The Sexist

Sexist Comments of the Week: The Sexual Assault Trauma “Myth” Edition

Last week on the Sexist, we debuted our final groping instalment (yes, haters, it is really over). In the final column, Falls Church resident Emily Ruskowski is groped in a Metro parking garage, reports the assault the next day, and eventually helps to catch her assailant in a sting operation.

One reader complained that the story perpetuated a dangerous "myth" surrounding sexual violence: "that even moderate sexual violence is so traumatizing that the appropriate response is not to contact law enforcement immediately."

Sexual assault trauma: Fact or fiction? Discussed in this edition of Sexist comments of the week:

Rando writes in to de-bunk the myth:

Protip: When you are assaulted, sexually or otherwise, but physically unharmed, and you’re sitting in a locked car in a public space and the perp is walking away and making no threatening motions, and you have a cell phone, a good description of the perp, and his phone number, CALL 911. This persistent myth that even moderate sexual violence is so traumatizing that the appropriate response is not to contact law enforcement immediately does unbelievable harm to future victims of sexual violence. I’m sure I’ll be accused of blaming the victim here, but come on folks, we all need to remind each other that when bad things happen, CALL THE COPS IMMEDIATELY SO THEY CAN CATCH THE SCUMBAGS.

latecomer suggests that perhaps the lack of an immediate response to an assault is not a result of a "persistent myth" of trauma, but rather actual trauma:

@Rando When someone’s traumatized and processing what has happened to them they’re not necessarily able to act so immediately. It sounds like Emily did a great job considering what she went through. That was some pretty aggressive stalking there…

Not so fast: actual evidence of a person being traumatized by a sexual assault does not deter Rando from arguing that that person's real life experience has created a "myth":

Latecomer, that’s my point—stories like this reinforce the idea that even moderate assaults like this are so traumatizing that calling the cops just isn’t an option. We need to get past that myth that women are so emotionally fragile that we can’t handle making a 911 call and instead need to call a friend or family member for an hour or more of psychological stabilization before pressing 3 keys on our phones and telling the operator where we are and what the perp looks like.

To be clear, I’m not coming down on the writer personally here, more on CP for putting this story out there as model behavior with a happy ending.

L respectfully disagrees:

Oh, for fuck’s sake, Rando.

1) Clearly, this is not a myth. Clearly. The woman in the article was too traumatized to report right away. This may not be the case for every woman who experiences sexual violence. But being traumatized by sexual assault? That’s totally and completely normal. You’re an asshole for shaming women who feel traumatized after experiencing something traumatic.

2) Reporting or not reporting sexual assault does not cause sexual assault. The person committing sexual assault causes sexual assault. Don’t blame victims for things that really, REALLY aren’t their fault or within their control.

3) Calling the cops WAS an option in this story, because SHE DID CALL THE COPS. Therefore, this post is not promoting any sort of narrative that women are too “emotionally fragile” or whatever to call the police. Did you, by the way, notice how long it took her to get in touch with someone who would actually follow up on her report? The hour she spoke to her friend before calling 911 is nothing in comparison to how long it took her to get someone to pay attention. If there’s blame to be laid anywhere, it’s on the transit cops for not answering her phone calls.

To sum it up, stop being a mansplaining, victim-blaming dick, Rando.

Emily H. is concerned with Rando's myth that calling the cops immediately will resolve a groping case:

Rando — I hear where you’re coming from, and I agree telling women it’s somehow more appropriate or “normal” to be too freaked out to call the cops is a bad message. But one woman’s story doesn’t send that message, because it *is* just one woman’s story. It’s what really happened, not what society as a whole had decided should happen, and I’d much rather hear the truth.

Also: I was once attacked by a crazy guy while out jogging, and I called 911 as soon as I got away from him. The dude ran to his car and drove away. The cops showed up 20 minutes later (!), and the criminal was long gone. People don’t necessarily expect a quick or useful response from the police, because often they don’t get one.

An ally drops in to provide Rando's Defense:

Couple of points here in defense of Rando:

1. One person’s story = one person’s story. An article put out in the public space without comment = how myths get perpetuated.

2. 911 responses may be fast and efficient, or they may not be. That is no reason not to call the cops.

Miike snow is unsure exactly how this "myth" would be perpetuated in practice:

Rando, it seems like you just made up an imaginary problem. Nobody in these stories thinks of calling the police but then says, “Oh wait, I’m supposed to be traumatized.” They are just actually traumatized.

And none of these stories are saying your “supposed” to be traumatized. So, I don’t know where you’re getting this “myth” from, but I suspect you actually just have an agenda.

Illustration by Brooke Hatfield.

  • Laura

    Most sexual assault victims I know were too overwhelmed by shame and fear to immediately call the cops. They were more focused on getting through it than thinking about the long term. I think it's important to remind women to call 911 as soon as they can, but it's wrong to criticize the way someone deals with extreme emotional trauma. No one knows how they would act in a situation like that until it happens to them. But yes, please call the cops as soon as you can because they are much more likely to take it seriously if you report it the same day.

  • recursiveparadox

    Some assault victims go into denial too and it's a little rough to call the cops when you refuse to believe what just happened to you.

    Just a bit.

  • Shinobi

    After any seriously traumatic event my first action is always to evaluate what emotion or reaction would be considered socially appropriate by the majority of society.


  • EmilyRuskowski

    Actually, my first thought was getting as far away from the metro station as possible, as my assailant was still on foot in the area. Also, I did call the cops when I got home, but there was an issue of jurisdiction and I wasn't able to speak to Metro Police until the following day. Judge me and my actions all you want, but I got away safely and he was caught.

  • Typical DC BS

    My sister was sexually assaulted and beaten by her boss after she attempted to discontinue having an affair with him. It took her over a week to recover mentally before she was able to confide in someone about what happened and then contacted the police. The police were very professional and did their job. The district attorney in Prince George's County at that time (the POS Jack Johnson, current County Executive) decided that it was a "he said / she said" type of situation and decided not to prosecute.

    If you have not been thru the degradation of a sexual assault, you have no idea what mental turmoil it creates in the victim.