On "Getting Over It"

[Content Note: Rape culture; bullying.]

Get over it.

That's what survivors who object to rape jokes are routinely told. Over the past few days, I have been told to get over it, and I have seen other women who identify as survivors told to get over it.

Ostensibly, we are being told to get over the rape joke, but because the implication is always, irrespective of its accuracy, that our objections are inextricably linked to having been raped ourselves, we are ultimately being told to get over being raped.

I don't think anyone ever "gets over" being raped. The best we humans do with any traumatic event is find a way to process our feelings about it, and integrate into our lives moving forward whatever changes with which trauma leaves us.

Getting over it, in the way it is used by rape joke defenders, rape apologists, and silencing bullies of various stripes, is really an exhortation to pretend it never happened. To stop having and expressing feelings about rape. Which is about other people's comfort, not about a survivor's needs.

Although I am rarely, if ever, triggered by rape jokes anymore, I am, by their definition, not "over it," because I continue to talk about surviving rape and contribute what very little I can to dismantling the rape culture. To "get over it" means to shut the fuck up already.

But supposing, for a moment, that such a thing as "getting over it" exists, that returning to a pre-rape state of blissful nonconcern about rape culture (which presupposes no one cares about rape culture unless and until they are raped—another fallacy) were possible, I'd like to quickly note a few things that might serve as impediments on such a journey.

1. A lack of justice. Most people who are sexually assaulted never see their attackers charged, no less convicted. Reporting rates are low, and convictions even lower. It is hard to "get over it" when you have no closure, when the person who raped you is still free. Bumping into your rapist at the grocery store, or being obliged to work beside hir, or seeing hir at a family reunion, or hearing zie's raped again, maybe even someone you know—these are things that might make "getting over it" difficult.

2. Being disbelieved. Cops, social workers, family members, friends, colleagues may or may not believe a survivor. Some might fail to do their jobs; some might be indifferent and merely fail to be supportive; some may be actively hostile. Because most survivors are raped by people they know, reporting rapes to intimates can force people to choose sides. Having your kin, social, and/or professional networks meaningfully altered by your sexual assault can make "getting over it" difficult.

3. Secondary trauma. Being silenced and dissuaded from talking about your rape, or being obliged to pretend like nothing happened, can create a secondary trauma—a wound that won't close because it cannot heal. Being surrounded by people who actively discourage healthy processing can make "getting over it" literally impossible.

4. Anxiety disorders. Many survivors of sexual violence are left with anxiety disorders, on a spectrum from low-level anxiety in certain situations to full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder. Being physically triggered as a result of a psychological disability left as the shittiest gift ever by a fucking rapist can make "getting over it" difficult.

5. Disrespect of boundaries. Of those survivors who are left with serious anxiety disorders, many of us must hold firm boundaries around consent and emotional honesty in order to feel safe. Those of us with the sorts of families who fail to support us in the wake of an assault are exponentially more likely to also have boundary-breaching issues with our families. Constantly battling to hold firm boundaries can make "getting over it" difficult.

6. Rape threats. That rape threats, or rape wishes ("I hope you get raped"), are the go-to response in reaction to criticism of rape culture, constantly piquing thoughts of having been raped and/or fears of getting raped again, can make "getting over it" difficult.

7. Rape jokes. Rape jokes that diminish and normalize rape, that trigger survivors and empower rapists, are both ubiquitous and the least likely of any rape-related content to carry a warning or context that heralds its arrival. To be regularly caught off guard by humorous quips that evoke a personal trauma can make "getting over it" difficult.

8. Rape culture. All the jokes, the narratives, the imagery, the idioms, the hostility to consent, the denial of justice, and every other piece of detritus that facilitates the rape culture are unavoidable. It's easy to say "stay out of comedy clubs" or "don't read blog comments" or whatever (as if it is incumbent upon survivors to isolate, rather than for the world to be more accommodating of decency), but moving through the world without encountering some aspect of the rape culture is truly impossible. That reality can make "getting over it" difficult.

9. Rapists. We know the statistics. We know that rapists do not announce themselves. We know that the only way to avoid being raped is to never be in the presence of a rapist, which is something virtually impossible to control at all times. That lack of control can make "getting over it" difficult.

10. Rape. Many of us have been victimized by sexual violence more than once. Repeated assaults can make "getting over it" difficult. As one might imagine.

That is not a comprehensive list.

It's not like I was raped, and it was an isolated event with a neat ending, and that was that. I was stalked. My best friend was attacked. I was left with scars and with PTSD. The enforced denial in my family resulted in profound fractures.

My experience is not terribly unique. Rape reverberates.

"Get over it" elides a reality that sexual violence is usually not a contained incident, but a starting point on a divergent path along which lie pebbles, stones, emotional landmines that one otherwise might not have encountered.

Rape did not turn me into a survivor's advocate; I was a survivor long before I was an advocate. But even if it had, I don't know why on earth I would want to "get over" that. I am not keen to abandon my position that rape is vile, nor silence my voice from speaking that truth.

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