Beyond Believing: Accountability and Advocacy to End Rape Culture

By Emily Clark

Unfortunately, the current news cycle involving multiple reports of sexual assaults perpetrated by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh does not mean the world is getting worse. Rather, it means the truth is being revealed, that women are tired of being silenced. Survivors are having to speak up and point fingers in hopes of stirring up awareness and compassion. Survivors like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez are speaking truth to power because we are tired of being the collateral damage of patriarchy, misogyny, and systemic injustice.

My question and the question of so many of the survivors I see as therapy clients, is: where is the accountability? Survivors feel so much shame yet perpetrators get to go on like nothing ever happened.

Instead of talking about how survivors are everywhere--how ‘she could be your wife, daughter, sister, or other woman you care about’--what would it mean if we spoke about the perpetrators as people we know--’your husband, son, brother, or other man you care about’[1]? Just as the victims are the women you know, the perpetrators are the men you know.

It’s harder to breathe through that one, right?

This is a discomfort survivors know all too well. Because my clients and I have been through it, we know that rapists are in the next cubicle over and in the seat next to us on the airplane and volunteering with us at the animal shelter and the guy interviewing us for the job. The survivor uprising is a reclaiming of the narrative around sexual assault and attempting not just for awareness but accountability, as we buoy to and from rage and helplessness and discomfort and angst.

 Accountability is simple: own it, accept the consequences, and don’t do it again.

It’s so much harder for survivors to heal when no one is being held accountable. My clients tell me about how they wanted the coach to lose their job, the other student to be expelled, the fraternity to be shut down, or even the person to apologize. Sure, it would be ideal for those who commit crimes to be charged, prosecuted, and sentenced in a court of law, and because of the interplay between misogyny that puts the shame on the victim and the systemic injustice that necessitates a great deal of evidence, that is a long way off.

The opportunity for accountability is, most often, in the hands of the perpetrator, but in high-stakes situations like Kavanaugh’s nomination, others have the opportunity to force accountability when the perpetrator will not...and when they lead with doubt or shrug it off, women’s voices are silenced and healing is stalled once again.

As a trauma therapist and survivor, I know a few things about healing. We heal when we believe our story matters--all of it, not just the parts that make sense or have evidence to back it up.  We heal when we accept that we are different now yet don’t need to punish ourselves. We heal beyond learning how to “cope,” how to successfully toe the line between overwhelming emotions and strategies used to contain ourselves. We heal when we speak truth to power and people care enough to respond.

Author’s Note: There are many resources to learn more about the prevalence of sexual assault. For general statistics, visit The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. Vox offers concrete victimization and reporting behaviors as does the Department of Justice. A National Institute of Justice report and a recent Huffington Post article articulate reasons victims do not report. Finally, an editorial in the New York Times examines the scientific validity of traumatic memory experienced by victims.

Emily Clark, a graduate of St. Louis University (’13) and Boston College (’15), is a trauma therapist in Portland, OR.

The cover is featured courtesy of Kat Jayne on Pexel.

[1] I acknowledge sexual violence does not only create female victims and that the use of female pronouns can feel like exclusion to men and non-binary individuals who have experienced sexual violence. For that, I am deeply sorry, and until our world shifts from binary pronouns, I’m unsure how to do better...but men and non-binary people, I see you and I stand by you.