth. You are the voice that whispers to the woman, shaking and afraid and unsure, that she doesn't have to say anything if she doesn't want to. That she can wait until she's ready.
Until we've demolished the prevailing rape culture that makes silence the safest option, no one need feel like they have let anyone down by remaining quiet. The work that needs to be done is easier done by those in power than those hurt for their lack of it.
Please know that you are not forgotten. Because while more and more women come forward and unearth the secrets of powerful sexual predators, we know that the person who hurt you is still out there. We know that, statistically, your day of justice, and your assailant's hour of reckoning, will not come. And if we close our eyes and think of you, and so many women like you, we can feel the burden you continue to carry.
Know that we carry it with you. Because until every single one of us is free from violence against women, none of us are.
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