Katy’s Korner: Stop outing sexual assault survivors. Sincerely, Survivors
What do I do if my friends keep outing me as a sexual assault survivor? It’s something that takes me a lot of time to be comfortable telling people, so I’m not okay with it being talked about before I’m ready. I don’t want to lose friends over this, but I also don’t want to have to sacrifice my anonymity.
I’m so sorry. You are right. That is your story, your experience, and no one has a right to reveal it, or explain it, but you. It never ceases to amaze me the amount of people who simply don’t understand that survivors’ stories are their own. When you are put in a position with no control, no agency, and no safety, afterwards, all you want is control. You want control over everything. More than that, it often feels like the least safe option is to tell anybody. Sexual assault is a stigmatized crime. For you to reveal to someone that this happened to you requires a level of trust that this person will not shame you, blame you, or invalidate you, and minimize your experience like society has taught them to. And even if you trust them and tell them, there’s no guarantee that they won’t do one if not all of those things! In my experience, very few people actually do respond the right way. So, let’s take a moment to wonder why your friends are outing you, so we can figure out the best way to respond.
They simply like to gossip:
I’ve had this happen to me. I told someone about my experience in confidence, made it clear to them that this was a private story, and they immediately told their best-friend, their boyfriend and who knows how many other people that I didn’t know. I found out about it later, from the initial confidant herself. She told me that she told them a while back, before I published the article about my experience, but since everyone knew about it now, she was sure it was fine. It wasn’t fine. It was my story, that was spread solely to entertain, to be the hottest gossip, and to exploit my experience as simply a conversation topic. I had no idea what the response from these people was, no idea if these people were even inclined to believe or support me, and had no idea what my friend said happened in the first place. Did she share with them something I wasn’t comfortable with them knowing (although I wasn’t comfortable with them knowing anything at all)? Did she treat my experience with respect, or did she bring it up as a cautionary tale, or as something I would never get over? Did she bring it up because she was upset with me because my trauma was affecting her life? This is what I was left with. No control. No safety. No trust. A loss of that person as a part of my support system. If I’m being generous, she probably just didn’t understand the weight of that secret she was sharing. But that lack of understanding, in my opinion was no excuse. It shouldn’t take being assaulted, to understand why a survivor makes certain requests. Simply listen.
That’s besides the point though. If you think these friends are simply outing you to gossip, confront them. If they’ve broken your trust like that, explain to them how disenfranchising their actions are despite how innocent they want to say they are. If they still can’t respect your wish to have something private of yours stay private, if they can’t seem to empathize at all, consider cutting them off. You can stay friends with them, sure, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty, they might not need to be your go-to people.
They’re doing it because they’re worried about you and they just wanted to poll people for advice:
I’ve also had this happen to me. I didn’t appreciate it, it pissed me off in the moment, and scared me and wounded me and made me feel like a child, but this one has an easier fix. I told everyone I confided in afterwards that if they needed to talk to someone about this, to ask someone questions, or to simply ask for advice that they didn’t feel comfortable asking me, they should go to the RSVP center and talk to someone who was confidential. I actually had one friend do this and it completely saved and grew our relationship. They became my person because it made me trust them so much more than the friends that talked about me behind my back and then felt the need to report back the horrible content to me afterwards. If they’re doing it out of concern and out of the pursuit for knowledge they feel like they can’t gain on their own, or would be insensitive to gain from you, then they should go talk to a professional. Not only that, but a professional that you trust not to spread your story – a confidential one. Even if they say they talked to someone about it without mentioning your name, that’s still a betrayal, and it’s usually not hard to figure out who someone’stalking about as well. It’s still a breach. The logical conclusion would be to explain that break of trust to them and then refer them to the RSVP center. If they really have your best interests at heart, they’ll go there.
I’m sharing my experiences with you because I think it’s important for you to hear this. You are not alone. I understand how infuriating this is. Despite the fact that you are not alone, you should also not settle for this mediocrity. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice your anonymity to have a support system. You shouldn’t have to go through this in the first place, but it’s the reality of the world today that people get sexually assaulted, and that many college students have experienced this. I’m sorry you have to have these conversations with friends, and I’m sorry that they’re not doing their part well, or are not educated enough to their part well. It shouldn’t be your job to educate them, but sadly that is the position survivors are often put in. This month is sexual assault awareness month. Hopefully, this will be the ample time for your friends to become more aware about your reality