I am shocked when I hear people telling sexual assault survivors to “just get over it.”
I don’t understand how someone can categorize sexual assault as a singular act; as though it is just the event that happened without any further reach. Because nothing that has to do with sex is a singular, inconsequential event. Our society, and frankly our biology, has made sure of that. When the sexual event is violent–and by violent I mean non-consensual, not just forceful–it is a violation of our bodily autonomy. That alone is bad enough, but for women it is much more complicated.
This world is so confused about how it feels about female sexuality. Female sexuality is at once a symbol of purity and rejuvenation, while also a source of sin, temptation, and destruction. Historically (and even today in some especially draconian parts of the world) women and girls have been killed for being raped, their value so diminished by the symbolic theft of their purity they are believed to no longer deserve to want to live. Even where these practices are no longer in place, we are still bound to that history. Sexual violation becomes a way of robbing women and girls not just of autonomy for a moment in time, but also of worth for her lifetime–at least that is the intended effect. This is why wartime rape is so prevalent; women’s bodies are more than just bodies. They are symbols.
As much as we try, our bodies can’t just be our own.
Beyond the psycho-social implications of male-female sexual violence, there is also the biological dangers that accompany rape–pregnancy, which has been politicized due to the abortion debate; disease, which takes months to detect, so that even rape victims who walk away biologically unscathed must go through a period of anxiety. Often there are other injuries that can take weeks or months to heal; especially rough attacks can lead to chronic pain. Even in instances where there is no physical injury whatsoever, however, the psychological pain persists.
Sexual assault has such a long legacy of torment and shame in our culture that I truly cannot understand how anyone with half a brain could ever tell someone to “just get over it.” But they do. It happens.