Op Ed

Why We Stay Silent

Every one of us has one. A reason we don’t talk about what happened to us. That perfectly phrased question that could shatter our reconstructed lives.“Why do you still dress that way?”

“But he never hit you, right?”

“What were you wearing that night?”

“But didn’t he leave you?”

“Why didn’t you just leave the bar?”

“Why did you go home with him?”

“Why didn’t you fight back?”

The mere prospect of these questions force us into silence. Survivors of sexual violence are bombarded with societal messages telling us that if we had watched our drinks, dressed like a member of a polygamist cult, picked “good” friends, and never kissed a guy we didn’t want to fuck, none of this would have happened.

The world tells us that we can control our fate. We cling to almost entirely meaningless rituals that ought to protect us. Much like the obsessive-compulsive going through fetishized steps to keep her plane in the air, we hope that learning how to fend off a stranger will protect us from a far more likely attack by a friend or acquaintance.

I am a survivor. When I was 19, I was assaulted at a house party by a co-worker. I wasn’t drunk, I told him to stop, and I thought he was a friend whom I could trust. It was as clear-cut a case of sexual assault as they come.


Life doesn’t happen the way it should.

“He’s my friend and I don’t want him to get fired.”

“He was really horny, don’t take it personally.”

“He’s a good guy.”

“I’ll support you if you decide that it was harassment.”

“He probably doesn’t even remember it happening.”

I remember it happening. I’ll always remember it happening. I’ll always remember his hands and the smell of his breath. I always remember what he said to me. “You can’t have your tits out like that and expect me not to do anything.”

I love my body and I love my breasts and I love that they’re mine. And I wear whatever the fuck I want to wear. Some horrible little man can’t shame me away from deep-Vs and tank tops. I will never throw away the shirt I was wearing that night because I won’t let him continue to control my life. But I still have that moment of fear when I come out as a survivor and see eyes flicker to my décolletage.

Maybe you think it was my fault. Maybe you think that I should have worn a turtleneck and not have gone to this party with my friends and co-workers. Maybe you think that since I wasn’t raped, I have no right to claim membership to the survivor’s “club.” Maybe you think I was trying to save face after a regrettable hookup. Maybe you think I made it all up for attention.

You are wrong.

It’s his fault and it will only ever be his fault.

It is hard to understand the universality of sexual violence. One in six women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. One in six. If there are six women in your history class, at least one has been or will be stripped of her control over her own body. Count to six. And then start again.

When the pledge class of Delta Kappa Epsilon at Yale University marched around Old Campus chanting “No means yes, yes means anal!” they are telling all of the freshmen women at that university (one in four of whom will be sexually assaulted by the time she graduates) that her right to consent is nothing more than a joke. For the women lying in their beds that night, many could only hear the reverberation of the reason she stayed silent.

“It was only a stunt for attention.”

“It’s not like any of them are going to go out and rape someone because of it.”

“I know the guys, they didn’t mean any harm.”

“They just want to get you riled up.”

In the two minutes it has taken you to read this article, another woman– be she 10, 20, 40, or 80– has been assaulted or raped. 248,300 women are assaulted every year, averaging out to one every 120 seconds. In the two minutes you were waiting in line at Starbucks, a woman somewhere in the United States has tried to will herself out of this nightmare. Every two minutes, every day, every year.

You know a survivor. What questions did you ask?

Statistics via RAINN

Image by Nigsby



National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

By Lizy Yagoda

A young writer living in Brooklyn, she likes to make food, eat food, and think about food.

Follow @ElizabethYagoda

One reply on “Why We Stay Silent”

Thank you for sharing this. I’m glad that you’re a survivor and haven’t listened to any of the vile crap people spew about women “asking for it;” that’s incredibly brave in light of the assumptions people find it so easy to make.

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