This column wasn’t supposed to read like this.
After writing a piece on why Aly Raisman was right to call out USA Gymnastics back in August for their lack of a response regarding their sexual abuse scandals, I was more than ready to defend Raisman again against her teammate, when Gabby Douglas criticized her for speaking out on those who blame victims of sexual assault on how they dress.
But then Douglas told the world that just like Raisman, and so many other women, girls, boys, men and other USA gymnast, that she too was a victim.
It was then that I realized I was also a part of the problem.
I was ready to attack a victim for condemning someone who had gone through the same thing they had.
When Gabby Douglas tweeted, “however it is our responsibility as women to dress modestly and be classy. dressing in a provocative/sexual way entices the wrong crowd,” it was a cry for help.
“It’s really common when there’s an oppressive situation that it’s too risky or some backlash to address the abuser or oppressor,” said Dr. Catherine Burnette, a professor within the School of Social Work at Tulane University, to the New York Daily News.
“So, the person who has suffered abuse may strike out at someone of equal or lower power. It’s called internalized oppression. And it’s something that people will do when they have been hurt or oppressed.”
In laymen’s terms, “hurt people, hurt people.”
When Gabby Douglas tweeted critically of Aly Raisman, it was really a cry for help.
“If someone is representing something that happened to you, it’s hard to deny that it happened to you,” Burnette says. “And maybe Douglas wasn’t ready or was unable to address her own trauma, and that was a way to kind of push that away for a little while.
“I’m sure these gymnasts didn’t realize that all of their peers had experienced this for generations.”
The conversation around sexual assault and abuse has dominated headlines for weeks. And as 2017 comes to an end, it may be remembered as the story of the year.
In entertainment, we’ve seen the fall of Harvey Weinstein and Russell Simmons. Matt Lauer was fired, and even Angela Lansbury has victim blamed women. Last week, the “Murder She Wrote” star said that women play a part in their own harassment.
“There are two sides to this coin,” she said. “We have to own up to the fact that women, since time immemorial, have gone out of their way to make themselves attractive. And unfortunately, it has backfired on us – and this is where we are today.
“We must sometimes take blame, women. I really do think that. Although it’s awful to say, we can’t make ourselves look as attractive as possible without being knocked down and raped.”
In politics, we’ve seen it with Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore. And we know that the President prefers to “grab women by the p—y.”
In sports, WNBA star Breanna Stewart recently opened up about being a victim as a child. And then Douglas and Raisman gave us a view of the different ways victims can be affected.
Aly Raisman has spoken out aganist Larry Nassar for abusing several young women of the USA Gymnastics team.
(John Salangsang/John Salangsang/Invision/AP)
“What’s happening now is interesting, because things are being exposed, and that’s really the silver lining to all of this,” Burnette said. “People aren’t getting away with it as much, or at least there is some awareness that this is so insidious.
“The not talking about it part is what left women so vulnerable to it. What we didn’t talk about just continued to happen.”
But how do we stop things like this from happening?
It starts by attacking how we, especially men, view women, and ridding ourselves of this culture in which silence occurs all too often.
“This is no two-sided coin. It’s one where the head is so far up the tail that we’ve subscribed to the age-old ‘boys will be boys’ tradition of teaching women to shoulder the responsibility for their safety,” wrote Jeneé Osterheldt of the Kansas City Star.
“It starts when you are a little girl and forced to sit with your legs shut as not to invite anyone in. Then come the forced hugs, where you’re taught your body isn’t yours and that anyone is entitled to your affection. And by the time you’re a grown-up, it seems your full-time job is to be devalued and shamed for every injustice against you so the patriarchy can patriarchy.”
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. On average, there are over 320,000 (age 12 or older) victims of rape and sexual assault every year in this country.
In this industry where SEO-friendly headlines are just as imperative as breaking news, it would be a shame for a subject matter this serious, complicated, and solemn to not be viewed as newsworthy a few weeks from now.
Larry Nassar has been accused by several Olympic gymnasts of sexual assault.
As more victims come out, and more abusers are exposed, the newsworthiness and interest around what’s happening right now in this country should increase.
Conversations should be had.
Muted voices should be listened to.
And lessons should be learned.
Gabby Douglas taught me that even something as simple as a tweet can be triggering because the visceral reactions of a victim can point to years of prolonged pain.
In this moment, society has a chance to take a step in the right direction. We can either continue to blame victims or choose to better ourselves by being slow to judge them.
I’m going to do the latter, and you should too.