As a mental health professional, I believe deeply in the capacity for change. I also believe that part of the ethical responsibility of my field is to work for change individually and collectively for social justice. Part of the job of a therapist is to help people find their voice and feel empowered. Part of my job is also to be an advocate when people are not in a place yet where they can do that for themselves. I want to publicly talk about the current election and the recordings of Trump’s comments and how they impact women who have suffered sexual assault. I want to speak to this as a trauma therapist, as a woman, and as a survivor of rape and assault.
First of all, the CDC says 1 in 5 women in the US have reported rape. Estimates are that over 60% do not report. Countless others have experienced some kind of sexual assault ranging from verbal assault, exposure, groping, or non-penetrating forced coercion. This is an epidemic. This means that you have known and/or loved someone who has experienced this, whether you are aware of it or not. Sadly, most likely you have also known a person who has assaulted someone, as only 13.8% of assaults are committed by strangers; the vast majority are committed by partners, family members, or friends. Trump’s comments that were captured on video, and his later dismissal of the comments as “locker room talk ,” highlight the rape culture that perpetuates an environment that makes assault so prevalent. In the past week, so many girls and women have come into my office triggered, angry, sad, hopeless and exasperated by hearing sound bites of his comments on the news. It is not just that Trump said it—this is not a partisan thing. It is that so many people are accepting of the fact that a person in power said it .
The issue is that every one of these girls and women coming into my office has firsthand experience with this kind of sexual assault . It brings up their personal stories of violence. To dismiss it as “locker room talk” or “boys being boys,” or to say that people are too sensitive if they are offended, is part of the victim-blaming cycle that makes assault so common. When women speak out, we are often invalidated, dismissed, judged , or shamed in these ways. Most of us are tired of having to explain the harm in language and behavior like this. Most of us are tired of having to stand up and fight, especially when things don’t change. We are tired of being labeled aggressive, bitchy, dramatic, or a whistleblower for simply standing up for ourselves. We are tired of having to justify our pain.
While the numbers reflect that this issue is most prevalent with women, it also impacts men who have suffered assault , and there are many of them out there. Often when we discuss rape and rape culture, we leave male victims out of the equation, and they also need a voice. These dynamics are the breeding ground for their pain, too, and they also need to be heard.
In my office, I often discuss needs with people. Being able to identify and ask for what we need is a hallmark of creating healthy relationships with ourselves and others. So I am going to speak out for myself and for the women and girls I have worked with (at this point, thousands of them ) who have suffered assault. This is what we need:
We need to be heard and believed.
We need to be understood.
We need people to check in with us right now while this is on the news. We need to be witnessed and validated and asked if we need anything.
We need men with integrity and respect to stand up against this kind of behavior and talk.
We need the legal system to move in the direction of more trauma-informed practices and victims’ rights.
We need a clear message in our society, both institutionalized and cultural, that says this must stop.
We need people to vote, and not just in the big races… We need voters in local elections to put people in power who have social justice and equality in mind.
We need to band together and say NO as one to send the message: “You are not alone, and we are stronger together.”
We need ACTION NOW.
While I have shared many times that I am a survivor of assault and rape, this is the most public I have personally gone with it. It feels vulnerable, it feels a little scary, and it also feels empowering. If there is a silver lining to this election and these horrible comments made by Trump, it is that these issues are being brought to light. I sincerely believe it is an opportunity to band together and create more safety, peace, and equality for women.