I was told to delete a tweet I wrote about Louis CK abusing women before I applied to a high-profile comedy job because the people conducting the hiring process might not like it. These women who have spoken up are brave, and we owe them so much.
Confused, upset, and angry, Zelda turned to her female friend, a student at a liberal university who she considers “woke” and understanding, and disclosed what had happened to her. Zelda’s friend offered her some advice: “He’s a lawyer, he’ll ruin your life [if you report].”Zelda admits that though it may not have been the right thing to say to someone who has just been sexually violated, she knows her friend was only trying to protect her when she discouraged her from reporting her abuse. “She was thinking of me and trying to protect me from what she perceived as a bigger threat,” Zelda explains. The “bigger threat” was the possibility that she wouldn’t be believed, that she’d be branded with the reputation of being “a troublesome woman,” and that her allegations might be used against her in the future.Her friend’s concerns are certainly not unfounded: sexual assault is the most underreported violent crime in America and for sound reason. According the the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, many survivors “feel that the criminal justice system re-victimizes them in its process.” According to the Department of Justice, 344 out of every 1000 sexual assaults are reported to police, while only seven cases will lead to a felony conviction and six will lead to incarceration.
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Zelda attributes her friend’s reaction to her experience of womanhood. “She is a woman which puts her in a situation where she has these fears in her own life and has seen so many other women in the same situation as me,” she explains. “She knows how victims are treated in society and the unequal power that men hold.”According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, “female partners, friends and mothers appear to describe and/or experience sexual abuse-related secondary trauma differently to their male counterparts.” They define secondary trauma as trauma experienced by family members and friends of victims/survivors who are affected by a sexual assault. Dr. Ménard agrees that gender plays a large role in how people react to the news that a loved one has been assaulted. “Men typically want to ‘solve’ problems,” she says, “but may not be as well aware of the consequences of reporting. Unlike women, they have not been doubted in ordinary context (e.g., women's voices often don't get heard in meetings), let alone an extraordinary one like rape [or other forms of sexual assault].”Zelda knew her friend was only trying to protect her, but she wished she had understood how her words silenced her and ultimately enabled her perpetrator. “It’s not everybody’s job to be a martyr,” says Zelda, “but if they want to do it, they should.”