The Language of Sexual Assault

Warning: Sensitive Material

You would think it was the act itself, but more often it’s the other thing that tears a life apart: the aftermath of being a survivor in a rape-condoning world. Awaiting or avoiding trials that are certain to dehumanize. Ruminating, dissociating. Feeling too much and then nothing at all.
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Humans can hold a lot of shame about sex, and at times it makes healing difficult. There’s a cultural element to it: some places do better than others. As a sex educator, I figure if we can invite healthy conversations, we may begin to mend the damage caused by sexual violence.
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Language has the potential to polarize. When either/or logic is applied to a sexual assault case, either someone fought hard or it was consensual – it can’t be neither. Either someone’s a star athlete or they’re a rapist – they can’t be both. We struggle with the complexity of more than one true thing.
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Buying groceries, I see an athlete whose untimely death is splashed across the headlines – no mention of the sexual assault case of which he was a part. Only one narrative makes it through: hero. And I think of a few young women whom I know right now, gathering the shards of their shattered souls. Post-sexual assault, they merely endure. Unseen and uncelebrated. Assaulted by narratives that casually or aggressively scorn survivors. I write this for them.
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What we can’t face, we won’t acknowledge – as survivor, perpetrator, and society. Yet we must find a way to hold every true thing. Language is one place to birth those truths, and it needs to be durable enough to encompass it all – the confusion and contradiction. Belief and bewilderment. Compassion and consequence. To leave some out is to deny the whole, yet it doesn’t go away: it lives in the shadows, waiting to be healed.