Trauma informed lens to speak out against sexual assault

Written by Chisato Hotta, DSW, LPCC, LMFT

Sexual assault is not about sex. It is about power.

This was one of the first things that we were told as fledgling rape crisis counselors. The group started with about 20 of us, and it ended with 3 of us. And quickly, it became only me that stayed.

Sexual assault is a heavy topic and it is a taboo to speak about, for many people and communities. Why is this? This question intrigued me as a multiple assault survivor and advocate. 

As I continued my work, and became more and more trauma informed, I noticed that one of the barriers to speaking out about sexual assault is that sex is a taboo topic in itself. Then, add on that trauma is also a taboo topic. This leads to people responding, when they hear that someone has been sexually assaulted, “well, what were they doing? What were they wearing? Why were they doing that?” The survivor gets blamed, instead of the perpetrator, pushing survivors to stay silent and into the shadows. 

Why do people do this? The answer to this is a bit complicated. 

One of the reasons is that people want to believe that sexual assault will not happen to themselves or someone they love. So if it is the survivor’s fault for any reason, such as “they were wearing something revealing,” then it would not happen to them or a loved one, because the only thing that needs to happen is to not do that reason, such as not wearing something revealing. The problem with that is that sexual assault happens because someone decided to take power over another and used a sexual means to do that. It is not due to what someone is wearing, who they are, what they did or anything. Blaming the survivor only increases the likelihood that perpetrators will be able to continue to do so. 

Another reason is that the perpetrator can be a loved one. And no one wants to believe that their loved ones would make a choice to sexually assault another person. We may think to ourselves, “this person is such a good person, they are so kind, funny, loving, great with the kids… They would never do something like that!” So it MUST be the survivor’s fault. It MUST be the survivor lying. The problem with this is that life is not black or white. There is a lot of gray. 

I am a survivor of multiple sexual assaults. One of my assaults was perpetrated by someone that I considered one of my best friends. I loved him so, so much. He was kind, smart, funny, loving, caring and so much more. He was my safe place for years. One day, he made a choice to assault me. Does that erase all of the good that he has? Of course not. Just because there was bad, that does not mean that the good goes away. He is still an amazing human being AND he made an awful choice that hurt me. Human beings are gray- there is no one that is 100% good or 100% bad. We just choose what our boundaries are. For me, what he did to me and how he did not take responsibility for it, was my boundary and my breaking point. For others, it may not be. And that is ok too. 

Developing a trauma informed lens means that we understand that our story is not the only story. Each person has their own story and their own views. It also means that we acknowledge the barriers and stigma that exists that stops people from speaking out. By doing so, we are able to decrease the barriers and create more safe spaces to fight against issues, such as sexual assault.

Please note: If you are experiencing domestic violence, intimate partner violence, gender based violence, please see our resources.