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Do You Hate Me for Not Pressing Charges?

by Gillian Sisley 2 months ago in body

An attempted rapist is still walking free because of me.

Photo by Mitch Lensink on Unsplash

Dear fellow survivors,

There’s no question about it — it was aggravated sexual assault. It was pre-meditated. The exact categorization of the assault is probably attempted rape.

I didn’t file a police report.

I didn’t put him behind bars for what he did to me.

I actually didn’t have the guts to break up with him until I was on the other side of the planet studying in South Korea for a semester.

I stayed with him for over a month after he assaulted me.

Even though I saw him for the misogynistic monster that he was immediately afterwards.

Even though I knew the terrifying extents he would go to to get what he wants from a woman.

I didn’t press charges.

Do you hate me for it?

Living with the consequences of his actions.

At the age of 11, I committed to saving myself for marriage. My first boyfriend and I had been dating a year and a half when he got tired of waiting and tried to rape me.

I never reported him for the assault. He moved to the other side of the country for work, so I was just happy that I didn’t have to worry anymore about bumping into him.

I just wanted to move on with my life.

Problem solved, right?

What I didn’t anticipate was that, years later, a pang of guilt would start brewing inside my gut, and questions would begin to ceaselessly whirl around my head like a hive of angry bees:

Am I a bad person for not holding him accountable?

Have I failed other women because I chose to do nothing about the assault?

Am I part of the global problem of society not believing sexual assault victims?

Am I a coward for not wanting to put myself through the humiliating process of trying to get him charged?

What if he hurts other women because of me?

Should I feel ashamed of having done nothing on my part for a better, more equal world?

The more time that passes (it’s been 7 years now), the more persistent these questions have become.

I didn’t act because I knew the stats.

There didn’t seem to be much good for my own healing process in coming forward, because even though I was vocally committed to not having sex until marriage and had made my lack of consent abundantly clear, we were still in a committed relationship when the incident happened.

And even for those women who have far less “grey area” in their sexual assault cases, they’re still not being protected by the justice system.

Here’s a heartbreaking and soul-crushing statistic for you:

Out of ever 1,000 rapes, 995 perpetrators will walk free without any punishment. That means only 5 of the assaulters will be held accountable, with even less than that being sent to prison for what they’ve done.

5 out of 1,000 rapes are actually held accountable. That’s less than 1%.

Knowing these numbers, I wasn’t given much sense of comfort in the prospect of opening my life up to scrutinization, and having complete strangers deciding whether or not I consented to almost being raped by the monster I was dating at the time.

Still, feeling all of the validation in the world for not stepping forward, I continue to drown in guilt as the years pass.

In part because I’m a proud feminist. I advocate for gender equality for each and every gender, and believe in doing my part to make society more equal and a safer and better place for everyone to thrive, including myself as a woman.

I feel like I’m a fraud as a feminist for not pressing charges against my attempted rapist.

Psychology is a powerful and mysterious thing. It can be our greatest ally, or it can also be our worst enemy. Especially if one is suffering from trauma and mental illness following a significantly negative life-altering event.

My mind used to protect me — these days, I feel like I’m at war with it.

The decision not to charge, and trying to find closure.

When my guilt surfaces, and with that my anxiety and/or episodes of paranoia, I have to subject myself to an endless loop of debunking what I know to be myths and what I know to be truths.

I know this, in particular, to be true:

Every sexual assault victim is the owner of their own story. It’s their personal property, and particularly as it contains very intimate and difficult elements, they have full rights to act in whichever way they see fit.

If you’ve watched Netflix’s second season of “13 Reasons Why", you’ll recall Nina Jones. It was discovered by one of the main storyline characters, Jessica, that both she and Nina had been raped in the same discreet location by two different men when they were either drunk or drugged directly by their attacker. Jessica tries to convince Nina to come forward with her to press charges against their attackers, who shared a similar plan of attack to commit the assaults. Nina refuses, and when Jessica persists, Nina says something pretty incredible, to the tune of:

“It’s my story to tell, not yours. And I’m not ready to tell it yet.”

I’ve talked to others who watched the show, and some have expressed real frustration with Nina for refusing to step forward… but I can completely relate to her.

Some of us just aren’t ready to step forward to press charges or point the finger yet. Some of us may never be. And that’s okay.

If anyone is going to understand a victim’s hesitation or unwillingness to take action against their abuser, it’s other victims.

Because imagine how hard it would be to hold my middle-class, white ex-boyfriend accountable for the attempted rape when we were in a committed relationship that lasted longer than a year, when there are stories of women (with bystanders as witnesses) who were raped by a total stranger, and the rapist was either given no punishment at all, or a cruelly short amount of time.

The judges don't want to “ruin the future of such a promising young man for a simple mistake”, when this attacker has already ruined the possibility of his victim being able to live the normal future they were hoping to — all because of this disgusting man’s misplaced sense of entitlement over another woman’s body.

Consider the Brock Turner case and how infuriating that entire situation is.

Brock Turner Loses Appeal to Overturn Sexual Assault Conviction

www.nytimes.com

Even living in Canada, I don’t have faith in the system to protect me and give me the justice I deserve. I have even less faith that they would prosecute my attacker.

Honestly? I just want to get on with my life, and live the best quality of life I can, despite the trauma and mental illness I have been left with following the sexual assault.

Advocating for victims — and myself.

Now, in regards to the flurry of questions swimming around my guilty conscience, let’s dig a little deeper, condemn the lies and get to the truth.

This is more so for my own personal processing benefit, but I’m sure there’s someone else reading this who needs these answers too.

Am I a bad person for not holding him accountable?

No. You were attacked and violated. You suffered a horrible trauma that wasn’t in any way your fault. You’re still healing to this day, and you had every right to act in whichever way you felt was right for you and your healing process.

Have I failed other women because I chose to do nothing about the assault?

Absolutely not. Like I said above, if anyone is going to understand the difficulty of the decisions you have to make, it’s other victims of sexual assault. And just about every woman out there has her own story. Which is horrible, but also true.

Am I part of the global problem of society not believing sexual assault victims?

You’re not the problem. Our patriarchal society is the problem. You believe victims. You believe their stories. You are part of the solution, not the problem.

Am I a coward for not wanting to put myself through the humiliating process of trying to get him charged?

No. You have a legitimate fear here. Particularly as you were in a committed relationship with your attacker when the assault happened. He knows all your deepest, darkest secrets. Every detail that is absolutely no one’s business he will use against you to discredit your story and make a mockery of you on the stand. Your fear is absolutely, indisputably, valid.

What if he hurts other women because of me?

You are not responsible for him or his actions. No one is but he himself, and he alone should be accountable for his actions. Don’t put that responsibility on yourself when you haven’t seen him since you left him 5 years ago.

Should I feel ashamed of having done nothing on my part for a better, more equal world?

No. Because you have done something: you speak out about the assault and the ways it has affected you. You write about your most vulnerable experiences on Medium and share your story with others. By sharing your story you’re helping others in their healing process, as well as possibly challenging the perspectives of others to consider what sexual assault means to them.

Pressing charges is not the only powerful action a victim can take to change society for the better.

A version of this article was originally published by the author on Medium.

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Gillian Sisley
Gillian Sisley
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Gillian Sisley
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