good victim, bad victim

I find it funny how people look at me these days like a model rape victim. I honestly get messages like that all the time. “You did everything right”, “I wish some of these other victims would take responsibility like you!”. These comments come from a place that means well, but are definitely misguided. The reason that I think this is funny is because I am not the “good victim”. When I think about the number of people who supported me pre-conviction and post-conviction, the difference is astronomical. The only reason I suddenly flipped over to being the “good victim” is because the guy who raped me is in prison. There’s a mugshot, and he’s a registered sex offender, so I’m a hero.

What everyone is forgetting is that I was the “bad victim”. I drank too much, there was evidence of me joking about sex and drugs on the internet, and I “didn’t act like a victim”. After it first happened, I reacted how everyone thought I should: staying in bed crying for days on end, not keeping food down, losing weight, dropping out of school. It made sense to people. But then I started drinking excessively, (somewhat) dating again, and trying to be social. That part made sense to no one. We all have this idea of how a victim of rape should react. None of it included anything that I was doing during this time. Sure, I ended every night hysterically crying and couldn’t function without a drink or a Xanax, but going out to parties? Even my therapist at the time told me that I was being irresponsible by trying to still go out and have fun.

I appreciate that so many of you see me as a “good victim” because I reported and eventually got justice. But I’m not a “good victim”, and there’s no such thing. People have reached out to me trying to defend men accused in other cases by disparaging the victim. They think it’ll get me on their side. “I totally support rape victims, but you’re a real victim and this girl isn’t. She’s still going out to parties and I even heard she hooked up with a guy I know before this happened.” These people don’t realize how huge the range of behavior is after someone has been raped. This is because anyone can be the victim of a sexual assault. There’s no such thing as a good or bad victim because any one of us could be victims, and how you react to it is totally up to you and who you are as a person. If you haven’t been a victim, you’ve simply been lucky. Every single one of us has been in situations that could have resulted in a sexual assault. The only factor that truly influences whether or not you’ll be raped is if the person you are vulnerable around decides to rape you. That’s it. It’s their fault and their fault only.

I want you to go re-read that paragraph and make sure it sinks in. I want you to think about every time that you’ve been drunk, asleep, or even just alone with another human being. I want you to remember that the only thing separating you as a non-victim is the fact that all of those people made better decisions than any of our perpetrators did. It is never, ever the victim’s responsibility.

This might sound repetitive to some of you. If so, I’m glad we’re on the same page. If you had never considered what I’m talking about before here, I don’t blame you. Our education around sexual assault isn’t great. If I could have any dream job, it would be to spend my time educating about consent and sexual assault, and I would start it much younger than we currently do. I don’t know about you guys, but my health class in high school barely touched on sexual assault during that entire unit. I remember knowing that girls I went to school with had been “raped”, or heard “I guess he doesn’t take no for an answer”. No one took any of that seriously. I knew girls who were bullied out of their school after they were raped. No one took that seriously either. I remember getting to college, knowing that most of my friends had already had sex, and thinking I had heard everything I needed to know. My friends were even laughing and making fun of the orientation leaders while they did a skit about consent. It just didn’t come early enough.

If you are a parent, or anyone who has influence with teenagers, I really encourage you to start talking about sexual assault to them. I know many people who were victims of rape or sexual assault in high school. The man who raped me was committing crimes long before he was 18, and apparently everyone knew. This isn’t the first time I had heard of a situation like that. It’s not rare, unfortunately. The best way to protect your children is to arm them with information, and the courage to step in when they see something unsafe happening to someone else. You might think they don’t know enough to be able to listen to you, but chances are, they’ve already heard about sexual assault happening to someone they know. They just might not realize what happened, depending on how they heard about it.

Most importantly, no matter how old you are, check yourself before talking about a sexual assault victim. If you’re talking about a case in the news, think to yourself “would I want a nearby survivor to hear what I’m saying about this?” I know empathy hasn’t been the biggest focus in the U.S. recently, but it’s more important now than ever. We aren’t the judge or jury, you’re right. No one should go to jail without evidence. But remember that the evidence in a rape trial often must surpass the evidence required in any other crime tenfold. If charges have been brought, or someone is even being investigated, that means ~98% of the time that there is a very real victim on the other side of it. Choose your words and reactions carefully. You don’t have any control over the legal outcome (unless you start pushing for better police investigations with your local department!), but you do have control over what kind of a world you’re making for everyone in the future. Are you going to be someone supporting victim-survivors, or tearing them down and questioning their life choices? I hope you choose the former. I hope you choose to be a part of the conversation that every survivor wants to have about how to change the world for the men and women who will be victimized in the future. We just want them to have a better experience than we did, and to create a more understanding world for everyone who will go through this after we have. We’d love to have you as an ally.

(If you have been the victim of a sexual assault or rape and are in crisis, please call 1-800-656-4673, available 24 hours a day)

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