From One Survivor to Another

October 14, 2011

Reasons why having a statute of limitations on sexual violence is bullshit

[trigger warning: rape, sexual abuse, child abuse, rape culture]

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can and does happen years and even decades after the fact. A person may be able to shrug it off and be a functional member of society, but then a life event can trigger PTSD. In my own case, getting into my first sexual relationship triggered PTSD symptoms (panic attacks, hyper-vigilance, nightmares, etc) for me five years after my abuse had stopped.
  • Despite popular belief, survivors of abuse can and do repress memories. Many people disassociate or repress entire blocks of time, or even specific details, from their minds. It can take years and years of personal struggle to finally recover these memories. The misconception that repressed memories are false largely stems from a series of papers which were written in the ’90s, and then reproduced in textbooks after. Since then, however, recovered memories have uncovered key details and led to convictions in many criminal cases. (For more details, as well as case studies, see here.)
  • Many survivors of sexual abuse, particularly child survivors, lack the language to even communicate their experience. In public schools which shame sex or try to avoid discussion of the topic as much as possible, there is little to no information widely disseminated about what sexual abuse and rape are, let alone consent, personal boundaries, or the specific names of body parts. Survivors of sexual violence must literally learn new language in order to properly describe their experience— a process which can take years. (I have written about my own experience with this here.)
  • Sexual abuse and rape are things that completely disrupt a person’s self-worth. These things send a very clear message that the person cannot control the world around them, or at least that their ability to do so is very limited. So why would they report it?
  • The perpetrators of sexual violence are often people that the survivor trusted— teachers, doctors, police officers, or others praised within the community. So why should they trust some of the same people? This also means that the survivor often has to not only fight the person who hurt them, but the entire community as a whole. 
  • Many survivors of sexual violence are economically or emotionally dependent upon their abusers. This includes married women without career prospects, children who cannot leave until they turn eighteen, and other people in abusive relationships. If reporting your abuser is the difference between being starving on the streets or having a home, then there isn’t much of a choice. 
  • Child survivors of abuse don’t know any better. Children have little to no frame of reference for sexual abuse. If it is all they have ever known, and they have learned to expect it, why would they report it?
  • Many police departments are not properly trained in sexual assault protocol, and some of them don’t even offer advocates (this happened in my own case— even as a minor). 
  • It is often the survivor who is put on trial, not the perpetrator. In a society in which women are blamed for what they wear, or children and men are completely disbelieved, the survivor is often scrutinized in every possible way by the prosecution. Their sex lives, personal relationships, and politics are all put under a microscope. 
  • Technology can and does change. Imagine being impregnated by and having your rapist’s child in the ’50s, only to be able to prove it was his in the ’70s with genetics. With a statute of limitations, this kind of new evidence could be completely ignored.
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    God, the second to last one. I remember reading the greatest analogy. When you press charges against someone for robbing...
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    What a neat list of all the reasons I never said anything, and why I still haven’t prosecuted.(In one case it’s already...
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    Reblogging this for importance. I wouldn’t want to prosecute my brother, but I know some people who have faced this...
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