I had my lucid moments when I knew how wrong it all had been. How unacceptable, how horrific, how humiliating. I knew when he was just slightly crossing a line and I was fully aware how unforgivably far he went at times. I knew the events that should have been reported — the beating, the sexual abuse… damage of property was the most straightforward and tangible but I had proof of it all; I wore it on or in my body.
And still… It took me years to muster up enough courage to turn to the authorities — deciding that it was enough, I can’t take this anymore, I can’t let him get away with another one. Not this time. Not ever. But seeking justice put me through a different kind of hell — something unknown, something terrifying, something unfair.
A frightening number of abuse, rape, and sexual assault cases go unreported. The number of reported cases is already terrifying, but it clearly is just the tip of the iceberg. According to recent statistics, 3 out of 4 cases will remain unreported due to many reasons…
The question is often asked… why didn’t she report it?
Victim-blaming runs deep in society, and it runs deep in people’s minds. So deep, that even victims blame other victims and victims blame themselves. As part of the rape culture, next to slut-shaming, body objectification victim-blaming is definitely up in the top three crimes committed by bystanders and observers.
Let’s just stop for a second, and think about how difficult it could be for the victim to report such a case, if we try to understand the reasons — it might shine a light on the underlying causes, and help to understand better how the nature of abusive behaviour, the circumstances and societal factors can weigh in — and result in unreported cases.
So, why didn’t she?
What on earth could possibly stop her from seeking well-deserved justice?
Being a victim of an assault is not a crime. The assault is the crime. Yet it’s the victims who feel the shame for it. Shame for not being able to foresee it, or prevent it, or stop it. Feeling ashamed that somehow it was their fault, something they have said or done was triggering the other to do that to them. Shame that they played a part, that they brought in on themselves — by some or another means. They are ashamed and afraid of being humiliated for it.
Shame stops up from speaking up; shame stops us from defending ourselves; shame stops our ordinary world to function. Shame shatters our pictures of the world, and it leaves us speechless and broken. It distorts our reality to the point of questioning our sanity. It catches us off guard, and it strips us from the power we have over our lives. It paints a picture of us that we don’t want to see — a terrible mirror image of our broken souls and bodies. Shame debilitates.
Lack of help
A lot of survivors enter the legislation system because they want to be heard, they want to get justice, they want it to be acknowledged that all the awful things that were done to them will be sanctioned.
Only to face the cold reality of not being heard, not being understood, not being believed.
Only to face the tragic situation that the details of the assault matter more than the fact of it. In police investigation…
What was the angle? What time was it exactly? What were you wearing? How much alcohol did you consume?
Or to face the fact that the assault does not fit into a legal category.
Or to be discouraged from carrying on with the reporting of it, as the process will not come to a result soon enough — if at all.
Abuse is abuse; rape is rape — regardless of time, clothing, alcohol in the bloodstream, angle, whatnot. The legal and justice system is not ready to hear the words of the victim — sure they look for the injustice, but in doing so, often they are questioning the victim’s credibility, memory, or motives.
Lots do not report because they don’t trust the system enough. They think they won’t be heard, listened to, believed, trusted, supported. They don’t report it, as they are advised by officials not to.
Sometimes we don’t report it, because we are afraid. We are scared of losing so much. Losing our love, our relationship, or losing our mind. And sometimes we are threatened to keep our mouth shut.
In a lot of cases, the assault is committed by someone we know. Or someone who we are still committed to. Someone we are dependent on. In cases, the assault is part of the abuse cycle’s terror phase, followed up by a calm and beautiful honeymoon phase yet again, for the first or tenth time.
When someone beast you up, kicks you around the flat, rapes you, and then after all tells you that if you report it, he will serve his time and then he will come for you — there is a high chance that you will believe him.
Empty threats do not feel empty when you are scared for your life. Reality cannot kick in when you are too busy covering your blackeye from your workmates and family. Reasoning cannot touch you when survival is on the top of your list.
Fear can stop you mid-way. Making you freeze, like a deer in the headlights — understanding the life or death kind of the situation, still unable to move anywhere, keep standing in harm’s way.
Sometimes we don’t report it because we tell ourselves that it is not even real, not that bad. Or someone else convinces us that it doesn’t qualify as assault. Yes, he hit me, but it wasn’t a real blow. Yes, he raped me, but maybe I wasn’t clear enough on saying no. Yes, he had no right to do it but did I have the right to deny him what he wanted anyway?
It wasn’t really that bad, huh. It wasn’t rape; after all, he is my husband. I vowed to be with him for better or worse. I angered him, so no wonder this happened. How could I say it anyway?
To save face, to keep the image you have of yourself, to save a relationship, to save someone who means a lot to you, to save someone who just made a mistake — we are rewriting our narrative. Maybe we just overreacted. Perhaps we are just too sensitive. It wasn’t such a big deal. We can sort it out.
But we cannot.
And sometimes we don’t report, because we love the one who hurt us. Because we want that person back. The one who loved us and who couldn’t hurt, not really. We don’t want him to get into any trouble. We don’t want him to be punished. We forgive, we move on and there’s no point in trying to stay away. We are meant to be.
There is always a price tag on everything, and maybe this is the price we pay for the love that we have. True love prevails. If it’s meant to be it will be. You don’t know anyone until you know the darkest sides to them.
Love blinds us. Love makes us irrational. Love makes us defend those that we need defence from. Love makes us vulnerable, and being beaten or raped is vulnerable. It is, but whoever talked about opening up to being vulnerable, surely didn’t mean to be beaten-black-and-blue, or ripped-off-clothes kind of vulnerable.
There are cases when it is impossible to report it. I am not saying that it shouldn’t be reported. I am not encouraging anyone to keep silent about it. The opposite! We need to speak about it, we need to reach out for and get justice!
But I know that it could happen that you get trapped in a certain reality — of your own creation or someone else’s — that makes it downright impossible to come out with the truth.
The bad news is, reporting abuse doesn’t automatically means redemption, justice, and peace of mind.
The good news is that healing isn’t related to reporting an abusive event.
So what is there to do?
Know that healing is an upward spiral
At times you feel you are moving forward, you are getting better, life starts to get in a state of normalcy… and then in a split second, it feels you are back to square one, and weeks and months of progress go down the drain. Everything feels gloomy and hopeless again, for the thousandth time. But this is not square one, and not everything went out the window, not every little progress is lost.
It feels as you were thrown back yet again, but it is already a different level, a next phase of the spiral. And it goes on and on, upper and upper — until you get to a point when the bottom of the spiral is so distant that you don’t recognize anymore to be thrown back. It just feels like life.
Don’t be ashamed to ask for help
Fear, shame, feeling powerless, feeling unseen, feeling unheard — they are hard to deal with even one by one. In such cases, there are usually more than just one of these playing a huge part in stopping you.
You don’t need to do it alone. You can ask for help. Maybe help is not where you look for it — it is possible that legal help will not be satisfying enough, but this doesn’t mean that there is no help out there.
Get help, seek therapy — any way you can. There are free therapy opportunities helping abuse victims. There are foundations assisting women in different ways — from mental, through financial, to legal support.
But this one is important: Make sure to choose a therapist who understands the nature of abuse and assault cases. Make sure you feel safe and unashamed. Make sure that they are on your side without you needing to get them on your side. And walk away if you don’t get the help what you expected — there will be another one who gets you.
You don’t need to do it alone.
Speak up and be heard
To be heard and believed is usually why victims would go to report an abuse/assault case. And sometimes it doesn’t happen, and sometimes just the fear of it not happening can stop you from reaching for help. But speaking up is more important than you would think. To know it that it was not your fault, doesn’t only come from the perpetrator being punished.
Support groups are great; people who went through the same shit will surely get you. In the digital age, it is easier than ever. The support groups are usually closed or secret communities, where you can feel safe, where you will be understood and no one will judge you.
Friends are great! They are there to have your back all the time, this is their job; this is what friendship is about. If for some reason they don’t get you, or they don’t get the severity of the issue, let them help you in a different way — just being there, just listening to you, just keeping you company is enough. And sometimes that’s all you should expect.
You know, what’s even better? To open up to strangers and get love from them. The best is if someone unknown supports you, someone who doesn’t know you and not biased towards you, who has an objective opinion on your story and still gives you back your hope in humanity… that’s the greatest feeling of all.
That is when you finally feel that the world around you falls back to its place; when you see that it is not against you, it’s back on your side. When you experience that your vulnerability is not a mistake. When you realise that weakness is a sign of strength. When you understand that it was not your fault.
My biggest learning although is that it is forgiveness that will set you free, not punishment.
After years of silence, I finally reported my abuser because I didn’t want him to get away with it.
Nothing happened. It didn’t go anywhere. No investigation or questioning reached him. I was dragged through hell and back by legal entities and police detectives — only to relive what I wanted to forget so badly. It was all useless — and it just angered and depressed me even more.
I wanted him to be punished. Yet he didn’t even get a fine.
After years of depression, anxiety, therapy, journaling, self-reflection, I realized that no punishment is going to give me back the years I lost. No sanction, fine or prison time would make up for the time and energy that he took away from me — the years he hurt me, and the time I was looking for justice.
I couldn’t stop him from hurting me. Law couldn’t stop him either — not during, not after. But no matter what happened or didn’t happen, my life needs to go on anyway. And I need to forgive him anyway.
My forgiveness has nothing to do with him. What he has done is unforgivable. I still need to forgive — for me. For the sake of my sanity. For the sake of the life that I want to live.
And that has no room for anger, frustration or hate in it. Even though he would deserve all of it — I don’t deserve any of it.