There's No "Right" Way To Come Out About Sexual Assault — Even If Donald Trump Is Involved

Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images.
Sophia Benoit is a writer and comedian who lives in Los Angeles. All opinions are her own.

Please tell me the right day, the right hour, the right minute, the right thing to wear, the right lawyer to recruit so that a woman’s assault matters. Please send me an email when you think too many people have come out against Donald Trump, and now it’s just “too much” and no longer believable. Please. Tell me the perfect way to be assaulted by a man — and the perfect way to deal with it.

That’s the message women keep getting: Don’t make your assault about you. Make it about being believed. Don’t make it about how you showered 19 times when you came home, until your skin was red and broken. Make it palatable for other people. Make sure the details are scary enough to justify the months of therapy before you let your boyfriend touch you again.

This message is a part of a larger conversation that keeps happening (even on this site) around the women who have alleged that Trump sexually assaulted them. These women’s reactions to their alleged assaults have been picked apart and judged, not only for their credibility, but for their significance. Unless you have a "good story," it seems, your experience doesn’t really count; unless every single person can understand your trauma — or imagine feeling it themselves if they were in your shoes — you’re only telling your story for attention. (Name all the women who are rich, famous, and successful solely because of their sexual assaults. I’ll wait.)

Every assault is different, and every woman’s experience of assault is different. We just can’t know how traumatic an assault is for someone, or how hard it is to talk about, especially in light of all of the stigma and judgment women face when they do come forward. Who is anyone to say that someone’s assault is easier or harder to deal with? How can anyone rank someone else’s attack or tell someone not to hurt quite like that?

The fact is, there is not (and never will be) a good time for a woman to come out about her sexual assault. If she does it immediately, she’s forced to relive her pain over and over; if she waits 20 years, she’s accused of making it up, waiting too long, or overreacting. Ultimately, how a woman acts after she’s assaulted is a decision that’s hers and hers alone (and sometimes, it’s not even a decision — it’s just how it is). But of course, that doesn’t stop the barrage of judgment that descends upon her if and when she decides to speak up.

The fact is, there is not (and never will be) a good time for a woman to come out about her sexual assault.

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To all the women who have been assaulted: I believe you. I believe that this has gutted you at times. I believe that this has made you feel smaller than small some days, and other days like you are the sun itself for making it out alive. I believe you.

Your assault wasn’t insignificant, and anyone who says otherwise is wrong. It was assault. This never should have happened. It wasn’t okay, and it will never be okay.

I hope someone near you reminds you that you’re incredible for going through this and still showing up to work — or for not showing up to work. You are strong. You were strong when you came forward, and you were strong when you weren’t ready to come forward. I’m sorry this world won’t protect you, but there is a whole host of people out there who believe you and believe you never deserved this, that no one ever deserves this.

In case the world is telling you something else, I know you know that you aren’t doing this for attention. There are far less vulnerable ways to get attention. The number of women who have come on to your assaulter before is irrelevant; you don’t need to move on at anyone’s pace but your own. Please get any and all help you can, and don’t listen to anyone who is trying to shut you up with “move on”; those people are small. It has nothing to do with what you were wearing or what you did. This was done because the person who did it is an assaulter. That’s why. That’s the whole why.

I hope you read something like this, and I hope the people around you remind you that you are believed. I believe you. I believe your pain and anger and confusion and hope and distrust and misplaced guilt and the way you still cry about it sometimes, because you hope it won’t happen to your own daughter. And it might. Because there are still people out there who think you spoke up to get fame — including, possibly, the very man who assaulted you.

But we believe you.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
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