Madonna was recently on "The Howard Stern Show" to promote her new album, Rebel Heart. During the interview, she discussed being raped in the 1970's in New York City. When asked if she reported it, she said "It's just not worth it. Its too much humiliation."
Madonna's experience echoes that of so many victims of rape and child sexual abuse who typically feel that if the experience was made public, they would face unbearable stigma and shame. In fact, this thinking is part of a normal response to trauma and victimization. It is such a shock that people typically blame themselves for the crime and/or convince themselves that no one will believe them and that life will be harder for them if they come forward.
The psychological reality is entirely the opposite. When victims hold the secret of their rape, they are not given the opportunity to put blame where it rightfully belongs. The shame and self-blame can grow exponentially.
Sadly, blaming the victim still occurs. On many college campuses, college women are not made to feel comfortable in reporting sexual assault and safe that their crime will be handled privately and thoroughly. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) 68% of sexual assaults are not reported to police and 98% of rapists never spend a day in jail. Women do not feel they can trust that they will be believed and that something will be done to stop the perpetrator. Many feel that they will be made to look like they are to blame for the incident.
For many sexual assault victims, however, not reporting the crime means the assault becomes a toxic secret. The blame is turned inward and becomes something "bad" about themselves. When this occurs, the trauma can play out over the course of their lives in various ways -- never believing in themselves, dysfunctional or even abusive relationship patterns, or drug and alcohol problems.
The over 25 women who have now come forward accusing Bill Cosby of sexual assault and rape are powerful examples of what reporting can do. Many of these women had difficulty trusting their experience and intuition that their experience with Cosby was a legitimate sexual assault. It was only after they heard their same experience recounted by other women that they were able to fully trust and validate to themselves that they had, in fact, been violated. Some of Cosby's accusers have said that coming forward is the first true peace they have experienced since the attack. Feeling less alone and that others believe them are deeply healing antidotes to self-doubt and self-attack.
Reporting the crime is a way to stop future sexual assaults, and even more importantly, begins the process of healing for many victims.
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