Activism Education

Sick of Surviving Alone: Ghomeshi, Silence, and Why Lip Service Activism Needs to Stop

Sabrina Scott / witchbody

Content Warning: rape culture, rape, court, Ghomeshi trial, victim blaming, sexual assault, survivorship, allyship

See that picture?

That’s me.

Among other things, I’m a survivor of rape and sexual assault.

Survivor.

That word gets thrown around a lot.

Survivor.

‘Survivor’ is not a word that lends itself well to lip service.

Do you think you are special and enlightened because you use the word ‘survivor’ instead of ‘victim’? If you think this shift in vocabulary is enough, you’re wrong. I am beyond sick and tired of solidarity that doesn’t go past Facebook; I am beyond sick and tired of supposed ‘allies’ whose ‘allyshipโ€™ does not extend to actually asking the rape survivors in your life how they are feeling when something like this happens.

And it happens all the time.

Guess how many folks asked me if I was ok today, once the Ghomeshi verdict was released? Three. I am pretty ‘out’ about my experiences; I realize not everyone is, and that’s okay. I had three people check in with me today: one was my partner-at-the-time, who reblogged this post and then hilariously dumped me the next day, a best friend who is a fellow rape survivor who lives on the other side of the country, and another lovely friend I don’t get to see often but who is just an awesome human. That’s it. I didn’t hear from family. I didn’t hear from my parents or sibling. I didn’t hear from most of my best friends. I didn’t hear from my casual chill friends. I didn’t hear from my acquaintances. This is what being a rape survivor is like. Everyone just leaves you alone. Nobody wants to touch me, nobody wants to touch us. Nobody wants to witness our pain, our trauma, our experiences. So we are alone. Far too often, the only support rape and sexual assault survivors have is each other. And even then, only when we have our trauma sufficiently under control.

Nobody wants to know how we are. Nobody asks us how we are when a big rape trial is in the news, and they don’t ask us in general. Nobody wants to know. Nobody wants to talk about rape and the trauma that follows. We are too scary, too loud, our feelings are too big. If it is too scary and big for you, a person who has never been raped or sexually assaulted, imagine what it is like for us. ‘Survival’ may look fun and easy and chill and ‘not a big deal’ when Lady Gaga makes it into a big song and dance routine, but it isn’t. Every day is a struggle. We often can’t leave the house. We are often overcome by numbness, anger, depression – days, months, years, decades after our attacks. No one seems to want to know about this, the daily intricacies of what it’s like to live with trauma. No one wants to know all the arguments and hurt feelings that can happen when we try to explain to our sexual and romantic partners how dissociation and triggers work. No one wants to know that we didn’t really bail because we had a cold, but instead because Ghomeshi trial stuff and rape apologism around David Bowie and Woody Allen has been too triggering, because it reminds us how we felt when we were raped and no one believed us or gave a single care in the world. No one wants to ask us how we’re doing.

What everyone does wanna do, though, is write long flowery poetic shit on Facebook about how angry and touched they are, and how survivors are so important, rapists suck, blah blah blah. I see this constant performance of a trying-to-be-perfect allyship that seems to say “I get it, I am a safe person, you can trust me, I am an ally, I am not one of THOSE dudes.” Well, I’m sorry, but if your version of allyship is just posting some shit on Facebook to make yourself feel good or to make yourself look cool and “woke” and political, you can fuck right off. Our communities need to do way better than this. You’re a part of that.

Rape and sexual assault survivors need your shares on Facebook, sure; convince those rape apologist relatives and dude-bro pals of yours that they are wrong and that rape is real. I’m sure it’ll happen over time. That’s why I share as many articles and memes and essays as I do. Facebook activism is important, I’ll never deny that. But if you aren’t actually asking rape and assault survivors in your life if they are ok, how they are doing, asking how you can help, telling them you are thinking of them on this hard day (and all days), then your activism doesn’t mean shit.

Activism and allyship aren’t abstract ideas, they are day-to-day mundane things like checking in with people you supposedly care about. The most important activism isn’t always public. It’s not about crafting a fine-tuned, nuanced public persona of just the right amount of political awareness. Some of the most important activism happens in private. It happens behind closed doors. It’s embedded in how you treat people. Some of the most important activism can be bringing your rape survivor friend some soup when they’re too triggered to leave the house. It can be holding their hand when they are too dissociated to say any words out loud, or to explain how they’re feeling. There is no snappy Facebook status for that, nor any pretty picture you can put on Instagram to show how good of an activist you’re being. A lot of this allyship work is mundane. It is boring. It is hard. It is painful. It is not fun. It is not convenient.

Because I have had enough with fake allyship, I have made a fun list of some things to think about. It would mean a lot to me if you could read it, share it, and take it seriously.

Research:

  • Do some research about rape, sexual assault, and trauma. What are these things? How are they defined?
  • Learn about rape culture. What is it?
  • Learn about different ways peoples’ bodies may respond to rape and sexual trauma. Try to unlearn some of your ideas about what a “believable” reaction to trauma looks like.
  • What is a trigger? Do some research. What are some common triggers? What are different ways bodies respond when they are triggered?
  • Learn about what dissociation is, what might trigger it, why it happens, etc.
  • Learn about trauma and common responses to trauma, learn how trauma stays in the body for a long time and can influence how people think, act, and feel. These ways of behaving may not make sense to you; witness them anyway.
  • What are some ways you can support someone who is triggered, and help bring them back into their bodies & the present moment? Look that shit up. There are some techniques used by therapists and psychologists that can be useful. Google is a thing. So is the bookstore.
  • Learn what things not to do when someone is triggered. This may vary from person to person, but do the survivor in your life a favour and do some extensive research ON YOUR OWN before asking them to provide a giant bibliography for you.
  • Listen to this hour-long podcast by This American Life called ‘Anatomy of Doubt’: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/581/anatomy-of-doubt

Actions:

  • BELIEVE US. Do not feel as though you are entitled to more information before you decide if you want to believe us and/or give us sympathy.
  • Check in with survivors regularly. How are we doing today? How are we doing when rape and sexual violence is in the news and all over social media?
  • Ask what kind of support we want/need from you. “How can I support you?” is a great starter question. Some people may want to be left alone, and this is ok – but never assume that this is the case and just leave the survivor in your life alone before asking if that’s what they want.
  • Understand that the support we want/need may shift over time. Maybe we wanted to be alone last month, but this month we want to talk about our experience and feelings.
  • Check in regularly, especially if we have stated that we want this – call us, text us.
  • When you can, offer to listen. Do this without judgment.
  • Tell us you are proud of us. How much or little we do, whatever – remind us that we are powerful, strong, resilient, and that we are doing so much every day.
  • Offer to make us food and bring it to us. Bring us groceries.
  • Bring us a cute little gift, just because we are special to you.
  • Offer to perform tasks we may be too overwhelmed or unable to do. We may need help with cleaning our room or apartment, doing dishes, doing laundry. If you are capable of offering help in these ways, be proactive and offer. We may be too embarrassed or ashamed to ask. Some trauma survivors may not require, need, or want these kind of actions but some of us are still at a place where we become incapacitated in a very real way. Do not shame us for not being able to ‘pull up our bootstraps.’
  • Tell them you believe them. Again. Again.
  • Read or write a list of all the things you appreciate about us. Share it with us when we’re feeling down.
  • Do not force us to tell you what happened and give you a play-by-play.
  • Do not force us to to go therapy or to the police.
  • If we’re in therapy, offer to come with us – before, during, after, or offer to just zone out and watch a movie with us once we’ve had our session.
  • You may need to cancel a plan or two to support us when we need it. This isn’t always possible, but if a survivor in your life is having a serious panic attack/meltdown and wants a person to be there with them and that person is you, it means they trust you very much and need your support.
  • Be understanding when/if we need to cancel plans with you. We are not being a flake, we are trying to take care of ourselves and know our limits.
  • Take care of yourself. Supporting survivors is hard work and can take an emotional toll on support people, burning them out. Make sure you process with friends, a therapist, by going for a walk, whatever you need to do to take care of yourself.
  • Refuse to support rapists who you are friends with, or rapists who are celebrities, or rapists in your communities. Put survivors first in your words and in your actions, not just in your social media presence.
  • Talk to your fellow dudes and/or fake allies about why doing this work is so important. Teach others how they can help support survivors too.

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7 Comments

  • Reply
    Allison @ The Lazy Perfectionist
    March 25, 2016 at 5:11 am

    Thank you for writing this. I really appreciated your words and advice and hope that I can truly take them to heart. I don’t have any close friends (that I know of) that have been sexually assaulted but honestly, I think your advice can apply to so many other aspects of life. Thank you for your openness.

  • Reply
    Alycha Reda
    March 25, 2016 at 5:18 am

    Thank you for this, I too only received a handful of messages, not from family or boyfriend. Just a handful of friends who have always supported me.
    I hope you are coping well after everything that went on today.

  • Reply
    Loonwomon
    March 27, 2016 at 12:54 am

    Good to hear!!!! So disgusted with the news….and this reality you share is my reality and I hope you don’t feel so alone.

  • Reply
    Meg
    March 27, 2016 at 10:22 pm

    You remind me to raise the bar on what I should be able to expect from people in my life.

    I get burnt out on the educator role that I am consistently thrust into, and words like this are a direct message to me take rest for myself and to require others to do the work.

    Thank you.

  • Reply
    Jennifer-Leigh O'Neill
    April 10, 2016 at 5:05 pm

    Thank you. Seriously. You just nailed it. Thank you.

  • Reply
    Ali 'Bahraini' Al-Awadhi
    June 7, 2016 at 3:35 am

    Thank you Sabrina for this,
    I don’t know anyone that had to go through such experience

    But It’s good to have some background about it just in case, God forbid, a friend goes through such situation

  • Reply
    Jamie
    October 30, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    Yes, to all of this. I’m a survivor. Not one single person said shit to me when I was triggered because of recent news events. They kept posting meme after meme after news article. But never asked once if I was ok.
    People assume too much. They assume because you aren’t a puddled up mess of snot and tears that you’re alright. Some of us don’t react that way. Some of us just shut down.
    Thank you for writing this. I hope people listen.

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