Why Survivors Often Play the Game of Silence

NBC recently aired a program called “The Game of Silence” in which 4 best friends who once served time in a juvenile detention center as a result of a well-intentioned but reckless caper are reunited by a traumatic occurrence. Now grown men with fully realized lives, one of them by chance encounters a tormentor from those days and snaps, nearly beating the man to death. What unfolds from there is a deeply layered and nuanced exploration of how we cope with trauma as individuals and in groups and how unhealed abuse can assert itself even after many years.

I was most struck by the fact that these men had not shared what happened to them while incarcerated even with their significant others. Shame is such a powerful motivator in the game of silence survivors of abuse play. Even and perhaps especially when you are victimized as a child the idea that you were somehow complicit in your own exploitation wreaks havoc on your sense of self.  If only I was smarter, braver, quicker, less trusting, more savvy, this would never have happened to me.

Recently a dear friend of so many years that I have lost count shared her story of sexual assault with me. I have gone through a lot with this person and she has been a source of endless encouragement and support, but I never knew about this horrible, frightening event in her life.  In her case, the predator used her open, friendly nature as a weapon against her, luring her away from the safety of her friends. Of course at the time she blamed herself for being so trusting and naïve.

Most women I know, myself included, have been the target of unwanted, aggressive sexual attention. Even when that attention does not culminate in an assault, it is threatening and scary. We all understand intellectually that there is never any justification for rape, but even in 2016 smart, sophisticated women can experience sexual assault as a personal failure.  I failed to see the signs, I failed to protect myself, I failed to be invulnerable.  If there was no assault, we tell ourselves we were overreacting.  If there is, we tell ourselves we underreacted or “should have known better”.

For these reasons and many others, we often keep our stories to ourselves. My mother recently told me that the young relative of a close family friend was date raped at her prep school. She had two articles about the incident and showed them to me in a deliberate order; the first one featured the predominant reason victims of date rape don’t report:  slut shaming.  It told a story of two teenagers both using bad judgment that culminated in an unnecessary trial ruining the boy’s life.

The second article painted a very different picture. The young man in question was in fact not a hapless kid who made a terrible mistake but instead a deliberate and sociopathic serial predator.  His e-mails revealed a person with no respect for women whatsoever; he was participating in a contest to see which senior could lure the most underclass students into having a sexual relations. The words he used to describe the girls he tricked into believing he was a credible suitor were vicious and sickening.

I was shocked that the first article failed to disclose this, instead depicting a courtship gone wrong.  A young girl with second thoughts after-the-fact.  Blaming the victim instead of the flagrant aggressor. I was very impressed by her willingness to come forward and “take the heat” of pressing charges.  Friendly e-mails she exchanged with her attacker now used as weapons against her. The scrutiny and judgment she was facing for not playing the game of silence like a good little girl. She stood up not only for herself, but for other the other girls this predator had “bagged” in his attempt to win a craven, amoral contest.

My mother was very understandably upset by the whole ordeal and bemoaned the fact that such a young girl’s life had been “ruined.” When I reassured Mom that this would not be the case and that her strength proved she would be a survivor, my mother’s response was that I didn’t know because I had never been raped.  I knew in that moment I had to tell her the truth.

He seemed like the quintessential gentleman. Older and wiser than me; well-educated, well-raised and well-mannered.  He was polite and funny and I enjoyed his company, so we dated for a few months.  One night we were out late at a party and he said I should stay at his place because he didn’t want me riding the subway alone at that hour. I told him on the street I wasn’t ready to have sex with him and I didn’t have protection.  He said he completely understood and would respect that.

I told him “no” two more times that night; once before it happened and once while it was happening. I have no memory of when or how I left his place. I do remember that I processed it as my fault.  I shouldn’t have gone up to his apartment, I shouldn’t have been kissing him, I shouldn’t have trusted him. I never told my mother what had happened because I didn’t see the point. I wanted to protect her from feeling bad about something she couldn’t do anything about.

I played the game of silence because I believed sharing my pain was selfish. I also believed that others would share my view that I was at fault. I thought the fact that he stopped when I physically pushed him off of me was proof that it wasn’t assault, just a misunderstanding. I told myself I was lucky because other women have experienced so much worse.

It took me years to accept that his behavior was predatory, selfish and undermining. It took me years to understand that what happened caused me to push a lot of nice men away, often in a rude and defensive manner. It took me years to accept the fact that I am a survivor.

When my friend shared her sexual assault story with me, of course I experienced pain in knowing that she had been so badly abused.  But I also experienced a deep compassion for her, for myself, for all women who have these kinds of experiences and walk on in the world with strength and dignity.  We are all survivors of something and sharing our traumas is akin to grace…we move on because we have to, but we are ever mindful of each other’s pain.  If you have an unspoken hurt, don’t play the game of silence.  Open that wound to the air and let it fully heal in the sunlight of acceptance.

Kara is a writer, blogger and mom.  Find her at Your New Best Friend, The Huffington Post and Twitter.

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I am Editor-in-Chief at OTV Magazine. Find me also at "Your New Best Friend" (http://karapostkennedy.blogspot.com/), The Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kara-postkennedy/),The Good Men Project (https://goodmenproject.com/author/kara-post-kennedy/) and Twitter (@kpk_newbf)

27 thoughts on “Why Survivors Often Play the Game of Silence

  1. Oh, my dear, you are not alone in this. My comment to myself was I knew better than to put myself in that position. I was only 17, but I knew better. At 17 you want to believe the world is a beautiful fair place. At 17, you don’t think of yourself as a child. I knew better, but trusted an older man who was a friend. He was a public school teacher. A professional musician. So my dream became a nightmare and no one else understood, because my little brother was going through a much worse sexual predation situation. So, silence worked for me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have come to realize silence may be the most common response of all. More and more women are finding our voices, though. This tide can turn.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Is it the fault of the victims that they keep silent because of slut shaming or is it the fault of the type of evil degenerates behind rape and other forms of bullying?

    I think the answer is complicated and has to do with the type of people attracted to powerful jobs.

    According to Forbes and cbc.ca, the top ten jobs with the highest rates of psychopathy are:

    1. CEO
    2. lawyer
    3. media (TV/Radio)
    4. salesperson
    5. surgeon
    6. journalist
    7 police officer
    8. clergy person (Remember the scandal about Catholic priests sexually molesting boys)
    9. chef
    10 civil servant (appointed judges)

    Six of these 10 professions are in positions of power to create the atmosphere that causes slut shaming that silences their victims.

    How many victims have the courage and will to confront and stand up to such frightful power?

    And it is no surprise the psychopaths are so good at luring their victims into a trap knowing they are safe because of the environment of slut shaming created by their psycho peers in those other six professions. To be clear, this wasn’t caused by a conspiracy.

    Have you ever read the description of a psychopath — if you have, then you will know how powerful, attractive, charismatic, trusting and magnetic these monsters come across? I’m thinking of Donald Trump as an example as I write this comment.

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wicked-deeds/201401/how-tell-sociopath-psychopath

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your post is beautifully written. I especially liked the description of grief/trauma and how as victims we fall into that bargaining place of “If only I hadn’t trusted him when he said I could sleep on his couch…or if only I had not gone to dinner with that group of friends.” We do this to ourselves, but the truth is we were innocent. We did not commit the crime of rape, and this crime deserves a prison sentence.

    I was raped in a foreign country, and my Korean friend suggested that I not bother reporting the rape. I wish I had anyway, just to have evidence of how I might’ve been treated by their justice system. It would’ve been one more piece of evidence to hold onto as I continue to write about the moment. Supposedly, the police force does little to protect foreigners because we are not “modest” and “drink in public.”

    I, too, only recently told my story. I think the Brock Turner case triggered a lot of us. Here is my recent post if you are interested. I deeply appreciate yours. Thank you for sharing your story. https://triciabarkernde.com/2016/06/11/recovery-from-rape-a-spiritual-in-response-to-the-sentence-for-brock-turner/

    Liked by 2 people

    1. what is interesting is that I wrote this before the Brock Turner case happened, but that actually helped me reaffirm that speaking out is so important. thank you for sharing your story.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. So many do not feel that they can share what happened to them. May they find the right moment to tell someone who tries to understand and help them through it. I have found more support from other bloggers since I began blogging about completely different things and more peace of mind than in years of holding it all in and only speaking with family and closest friends about it. Thank you for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you so much, Kara. I love that you began with the stories of young men. The number of women who have been violated adds up as women tell their stories and as abuse continues. I was never raped and I’m damned lucky because I put myself at risk a few times. I’m grateful to my mother who was clear with me about sexual responsibility, rape, and self-protection when I was in high school–at a time in the early 1960s when my friend’s mothers remained silent.

    This line from your piece moves me deeply: “We are all survivors of something and sharing our traumas is akin to grace…” There is so much within the Feminine (and by this, I also mean within the inner feminine of men) that is despised and culturally unacceptable. I speak openly about loss, grief, and the Underworld. Ridiculous as it is, there is much shame associated with grieving for someone we loved most of our lives. We’re supposed to get over it and move on. Fast. It’s important to share what we know about trauma, loss, and vulnerability with those who don’t know and haven’t been told. It has to be said again and again. Thanks again for doing that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel like the American culture in particular has no real template for grieving or supporting the bereaved. That is why the work you do is so very important.

      Like

      1. There are so many experiences that leave us with grief and loss–sexual assault, robbery, death of someone we love, betrayal of any kind, loss of health. We’re lousy at supporting all of them. In this culture, it’s our fault if we aren’t number one. And if we grieve or are in pain? Too bad. Get over it and pretend we’re doing just fine. Thanks again.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely and thank you. I think those of us who were raised before the era of #nomeansno had a lot of confusing sexual messages thrown at us and many of us are just now realizing the truth of our stories.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow Kara – this is an amazing piece. I have to say, my heart absolutely sank when you shared what had happened to you (you’re such a clever writer, I didn’t see it coming) and I was so shocked, because such things are so shocking. Then I thought about it, and thought about how many women friends over the years have shared similar experiences with me, and I thought it was so shocking that this isn’t as shocking as it should be.

    We have to find out more about what is going on in these men’s heads. These men aren’t the desperate loner type image we have of a rapist. There’s every reason to believe that guy went on to get married, have kids. Where does he put that memory? Does he look at a daughter now and see it differently?

    When perpetrators of lots of different types of violent crime are questioned about their actions, they often say, “I don’t know why I did it,”: I think there’s good reason to believe them. Survivors reflect, and learn; perpetrators, and their actions, remain a mystery to them – there is no reflection (hence no empathy, hence such actions in the first place).

    Such a powerful piece. Thank you for breaking your silence. A lot to learn from it, and hopefully much encouragement for others to do the same.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Matthew. I do think for those of us who came of age in the 80’s there were a lot of confusing and confused messages about sex and we were definitely not–not girls OR boys–taught that “no means no”. In fact, a lot of popular culture implied that “no means maybe”, especially with a little persuasion. As a result, I swept this experience under the carpet for many years without understanding how it had impacted me. Even after I was able to acknowledge to myself the truth of what had happened, I couldn’t share it. But the universe conspired, as it so often does, for me to share this now. I appreciate (as always) your thoughtful response and your support.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh, how I know this pain, far too well. Being a kid, wondering why wasn’t I smarter, why didn’t I DO something. And now seeing The Monster around my kids, but him, he’s so wonderful, says the family, isn’t he great? And therapy has helped, but I know I’m not strong enough to face him yet. But his place in my family’s life gives me resolve. My kids won’t know my nightmares. Never.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. that is something a lot of us experience–having to be around the person afterwards and pretend you are okay (and much harder, that you think THEY are okay). I am sorry for your pain and this continuing reminder of it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. thank you, and you’re right–he figures that because it was a long time ago. It shouldn’t matter. But considering I now have three children, one of them a daughter, it does matter. Oh Fuck, does it matter.

        Liked by 1 person

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