Tuesday, June 4, 2013

I Should Have Reported

I should have reported. 

I wish I'd told someone. 

Sound familiar? Two, four, even ten or more years down the line, I hear survivors express their regret over not reporting their assault to the police or at least telling someone it was happening. 

I understand that. By the time I meet most survivors, they have had some distance from the assault or abuse. With adulthood, or with time, they see that what was done was not their fault and they feel the desire to protect others from what happened to them. It seems that once they reach a place where they've acknowledged what happened and started the healing process, they want to see the perpetrator be held accountable for his or her crime. 

It's wonderful when survivors feel ready to confront their perpetrators, one way or another, though it's not always a necessary step in healing. What can be dangerous, though, is the guilt that survivors can take on at this time.

Some survivors blame themselves for not prosecuting sooner. They feel angry that they've spent years "allowing" the perpetrator to roam free, hurting other girls or boys. It hurts because they've suffered and the perpetrator did not. Or, maybe, the statute of limitations has expired and they can't report the crime now, but could have earlier. 

That's a heavy burden to carry. With one regret - the wish that you had pursued charges against your attacker earlier - you take on the responsibility for other survivors he/she has hurt, the responsibility to punish your perpetrator, and a possible life-altering opportunity that was not taken. 

No wonder I see so many survivors beating themselves up over not reporting. I would, too, if I carried all that responsibility around with me. But it's a responsibility that isn't yours to carry. 

You are a different person now than you were then. Time and experience gave you a perspective on your situation now that you couldn't have possibly had before. You can't expect yourself to know something then that you only discovered now. 

It is common for survivors to go through a period of shock and denial when the assault or abuse first happens. How can a person who is struggling to even admit something happened possibly be able to report it right then? Give yourself a break. There is no instruction manual for this. 

Perpetrators create situations that make it extremely difficult for someone to report. The whole point of their crime is that they want to do it and continue doing it. Therefore, they make sure their target has a lot to drink. Or, they tell a small child that they will hurt his or her parents if they tell anyone. They seek out people that society is prejudiced against. The deck is stacked against you. That's what these predators count on.

No matter what, you are not responsible for the perpetrator's other crimes. Whether the perpetrator assaulted someone else before, after or during his/her assault of you does not make you in any way at fault for those crimes. Period. Which leads into...

It's not your job to punish the perpetrator. You can choose to report. But you cannot take on the burden of punishing the person who did this to you - no matter how much they deserve it.  Why? Because your job is taking care of you. Nothing else. It's wonderful if you want to crusade for other survivors, write a victim impact statement for court, complete a rape kit and tell the police about what happened to you. But what matters the most is that you heal. If you can do that and report the crime, then in many cases that's the best option.

But not all. Ultimately, whatever you have to do to heal, as long as it doesn't hurt you or others, is OKAY. Because...

Who is to say but YOU whether or not reporting is the right choice for you? Is it always the right choice to report? Honestly, I don't know. If we had a perfect judicial system, maybe...but we don't. For some it may impede their healing to report and all that goes along with that. For other survivors, the only way to heal is to report, whatever the outcome. The important thing is to realize that it's an individual choice, and to not judge anyone (including yourself) for those choices. 

Have you ever felt guilty over not reporting/not telling about your assault? How did you deal with it?

If you need more help sorting through these and other questions, check out the Survivor Is A Verb Bookstore

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