You may have noticed that teen girls are not contributing their #MeToo stories nearly as much as older women are. That’s because they’re afraid.
It’s because we live in a culture that does not respect girls and women, a culture where men that decide the laws that govern our bodies—and, according to the National Sexual Resource Center, perpetrate 96 percent of sexual assaults.
The bulk of the barrage of #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport stories we’ve been seeing have come from women in their thirties, forties, fifties, sixties—many of whom are disclosing sexual assaults that happened decades ago. Their stories provide clear proof of the reasons that survivors still don’t feel they have a voice for what happens to them, even years after they are sexually abused.
That doesn’t mean they don’t carry enormous scars.
Hundreds of survivors and allies have gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court to support each other, and to demand a government that #BelieveSurvivors.
— Women's March (@womensmarch) September 24, 2018
Teen girls are sexually assaulted, abused, harassed and intimidated at staggering rates. I’ve heard from thousands of women who have held their secrets for years in my line of work.
Adolescent survivors of sexual abuse often feel tremendous guilt and shame: They feel it was somehow their fault, and they begin to distrust their feelings. Although they intuitively know they are strong, our misogynist culture exerts such a force over everything that they retreat—they go inward, become afraid, push down the feelings and try to forget.
Teen girls who report face the same kinds of questions and comments as women like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, who have come forward about being sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when they were in high school and college. They’re asked what they were wearing and why they brought it on themselves and why they drank and why they flirt. They’re told that boys will be boys and that they’re making too big a deal out of it and that it was harmless.
The list of girl-blaming and girl-shaming assumptions goes on and on. Teen girls are caught in a culture that blames survivors. They are told that they brought their assaults on themselves, or that they deserved them. It should not need to be said in 2018, but sexual abuse, assault and misconduct are never the fault of the survivor. If you’ve been sexually assaulted, know this. It was not your fault.
Blasey Ford is a woman whose conscience will not allow her to keep still. Decades later, she still remembers what she wore, how she felt, where she was—if not the precise address, at least the room, the boys, the surroundings. She remembers feeling like she could have died. She remembers Kavanaugh’s hand over her mouth. The trauma stayed with her enough to bring her into therapy, to confide it to her husband, to tell her friends—to be willing to come forward and tell us all so that she might help prevent a sexual predator from ending up with a lifetime appointment to our highest Court, presiding over cases that will affect the lives of women and girls for years to come.
I have spent more than three decades as a psychologist working with adolescent girls of every race, class and circumstance who have survived sexual abuse and assault. I help them to find their voices so they do not let the abuse dig deep into their psyches. I have received many phone calls and emails in the past week from teen girls and women who are triggered by Blasey Ford’s retelling of that night in high school. They tell me they are scared for her. They remember their high school and college almost-rapes.
Many women and girls haven’t spoken up yet, even in the midst of the #MeToo movement—but if we’re honest, nearly every single woman has experienced sexual harassment, assault or abuse. Every day in my practice, I bear witness to their ongoing traumas: the persistent physical discomfort, the continuing fear of enclosed spaces, the newfound fear of intimacy, the disruptive nightmares and migraine headaches.
We can help teen girls and young women facing trauma by showing them support, and by letting them know that they do not have to hold on to shame, self doubt and self-blame for decades.
We do that when we stand with survivors.We do that when we stand with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez and the women like them carrying trauma. We do that when we let them know that we believe them.
Survivors of sexual trauma need our voices now. Think of your daughters, your nieces, your neighbors. Think of yourself and speak out until your lungs ache. Say it once or twice or over and over again: We believe you, Christine. We believe you, Deborah. We respect you, we thank you, we honor you. Thank you for bringing more light and hope to the millions of girls and women who have been hiding in the darkness for far too long.