If she was sexually assaulted, why didn’t she say something sooner?

“Me too” has passed, but in its wake, more and more women are publicly accusing powerful men of sexual assault.

2017 being what it is, there are no good guys, left or right. We elected an open sexual predator to lead our country in the paths of goodness and grace, and now republican hero Roy Moore is (please God) on his way out; but Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK are beloved of the left, and they too are guilty as hell.  Vox, ABC news and NPR are yielding up their pigs. The Atlantic has suddenly noticed that Bill Clinton is super guilty, and so is everyone who made excuses for him.

So, that’s new. We can no longer pretend that it’s only the deviant left or the hypocritical right who harbor sex predators. It’s everywhere. It’s everyone. And that makes it harder to cling to the old binary political fairytales of good us vs. evil them.

One thing hasn’t changed, though. When a woman comes forward and says she’s been assaulted, we can still come together as a country and tell her it’s all her fault. I wrote this essay back in 2014, at the height of the Bill Cosby scandal, and was discouraged, if not surprised, to see how few edits were necessary to make it relevant today.

Here is what I have learned about sexual assault:

  • If you tell the police you’ve been sexually assaulted, it’s because you’re looking for attention. You should file a civil suit, instead.
  • If you file a civil suit, it’s because you’re looking for money, and are not telling the truth.
  • If you don’t file a civil suit, that shows you don’t have a case, and are not telling the truth.
  • If you tell someone right away, that shows suspicious presence of mind, and proves that you engineered the whole thing to embarrass the alleged perpetrator.
  • If you don’t tell anyone right away, that shows a suspicious lack of urgency, and proves that you are making up the story for no reason other than to embarrass the alleged perpetrator.
  • If you don’t file a civil suit, it shows that you don’t need the money and are just doing it for attention, because people love the kind of fabulous attention they get when they accuse someone of sexual assault, especially if that person is popular or powerful.
  • If you do file a civil suit, it shows that you’re such a gold digger, you don’t mind getting all the horrible attention that no victim in her right mind would want to get, especially if the alleged perpetrator is popular or powerful.
  • If you’re the only one who accuses someone of sexual assault, it shows that your story is unbelievable.
  • If lots of other people make similar accusations, that is suspiciously orchestrated, and shows that your story is unbelievable.
  • If you were in the same room with the person who sexually assaulted you, that shows that you are just as guilty as he is, because you’re in the same room with a sexual predator, and who would do that?
  • If the person you’re accusing of sexual assault is rich, famous, or powerful, then that shows that you’re just looking for attention, and it never happened.
  • If the person you’re accusing of sexual assault is rich, famous, and powerful, that shows that you should have known he is a sexual predator, and you wanted it to happen.
  • If you tell someone right away, they will assume you’re lying.
  • If you don’t tell anyone right away, they will assume you’re lying, because you didn’t tell anyone right away.

If you tell, that’s a count against you. If you don’t tell, that’s a count against you. If you speak alone, that’s a count against you. If you speak as one of a crowd, that’s a count against you. If you sue, that’s a count against you. If you don’t sue, that’s a count against you.

If you tell someone that you’ve been sexually assaulted, it probably didn’t actually happen the way you said, and even if it did, it was your fault in some way, and you should have realized that it would happen, and there is no particular reason anyone should believe you, and if you think the rape itself was painful and humiliating, just wait till you see what you’ve got coming next, when you try to tell someone.

So why didn’t you tell someone sooner?

Clearly, because it didn’t happen. There can be no other explanation.

Here’s a recent tweet from Dinesh D’Souza:

And he’s answered his own question. If she was really sexually assaulted, why didn’t she come forward sooner?

This is why. What he said. When a victim does come forward, she is assaulted all over again.

This is what I’ve learned. If you’ve been sexually assaulted, your only real recourse is not to have been sexually assaulted. Anything and everything you do from that moment forward is evidence against you. The deck is stacked against you as a victim because you are a victim. They very moment you even breathe the phrase “sexual assault,” that’s evidence in the minds of many  that no such thing happened, and anyway it was your fault.

So tell me. What is a victim of sexual assault supposed to do, in order to be believed? What? You tell me.

32 thoughts on “If she was sexually assaulted, why didn’t she say something sooner?”

  1. I have two suggestions about “believing” women who come forward.
    1. Stop using the word “believe.” I think that’s what people (esepecially men) are stumbling over. I understand the specter of being unjustly accused. Let’s use “extend the benefit of the doubt.” Isn’t that easier? And it isn’t a cop out. We aren’t talking about a courtroom. If you have opportunity, behave compassionately – perhaps with the feelings you would have if the “world” were judging your daughter, wife, or mother. It isn’t your responsibility to badger (or talk about her) her until she breaks down or you are convinced she’s telling the truth.
    2. There is accessible research that gives statistics about unjust accusations, the number of women who actually come forward (small), the number of rapes (large), and so much more. Do your own research. You may be surprised, but it may also keep your first thought from being how it could be her fault or of searching for proof that she is lying. The greatest need of most women who have been raped is to be believed.
    (And don’t forget this applies to men and to children.)

  2. Pornograpy, for one thing. It is one of the major threats to health and to our culture. It also fuels sex trafficking of children and adults. And it no longer looks like Playboy Magazine. Vile is a tame description. And we have to admit that the internet has made pornography easy, including for our children to see and to be the targets of those who are fueled by it.
    The sexual revolution is another reason.
    Personally, I suspect that the undeniable hostility that permeates our culture is yet another reason.
    I would not argue that rape has not increased exponentially, but I must also wonder if there were not also more rapes in years gone by than we think.
    We desperately need to save our children and grandchildren.

  3. Shame on Dinesh D’Souza. He must have very little imagination, compassion, or experience of trauma. Would he say that about a WWII veteran weeping about his experiences from decades ago? I guess not, because war is terrible and sexual assault is trivial? What would he say to a woman who weeps about a remembered miscarriage–would that be something to get emotional about years later? Or would that just be a performance?

  4. I am convinced that you can’t have a sexual revolution without sexual assault. The two go hand in hand. ONLY a society that limits sex to monogamous marital relations for the purpose of procreation, can even begin to eliminate sexual assault.

    Until we return to morality, sexual assault will be a problem.

    For unilateral action however, I found the best answer from a Navy Forensic Pathologist (with a daughter also joining the Navy, clearly *after* Tailhook) in Simcha’s original NCR article. Only one piece of advice I quibble with, and I’ll add my comment on it in square brackets. Other than that, everything after this line, comes from the original comment back in 2014.
    ——————————————————————————————————————————————————–
    Simcha-this is the advice I gave my fifth daughter when she left our home in Fredericksburg and joined the Navy:
    First, you can lessen your chance of being raped by doing the following:
    1. Avoid hotel parties.
    2. Don’t drink excessively and keep your eye on your drink at all times.
    3. Use the buddy system in social situations and when walking at night.
    4. Follow regulations about fraternization-this makes it less likely that you’ll be bringing charges against a well regarded superior.
    5. Unless an attacker has a knife or a gun, defend yourself to the limit.
    If you are raped, do the following:
    1. Call the police immediately.
    2. Get examined medically before washing.
    3. Don’t let the medical staff give you an emergency contraceptive. State clearly and make certain that it gets on the record that this is for religious reasons. [This is not strictly true. Emergency contraception *is* allowable under Canon Law. Having said that, I would consider emergency contraception to fall under the same idea of abortion for rape, that it is not good to frustrate God’s hand in healing of rape, and that the child is NOT guilty of the father’s sin. But I would certainly consider the decision NOT to do emergency contraception to be heroic virtue, and sadly, heroic virtue is not something many people want to do anymore]
    4. Call home. We’ll be right there.
    5. Avoid the perpetrator like the plague if he is someone you run across regularly (and has not been arrested).
    6. Tell the truth and stick to it.
    Many cases where the victim is not believed involve delay in reporting, changing stories, post assault contact (including sexual) with the perpetrator, and seeming consent during mutual inebriation among other things. As a forensic psychiatrist, I’m often asked to testify in courts martial about such “counterintuitive” victim behaviors. I don’t testify in such cases for ethical reasons-genuine victims certainly can behave in these ways, but so do liars. It’s a false expertise pretends to know the difference.
    This underlines the importance of putting up a good fight if the perpetrator doesn’t have a deadly weapon. In sexual assault cases, an ounce of physical evidence is worth a ton of psychological blather. It’s a rough world out there.

    1. That is good advise but it still happens!! As a society we need to take out the thought that women ask for this in some way or “put themselves” in a position to allow this to happen to them.
      A family friend gave me a ride home from church when I was 16… i faught him for over two hours before getting away. Even if you don’t drink and are in a situation where this should never happen to you… it still happens! My parents didn’t believe me even after the guy admitted to most of what he did, they protected him over me with my only being able to assume they think I asked for it in some way… I’ll never know bc they don’t talk about it, it’s been 18 years and I still have nightmares and still cry about it, and still have to forgive him and them for my own good.

      “Boys will be boys” is something I’ve heard my parents and others say a lot… I’m raising three boys and you will never hear that come out of my mouth!!! They can control themselves, they are NOT animals, they are responsible for their actions.

      This article is right on, there is nothing the victim can do bc people would rather believe she is telling a lie then believe that something horrible happened from someone once admired in some way. God protected me that night and gave me strength I didn’t know I had. And if I didn’t have Him to talk to I have no doubt I would have been driven crazy over the aftermath of what happened to me.

  5. You did such a great job with this article. Your words were spot on and I hope it illuminates many hearts and minds in this incredibly significant issue. May I suggest, if you do a follow up article, to try to list the different and varied thoughts that go through a victims’s mind? Such as:

    What if no one believes me?
    What exactly even happened to me? (if you are young and you are abused/assaulted, the actual horror of the event is probably not understood, not right away and possibly not for a long time)
    What if I get into trouble for speaking up?
    Will my family and friends support me if I speak up? What if they all turn their backs on me?
    What if I get blamed? What if my family and friends blame me as well?
    Can I handle the potential of a court case and everything that goes with it? I’m already traumatized and terrified. Can I handle the weight of additional stress?

    Those are just a few thoughts. From the details of your article, you really did your homework as to how society tends to respond and react to a victim’s claims.

  6. Circa 1990, when I was around 30, I worked with a nasty old git (aged 60ish). He would regularly call me his “sexytary”, and attempt to discuss his wife’s bra size with me and his “manly” prowess, among other things. Always when no one else was in the office, and when he should have been elsewhere (we worked at the Public Works Department of a municipality, he was a foreman who was supposed to be supervising a crew). It was disgusting. I told him to stop speaking to me like that, and that I had work to do. It only encouraged him.

    I notified our boss, a man around 50, who had always treated me in a businesslike, civilized, respectful manner. I told him I was very uncomfortable with the way Norbert spoke to me and treated me, and exactly what he had said to me.

    Our boss told me that Norbert was an old man, and grew up in a different time, and that I should just let it go in one ear and out the other. Nothing changed.

    I was non-bargaining, or I would have gone to the Union about it. Since no one was ever in the room when these things happened, it was my word against his. There was no proof and I was told no one would believe me, and in fact, my job could be in danger if I pursued this.

    Norbert eventually retired and died. But I carry this around with me. You are right. This is not a political issue, and no political party is blameless. It is an issue of morality, decency, and civil rights.

  7. This is about right. I know you think I never agree with you…but not true. Anyhow, I think it is all symptomatic of our culture’s completely pretend and ever shifting code of faux-morality. Who can tell what is acceptable anymore…and even if it’s acceptable today it probably won’t be 5 years from now and you’ll get retroactive outrage aimed at you that you never would have predicted, or possibly retroactive hero status if the winds blow in your favor. I mean, Harvey Milk gets a stamp and commemorations, I guess sometimes it does pay to be a predator.
    And lest we think women never play this game of shifting power ethics…I can tell you so many times working in industry , women encouraging other women to behave a certain way so as to be “shrewd”, because you know, business and glass ceilings and all. Women throwing other women under the bus. Women justifying and even encouraging their husbands going to strip clubs as part of “business” and its no big deal. And good luck to you if you are a male who is ever falsely accused. Faux morality makes everybody the enemy of everybody , traitors of everyone. There is no justice without objective morality.

    1. There is a time to discuss objective morality. I don’t think it is now when many powerful men are finally exposed as abusing their power. That was wrong, in any objective morality system I would recognize. This is still a time to discuss requirements of evidence, of course, before judging a man.
      . . . In light what I learned about Harvey Milk yesterday I find it unfortunate that he got a stamp. I don’t see it, however, as big stumbling block: there are many stamps, coins, and bills depicting American slaveholders who routinely abused humans by holding them as slaves, but had some other redeeming quality in building the United States of America. Then there are statues of slaveholders that even lack the redeeming qualities.

      1. The point is you recognize it as wrong now…but what about 50 years ago? Subjective morality means people decide today what they think is moral and then change their minds tomorrow. They hold people in contempt today for things that were considered acceptable 50 years ago. We are left with confusion, chaos, and emotional outrage, but no justice.

      2. Also I have to say I don’t understand how you come up with it not being a big problem that Harvey Milk has a stamp and basically hero status in our country right now. He was a predator that sexually abused teens. Just one more thing in our country that makes no sense.

  8. Blackmailing the victims into silence is cheap, legal, and effective. Blackmailing any journalist who might make their story public is a bit more expensive, but even more effective.

    “Techniques like the ones used by the agencies on Weinstein’s behalf are almost always kept secret, and, because such relationships are often run through law firms, the investigations are theoretically protected by attorney-client privilege, which could prevent them from being disclosed in court. The documents and sources reveal the tools and tactics available to powerful individuals to suppress negative stories and, in some cases, forestall criminal investigations.”

    https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/harvey-weinsteins-army-of-spies

    1. Ron, thank you for the link. Witness intimidation of that kind should be made illegal, even if no criminal investigation has started yet, that law firms keep their finger from it, not to lose their licenses.

  9. “- If lots of other people make similar accusations, that is suspiciously orchestrated, and shows that your story is unbelievable.”
    . . . Bill Cosby was doomed when many women came forward who were not connected other than by their common experience with Cosby. They were independent witnesses not of one crime by Cosby but of a criminal behavioral PATTERN by Cosby, and his word stood against so many independent words that his defenders in public fell silent. Same with Weinstein and Louis C.K.
    . . . As a man, I would be interested in the view of women of what has changed that this can happen to sexual predators who were previously protected by the shameful silence of the victims. Does the internet allow the better spreading of rumors and finding the origin of the rumors in a victim? Do women feel more empowered to give witness in general in society or specifically against powerful sexual criminals, because they’ve seen they are believed now? What can we men do to enable women to give witness apart from believing every accusation, which would feel wrong, too?

  10. Im rather disappointed in Dinesh D’Sousa that he would take such a partisan position and call her a liar based on one of the many reasons that Simcha lists in her article.

    I am a grown 50 something woman and if I were telling that harrowing story I would probably cry.

    Im just so grossed out by people defending indefensible behavior because they don’t want to lose power – and both sides do it

    1. I’ve never been sexually assaulted, but as an 18-year-old just out of high school, I clerked in a law office and was routinely harassed and inappropriately “searched” (touched, but not exactly groped — lightly enough that he could claim it was an “accident”, but I knew it wasn’t) by one of the courthouse security guards every time I went through the front doors. I’m in my 40s now, and I just recently mentioned it to my parents (through tears), because they were having a conversation about how women who don’t tell anyone about sexual assault/harassment are obviously lying, and it can’t possibly be that widespread.

      They were shocked, to say the least. Why didn’t I tell them? Because I was EIGHTEEN, and this guy was like 45, and he was creepy, and I was scared and embarrassed, and I thought maybe I was imagining things, and maybe it really was an “accident” that he brushed up against certain parts with the metal detector wand and sometimes his hands.

      It’s taken me over 20 years to realize how completely unacceptable and indefensible his behavior was, and it still brings tears to my eyes and a shudder down my spine when I think about it. I can’t even imagine how I’d feel about an actual rape.

      In other news, both of my parents read the inappropriate letters I got from the 40-something neighbor (a totally different situation) down the street who stalked me during high school, and yet somehow they still think that sexual harassment/assault just doesn’t really happen that much, and if it does, most women are asking for it.

      They still think that *MY* harassment was totally wrong, and I was completely innocent, but most of the women coming out about it in the news are obviously looking for attention. Sigh.

  11. So much of sexual predation has to do with making it private and the word of a powerful, manipulative predator against the victim. The cards are stacked in the predator’s favor by the nature of the act and then reinforced by society’s stigma.

    I see a lot of parallels about the movements against sexual predators and police brutality. The victims have been talking about this for years without those on the outside believing it. Now, with cell phones and other technology (like the wire that recorded Weinstein), we can see into the dark recesses that people have been talking about for years.

    1. Yes, police brutality has become a thing to discuss because of personal cameras everywhere. What was it, however, that made sexual predators into a public target? Not cameras, because multiple, independent personal testimony is the main weapon against them. What has changed that this is now possible when it wasn’t earlier?

      1. Weinstein was the watershed (actually, the Trump tape was the watershed) that allowed people to believe the rumors. That brought forth the accusations, the payoffs, etc. I think it is the combo of tangible proof that make people look at the pattern.

        But, like the police brutality issue, ask any woman her experience and she’ll recount numerous incidents of harassment and potentially assault. So, half the population can easily give credibility to the possibility. Now we are having a moment when (some) of these experiences are being believed.

        1. Yes, I agree that it is “the combo of tangible proof that make people look at the pattern”.
          What I hadn’t realized as a white man was the resonance the public disclosures would have first among blacks, and now among women, because of the multiple shared experiences. Sharing the experience is now easier without fear of legal recourse, because while a media outlet has to fear being sued for an article and maybe has to shut down, nobody will sue thousands of individuals who generate sympathy with their personal testimony.

  12. I am not surprised at all about women choosing not to report. I grew in my career in the 1980s and 1990s. The LAST thing your employer wanted to hear about was a complaint about sexual harassment. So, it was not reported. As a woman, especially if you were in a historically male-dominated career path, you had to “take it” or you wouldn’t be perceived tough enough to succeed. If you did report it, somehow EVERYBODY would know about it, which is exactly what you want folks to know about you as you compete for a promotion. AND, of course, the perpetrators can identify those who are especially weak and vulnerable.

  13. Just to be a bit of a devil’s advocate – and, by the way, I believe these women. No question. But how do we get to the truth of the matter if we don’t know. During the past few years, we have also seen teachers who were accused, lost their jobs and reputations and then the accusers admit they were lying because of a bad grade or just to do mischief. We have also seen a case of a young man who served a number of years in prison for a rape he did not commit – the woman admitted on FB that she lied. Meanwhile his life was toasted. So, are to we assume that the woman – and again – I believe these women – always tell the truth? I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that a woman is always telling the truth in every situation or that, well, if he didn’t, a false accusation and subsequent punishment is a small price to pay for encouraging victims to come forward. Please help me out here.

    1. I have a thought to add to the teacher thing…

      Our diocese requires ‘safe environment’ training for volunteers/employees that work with kids and teens. A big plus in my mind of that training is that, if followed, it protects you from false accusations. Precautions like the ‘two deep’ rule (always have at least three people in the room, NEVER be alone with a student), guidelines on texting, etc. I really wish the public school system in our area had something similar.

    2. For me, the key is that the testimony came from multiple victims independently, as I’ve written above, too. Every single crime was only observed by the perpetrator and the victim and, therefore, easily devolves into a he said, she said in a court. What we have for these powerful perpetrators, however, is a PATTERN of sexual abuse that follows similar use of tools (e.g. Quaaludes), start in similar situations, follow a similar timeline. When we can reasonably exclude other motivations like revenge or blackmailing, we must assume that the many victims are driven to testify by a wish to tell the truth, to become free from the past, at least partially.
      . . . If a teacher is accused by one student who maybe has a crush on him and was rejected, that is one thing. But if many students tell similar stories without being coordinated, I believe the many students and not the one teacher.

  14. I did not want to post this on FB, for the sake of my students, who don’t need more upsetting crap to think about, but “Me too”.
    I was abused by a doctor as a young teenager, but didn’t recognize it as abuse until a LONG time later. I made a sort-of attempt to track down who the guy was, but didn’t get far. I expect he’s dead by now.
    The thing is, because he was a trusted professional, I figured he must have had some esoteric health-type reasons for doing what he did. As I matured I saw this could not be true, but in the meantime I had had my life to live, and the incident quickly dwindled in the rear-view mirror.
    So, no, people don’t always know what abuse is, EVEN as it is happening to them. Why would we assume a young teenager would know how to handle it, even if they did recognize it? Who to report it to, how, and when?

    1. Sorry that this happened to you. I agree that it’s hard to comprehend what is happening when it’s the last thing you expected to happen.

    2. The same can be said for a wife in a marriage. She’s supposed to “take it” and complain to no one. It can be much later when you realize that you were taken advantage of, raped, treated like a toy… in your marriage. When you are in an abusive situation, one of your protective devices is to disassociate. So, yes, I would say many times people don’t realize it until later… sometimes much later.

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