About a week ago, actress Abigail Breslin (known for Little Miss Sunshine, My Sister’s Keeper, Zombieland, and Scream Queens) took to Instagram for Sexual Assault Awareness Month likely in hopes that she would help unite sexual assault survivors of all kinds in knowing they were not alone. Her post is a screen capture of text that states one is not obligated to have sex, regardless of their romantic situation (ie: dating, married, etc.), with the caption “i knew my assailant #SexualAssaultAwarenessMonth #breakthesilence”. You can find the photo below and the post and comments here:
By doing this, Breslin had let her followers in on an intimate and personal fact about herself, which was likely difficult for her to do. It’s just one very public example of what tons of people go through every day. It is difficult for anyone who has endured such a violation and such pain to be able to share their story, if only for the further mental suffering that it would cause. But in today’s society, the stigma surrounding victims of sexual assault takes on tones of blame and disgust directed toward the victim, not the perpetrator. While Breslin’s post was met with many comments from followers who thanked her and were inspired to share their own survival stories, she was also met with many intolerant, anti-feminist, judging, and minimizing comments.
One commenter urged her to “prove it” because “anyone can say they were assaulted”; they further asked why she didn’t go to the police, and added that releasing this type of information “wasn’t going to help [her] career honey”. Unfortunately, this mentality is rampant in our society. It perpetuates the highly sexist notion that if an act really was sexual assault, then the victim would have reported it, and if they didn’t then it was consensual. Or it was made up for attention. Now, I’m not saying to report it or not to report it, that’s something each individual has to decide for themselves. What I am saying is sexual assault survivors feel they have a target on their back regardless of which avenue they choose. People are conditioned to judge and demean the victim of an assault, which is evident through the constant questions of what was she wearing, whether she drinking, whether she was flirting, etc. They are made to feel shameful, embarrassed and used. The veracity of sexual assault accusations is consistently questioned out of blatant sexism and a view that women are the lesser sex*, and because of this, many victims are hesitant to come forward with claims. In reality, only 10% of sexual assaults are ever reported and, even then, they are not guaranteed a conviction or any sanctions. Survivors don’t need your opinions on their experiences, bodies, or well-being; they need your support. And to be clear, support does not come in the form of pressuring someone to share their story, or to report the assault or to do anything on their behalf — support comes solely in the form of being there for someone, opening yourself up as a trusted person to talk to if they need it.** Listening and being a good friend is free, by the way.
The other issue I encountered while reading the comments of Breslin’s post is the absolutely insane notion that if you are dating or married to someone, they are entitled to sex from you. Comments on the post of this nature range from “dating isn’t consent, but marriage absolutely is” to “if you don’t want to have sex, don’t get in a relationship”, and lots of nasty stuff in between. That’s not the way bodily autonomy works. To be frank, reading through those comments in preparation for this post made me uncomfortable, nervous, angry, and helpless all at the same time. What bothers me most is that the ‘issue of consent’ is still an issue at all. For something that I perceive to be so cut and dry, I am shook by the sheer amount of people, including people I know personally, who still throw around hypotheticals and ‘what ifs’ to justify when sexual assault is okay. There is not a single situation in which sexual assault is excusable, not a single one. No one ever “deserves it”, no one is ever “expected to put out”, and sure as shit no one is ever “asking for it”. Sure, sex is a part of life, but sexual assault/rape is not sex. It is because of these skewed views of sexual assault, the oppression of victims, and justification for perpetrators (whether it’s a stranger or your husband) that rape culture is still very much a thing in society.
*I am very much aware that sexual assault can occur to anyone, and am not trying to say this is a female-only issue whatsoever. For the purposes of this post, women are the group in question.
**For those who may need it, I am ready to listen.