The offense of sexual trauma can be debilitating against anyone. Whether male or female, the crippling effects can be the same when it comes to how a victim internalizes and ultimately handles the healing processes as well the aftermath of the trauma. The offense can be an actual rape, sexual assault, harassment, child abuse and/or molestation, incest, drug facilitated assault, intimate partner sexual violence, or any other form of unwanted sexual offense that violates one’s privacy and respect of their personal space while threatening the protection of their person as it is certain to create a victim in every circumstance.
Although these offenses are committed against the victim it is the victim that takes on the daunting responsibility of not revealing the crimes against them or as society loosely translates it “keeping silent” of the heinous things that have transpired. Many may say this almost sounds ridiculous as to why would a victim “keep silent” about such things performed against them especially those individuals that “keep silent” for extended periods of times even decades later. What are they hiding? What are they afraid of? Why didn’t they tell it then? Why are they protecting their perpetrator? These are just some of the questions that society haphazardly throws at victims without even thinking of how much greater the evil versus the good while asking these type of questions, and I can promise you it’s like you’re throwing daggers into their stories while piercing their souls at the same time.
There was a practice that is noted first in Scotland then later in England in the 1500’s called “scolding” or “branking.” It was where a scold’s bridle, sometimes called a witch’s or brank’s bridle, was used as an instrument of punishment or as a form of torture and public humiliation. The device itself was an iron muzzle in an iron framework that enclosed the head with a bridle bit projected into the mouth and pressed down on top of the tongue. Although it may have been used on men, this form of punishment was primarily used on women whose speech was deemed “riotous” or “troublesome” so the bridle would prevent them from speaking publicly. It is noted that when the brank is placed on the “gossiper’s” head that they would be led through town to show that they had committed an offense or “talked” too much. This was in fact to humiliate them into repenting their “riotous” actions. Then not only did they have the audacity to place a spike inside the gag to prevent any talking since obviously any movement of the mouth would cause severe piercing of the tongue, but in some locations, branks would be permanently displayed by publicly attaching them, for example, to the town cross or tolbooth as displaying the branks in public was intended to remind the populace of any rash action or slander.
Unfortunately it appears that this practice of “branking” is still happening today in present day society although an actual scold’s bridle may be invisible to the human eye it still carries the same mental torment and public humiliation. Many victims walk around with a forced bit in their mouths to keep silent of the sexual offenses committed against them. A victim of sexual violence is led to believe that if they speak out against the crime against them or against their offender that some form of retaliation and or humiliation would ultimately lead to the discrediting of their reputation or an untimely demise. When we tell a victim that we do not believe them as they attempt to come forward with their account of incidents we are telling them that they are indeed “riotous” in their public speech. When we silence a victim by intimidation and dare them to speak publicly against their offenders, no matter how powerful or prestigious their offenders may be, we are giving them the impression that they are “troublesome” in their actions.
The real crime is how society stands idly by as victims are shamed in public humiliation not only afraid to share the truth but literally dared to speak the truth against their offenders. While you are wondering what victims are hiding you should be wondering what they are not revealing, because with the unwelcomed gawks and stares of the unbelieving public, along with the mental excruciating pain from the “invisible” spike inside the gag, has caused them to shut down in the midst of speaking their truths. So I ask you, if you knew that your fate was destined to be permanent public degradation for reporting a sex crime against you must we still ask, what are sexual assault victims afraid of or why don’t they report their crimes sooner? I am sure that no one wants to be muzzled because they are considered “gossipers” that “talk too much” then basically forced to repent and/or recant their truths. This was not an equitable form of justice back in the 1500’s and it most definitely not an equitable form of justice now in the 21th Century.
Victims of sexual violence did not want, ask or desire to be traumatized. As there is no glory in allowing an individual to take your virtue by force, violate your body and space without permission, rob you of your innocence while making you question your self-worth then at the same time lose your identity. The time is now that we turn public humiliation into crowd participation by helping victims everywhere remove the “branks” from their heads and the “bits” from their mouths and that is with our support as we encourage them to continue to come forward and speak up and out publicly against sexual violence and offences against them. When a victim looks into the public’s eyes it is imperative that compassion and concern is displayed as the forces of evil always seem greater in the eyes of their offender and it is here that they seem to lose all hope when they feel that they stand alone against predatory giants.
Since when is speaking the truth supposed to cause open shame? Since when did a person that wants to be released from their physical torment not released at all because they have to live with the mental torment for the rest of their lives? Since when does the public have the power to keep a victim victimized? Since when does a violent sexual predator get the opportunity to intimidate and silence his victims?
Only compassion can offer comfort in the midst of these present dehumanizing times as we are definitely dwelling in a land among predatory giants. Sexual violence has no place here yet it exists and speaking up publicly against it is unusual yet it continues. However, I am still confident that we will win the fight against sexual violence as it was merely a stone that killed Goliath. Or, in other words, as long as we continue to stand in courage and face our giants, whether standing in public humiliation with lacerated tongues, scandalized names while being questioned by many, sometimes even our loved ones, we will slay these sexual predator giants that dwell among us.
Guest blogger views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of CharityLogic and iCarol
The following blog post discusses the topic of sexual violence and harassment.
Dozens of women have recently come forward with sexual harassment and assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, a movie mogul and producer. While it’s unclear if any formal criminal charges will be filed as a result, Weinstein has so far lost his job at The Weinstein Company and was expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The stories being shared in the wake of these allegations reignite an international conversation about sexual violence, particularly the prevalence of violence against women. Experiences of sexual violence or harassment are extremely difficult to talk about. Survivors often feel pressure to remain silent about what happened. Trauma, fear of not being believed, being shamed/blamed, fear of retaliation or further violence, and other potential consequences keep many from telling someone or reporting crimes. Many people don’t realize or perhaps don’t believe that this sort of harassment and abuse is widespread and unfortunately a fairly universal experience for women in particular.
Tonight, the hashtag #MeToo went viral, bringing attention and opening eyes to just how prevalent these experiences are. It began with a tweet by actor Alyssa Milano, who resurrected a movement originally started years ago by an activist named Tarana Burke.
While it originated on Twitter, the posts and hashtag quickly spread to other social media platforms like Facebook.
So far, several thousand people are posting, sometimes simply sharing the hashtag as a way to acknowledge their experience without sharing any details. Others are sharing their stories. It’s too soon to know how much of an impact these stories might have on the broader conversation about sexual violence, including how we can eliminate it. But it’s clear that people are feeling safer discussing it online when surrounded by others telling their stories. Perhaps this solidarity, in such large numbers, can bring about positive change.
In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, we’d like to share a recent story featured on Cleveland’s local CBS affiliate, highlighting the fantastic work of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, including their new chat and text program with iCarol. We were honored to welcome this organization into the iCarol family a few months ago and are so proud of the positive impact they are having, the dedication of their volunteers and staff, not to mention the strength and bravery of the survivors who they are helping.
CRCC promotes a vision of a community free from sexual violence. Their programs lend support and resources to survivors of rape and sexual abuse, helping them throughout their healing process, while also promoting prevention and social change necessary to abolish sexual violence. You can find out more about their many wonderful programs and services on their website.
As CRCC’s website discusses, it wasn’t all that long ago that most survivors kept silent due to the shame and also lack of societal understanding around rape and sexual abuse. In some ways things have improved for survivors in that there are now more resources available and more understanding people ready to hear and accept stories of sexual violence without judgment or blame placed on the survivor.
Still, survivors experience a myriad of emotions resulting from the trauma of sexual violence, and it can be extremely difficult to discuss. It’s estimated that even today, more than 2/3 of sexual assaults are never reported. The vast majority of sexual assaults also occur between two parties who know one another, and not between strangers. This further complicates an already painful experience, especially if the rapist was someone the survivor liked or trusted.
CRCC is a force behind breaking the silence by offering channels that meet the survivor where they are via outlets that can feel safer than discussing it over the phone. Like so many of our helpline clients have experienced, these silent forms of emotional support available through live chat and texting provide an anonymity that helps people feel less exposed and vulnerable, and can become a first step to recovery.
In the short time since their chat and text program launched, CRCC has been busy with traffic from their local community, while also receiving some messages from as far away as California and Nevada. Their experience of immediately receiving a healthy volume of texts stems from a great marketing plan, but also the fact that they text-enabled their existing helpline number – a number that had been known to their community for more than 40 years. We’ve often heard from our text-enabling users that texts will begin to flow in before much advertising or marketing is even done. We believe that this is because the pervasiveness of texting in our culture leads many people to assume these helpline numbers accept both chats and texts, and thus you could already be receiving texts to your helpline that you’re not even aware of.
We hope you’ll join us in congratulating the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center on this latest success and wish them well as they serve survivors of sexual violence. Check out the news story below!
Domestic Violence has been a much-discussed topic in the media these past few months, due in large part to NFL star Ray Rice and other notable professional athletes being involved in incidents of domestic violence. The fact that some famous athletes are perpetrators of domestic violence shouldn’t surprise us; the numbers tell us that domestic violence, particularly violence against women, is unfortunately common all over the world and effects people of all professions, socioeconomic statuses, races, sexual orientations, and genders.
The attention these stories receive brings the issue out into the light and educates the masses on the facts and figures, but it also brings out the victim blaming and shaming. People who aren’t familiar with the insidious nature of domestic violence are quick to simplify a situation by saying, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” Hashtag campaigns such as #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft have been helpful in explaining that the answer to that question is far from simple.
We know that domestic violence touches millions of people every day who aren’t famous. Their stories are sometimes kept secret from friends and loved ones, and they certainly don’t make headlines, except perhaps when they result in a homicide. The World Health Organization states that up to 38% of murders worldwide are committed by the intimate partner of the victim.
According to the US Justice Department, in the mid 1990’s the domestic violence rate started to drop, but it’s hard to tell whether this was due to the overall drop in violent crime, a result of the Violence Against Women Act, or other factors. But the numbers are still far too high, estimated at around 1,000 incidents each day in the United States. And even though the need for shelter, legal support, counseling, and other services is great, funding for programs is insufficient and these services are struggling to meet the demand.
Eventually this topic will fade from the public’s consciousness so it’s important that we all keep talking about it and raise awareness and understanding of the issue. Advocate for prevention programs that help teach young people about healthy relationships, which experts say is key in reducing domestic violence since many men and women who are in such relationships as adults were first assaulted as adolescents. Support your local domestic violence helpline or shelter so that they can continue doing great work and meeting the needs of your community.
Infographic courtesy of the CDC and the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey
There are a lot of conversations that parents dread having with their kids, but conversations about sex are notoriously difficult. And while conversations about healthy relationships should go hand in hand with “the talk,” that’s a step that many parents miss. In fact, three out of four parents haven’t talked to their kids about domestic violence, and 81% of parents believe that teen dating violence isn’t an issue, or they admit they don’t know if it’s an issue.
But it is a very important issue. One in three teens will experience some form of abuse from someone they date, including physical, sexual or verbal abuse. About one in five women and almost one in seven men who experience rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner first experience some sort of partner violence as a teen or adolescent. As future generations grow up and start dating, it’s important that they have the proper education and understanding as they enter into relationships – and know how to identify and avoid ones that are unhealthy or dangerous.
February is Teen Dating Violence month, and February 4th is ‘It’s Time to Talk’ Day, a day when we encourage parents, advocates, mentors, and other adults to talk to their teens about dating violence. Helplines are trusted sources of information for kids and teens, and so we encourage you to check out these resources and share them as needed.
It’s Time to Talk Day Conversation Guide and Talk-a-thon Guide
Dating Violence Warning Signs
Dating Violence 101
Do you have more resources to add? Share them with everyone by leaving a comment below!