#WhyIDidntReport — The Sound of Silence

By Elizabeth Backstrom

I thought I was over it. Everything happened so long ago that it seems like someone else’s life. But this year, and this week especially, has brought painful details of my assault and the aftermath of telling people back into clear focus.

This may surprise you, but telling people about the experience, at that time, was worse to me than the experience itself.

That may seem ludicrous to some, so if you’re reading this right now, I’d like you to do a little experiment.

Imagine you are at Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a bigger gathering than usual; in addition to your immediate family, members of your church and community are there. In the middle of this, get up and tell everyone about your latest sexual experience. In detail. Who put what where. Go on. Tell your aunt Linda. Your parents too. Maybe the pastor. Throw in a member of the City Council who is good friends with your parents.

Come on, this is sex we’re talking about here. Most people know how it works. Yet, it’s a safe bet the idea of doing this is cringeworthy to most of us. And that’s for a consensual, positive sexual experience.

Now imagine telling that group of people about your rape. Your parents, your aunt Linda, your pastor, your city councilperson. Maybe your high school classmates. Go on; share all the details. Answer some questions. If you don’t, maybe there’s something off about your story. Did it really happen? After all, it was only the two of you there.

The painful, public trial of Christine Blasey Ford, like that of Anita Hill, has been extremely revealing. Some of the same men who sat on the judiciary committee 27 years ago are still there today, and their reactions are at best perfunctory and dismissive.

It is clear they do not see Ford’s case as an issue to be addressed, but a roadblock to political success. Both Democrats and Republicans acted similarly during the Anita Hill hearings in the 1990s and many have since expressed regret. But how much has changed?

Reactions from President Trump and others dismissing Ford, saying she would have come forward earlier if her story was real, show incredible ignorance of the reality of both sexual assault and the justice system.

Our national backlog of untested rape kits fights for headline room with stories about coaches, movie stars, politicians and church officials covering up years of sexual assault allegations. People who are sentenced for rape often get embarrassingly light sentences if they are sentenced at all. The message is clear; if you have money, we might not let you do it, but often there’s no real way to stop you.

Sometimes it’s easier to just pretend it didn’t happen. If we say anything, will it even matter?

If we speak up, we are standing in the way of power. We learn to pick and choose; which situation is really the bad one? Which one can I let go? Which one can I write off as ‘just that one uncomfortable thing he probably won’t do again?’ Am I a good enough victim to tell my story?

We have a lot to lose; jobs, relationships, reputations, sometimes even our lives. Many of us choose to stay silent; to skip that painful conversation altogether. It’s not because we’re not broken, but because we don’t think anyone is listening.

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About Elizabeth Backstrom

Elizabeth Backstrom majored in journalism at Western Washington University and currently works as a content analyst and grant writer in Spokane. Her background is in newswriting and features, but if an overabundance of caffeine is consumed, she has been known to write a humor piece or two. Backstrom attended various Christian churches growing up in Spokane and currently attends First Covenant Church, an inner-city ministry in downtown Spokane.

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