Don't Thank Me for Sharing
By Elysse Andrews
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]M[/dropcap]y name is Elysse Andrews and I am a rape victim and a rape survivor and yes, it’s possible to be both. I choose to speak out about being raped because discussion is the only way I know how to deal with scary things. If I don't ever say them out loud, they live in my head and get bigger and bigger, until they consume me.
I've spent a lot of my college life in discussions about rape culture and how I see it happening in society and how I can see that it played into the times (yes, plural) I've been raped. If you'd like more information about rape culture, the book The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti is a great start.[divider type="short" spacing="10"]
Here's my issue: every time I talk about my experiences as someone who has been raped, the whole room goes quiet like I said I am planning on voting for Donald Trump (which I am not). Everyone looks at everyone else and finally someone in the room who generally has more experience with leadership will say, "Thank you for sharing,” and that really irks me.
The reason it annoys me partly makes sense and partly has no explanation, other than the fact that is about something rooted in trauma. Here's the part that I can make sense of: when we're discussing rape culture as a whole and how it affects our society and I decide to tell you why I feel I have something different to add to the conversation, I'm not telling you that I was raped for my own good. I'm telling you this because it’s relevant and has given me unique insight into how societal concepts can become rooted in parts of our lives.
The reason it upsets me, is that you're making the conversation about me, instead of about the issue at hand. If we were discussing race and a person of color explained their experience, you wouldn't say, thanks for being born Black/Asian/Mexican etc., you would discuss what they had said with them and then use that to shape the conversation that is on going.
[divider type="short" spacing="10"]
When discussing a complicated issue that affects everyone in different ways, it’s absolutely necessary to hear from different viewpoints, even if those viewpoints come from bad experiences. If no one ever spoke up about how being raped affected and is currently affecting their lives and their view of the world, we wouldn't be able to understand how absolutely devastating rape is.
So what should you say then when someone is willing to be open about a traumatic experience? Honestly, I don't know. I can't speak for anyone except for myself. But I do have a suggestion: engage them in conversation. Don't make them feel even more isolated and even hero-ized for being a trauma survivor. If they are willing to bring it up in conversation, they are probably willing to have a conversation. You can still be gentle and you can still be compassionate, but don't make them feel like there is anything different about them just because someone hurt them because, that can hurt just as much.