The Pros and Cons of Telling Your Sexual Assault Survivor Story

Editor’s Note: Philanthropy Women is proud to announce Real Women, a new fiction series by author M. A. Sheehan, to help our audience immerse in fictional works that relate to women’s experiences. The first story in the series explores a fictional pros and cons list of a sexual assault survivor.

sexual assault
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Reasons Not to Share Being Sexually Assaulted: 

1. Never have to associate self with his name, his difficult identity, and be a target for his fans to ravage.

2. It almost always looks bad to reveal something negative about someone after they have died.

3. Most people will blame me, because it’s inevitably the woman’s fault. 

4. There is no way to un-tell a story that brings up your awkward past.

5. Most people will view me as attention-seeking.

6. I will be accused of lying and will have to deal with people treating me like I am lying for personal gain.

7. It’s unlikely the story will ever get to the people who need it most — young women who are in need of help in situations where they are at risk of being coerced by an influential professor or writer. My audience will probably not grow large enough to effect any real change or inform the people I most want to reach.

8. Writing it as fiction could add a whole new level of trauma. From a literary critique, people could dismiss it based on the quality of the writing, opening up another whole arena for being wounded and dismissed.

9. I already reported the incident anonymously to the National Women’s Law Center, which is probably the most effective way to share in order to aid prevention efforts. 

10. I am now more confident, relaxed, and emotionally secure than I’ve ever been in my life. Why would I risk ruining that?

Reasons to Share: 

1. The experience is a record of the history of how male literary figures sometimes (often?) treat a young, vulnerable woman.

2. The experience could help other women, particularly college women, avoid getting into situations where they feel coerced by a professor or someone else in order to get a recommendation.

3. It’s the truth, and isn’t it important to tell the truth of a life-altering experience?

4. It could help other victims of the same professor/famous writer, if there were other victims, come forward.

5. Writing the story, especially in an exploratory and somewhat radical form, could be inspiring and interesting. Many people may want to read it for the style-exploring aspect.

6. It may cause many people who knew this professor/famous writer to reconsider how he presented his identity to them, and how they did not recognize how harmful his behavior could be.

7. Colleges might seize upon the story in particular as one that can be used for educational purposes to raise the issue of vulnerability to sexual abuse or assault in college.

8. It could help people recognize the diversity of one woman’s identity, that I can be a therapist, a writer, a publisher, and a survivor of sexual misconduct.

9. Reporting it to the Women’s Law Center is probably not enough to create more protections and raise awareness, and that story in and of itself, of seeking help from the Women’s Law Center, is indicative of how much of a radio silence response this story still gets from the legal community.

10.  I am now more confident, relaxed, and emotionally secure than I’ve ever been in my life. There has never been a better time than now to do this.


Flash Women: Stories that Explore and Expose Women’s Lives

Surviving Sexual Assault to Become a Social Worker and Publisher

Sexual Assault Prevention Orgs and Funders: A New Updated List

Author: M. A. Sheehan

M.A. Sheehan is a fiction writer whose mission is to explore the complex roles that women play in society and to unearth new narratives about gendered experiences.

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