Unfortunately it’s much easier to ignore or invalidate victims than to confront a painful reality. Things get especially difficult when you consider that bullies tend to target people with less social capital. Victims are generally not as adept at manipulation, so the offender can spin the story to paint themselves in a better light. Popular narratives around reconciliation and solidarity in progressive spaces can lead to a focus on rehabilitating abusers at the expense of their victims. We know that people targeted by bullies/abusers are vulnerable in some way. They may have been hurt in the past, be socially awkward, or not be prepared to respond to sudden aggression. And even if they do respond, their lack of social capital relative to the abusers can influence how it is perceived.
They are in a no-win situation: don’t fight back, and the abuse continues, fight back and risk being labeled as the problem.
Yes, victims have agency and a right to choose what happens next, but during the moment or moments when they are being harmed, bystanders are also responsible for what is happening in front of them. And the solution is never going to be ignoring the harm being done, or blaming the victim for being a target.
Once you pass the six month anniversary of your rape, you begin to feel you no longer have the right to grieve. The privilege to mourn is ripped away from you…by yourself. You strip away your entitlement to bereave the loss. You criticize yourself for jumping at shadows and flinching at shapes in the darkness.
Apparently, you have only six months to get over the worst experience of your life.
That’s the real tragedy.
We throw away the feelings of others like expired milk.
No one wants to drink your pain if it’s more than a week old.
Sometimes we grow blind to the horror of our own experiences because we survived them. They are numb calluses. Dead patches of dried skin. The chafed soles of worn feet.
We no longer feel them. We become muted to our own torture.
Yet when we share these rapes and wildfires and molestations with others, their reactions are surprising. We are amazed that anyone could consider our trials to have been horrific. We are shocked when our self proclaimed molehills are declared mountains.
When abuse is called ‘abuse,’ we dismiss it quickly.
'It wasn't that bad. It wasn't like that.”
Or maybe, it was? Maybe it is all an act of denial in the thrid degree. We are shoving bamboo shoots up our own nails and burying our faces in the sand. We are turning away from the sun.
Maybe hell really did happen but we refuse to call it anything but purgatory.
How sad and lowly we all are to tear an arson to embers. How lonely to break genocide into splinters of a homicide.
We are frigid to the enormity of our pain.
We grow immune.
There’s something disturbing about recalling a warm memory and feeling utterly cold.
Breathe. You’re going to be okay. Breathe and remember that you’ve been in this place before. You’ve been this uncomfortable and anxious and scared, and you’ve survived. Breathe and know that you can survive this too. These feelings can’t break you. They’re painful and debilitating, but you can sit with them and eventually, they will pass. Maybe not immediately, but sometime soon, they are going to fade and when they do, you’ll look back at this moment and laugh for having doubted your resilience. I know it feels unbearable right now, but keep breathing, again and again. This will pass. I promise it will pass.