On Silencing Survivors with "Get Over It"

[Content Note: Rape culture; bullying.]

"Get over it."

That's what survivors of sexual assault who do anti-rape advocacy are routinely told. Over the past few weeks, I have been told to get over it, and I have seen other women who identify as survivors told to get over it.

Sometimes, we are offered this variation: "Get over yourself."

The clear implication is that our pain is not special—and no one knows better that our pain is not special than a survivor of sexual assault who does work with other survivors. The fact that our pain is heartbreakingly common is why most of us do the work that we do.

The other clear implication is that we don't matter. We know this, too. We know we don't matter to rape apologists and privileged power brokers and defenders of the status quo. But we matter to one another. One objective of speaking out is certainly to educate and change minds, but perhaps its most valuable achievement is validating each other's experiences; communicating to each other that we are not alone.

Particularly when someone who is doing anti-rape advocacy discloses being a survivor, "Get over it" also serves to imply that our objections are inextricably linked to having been raped ourselves, and thus we are 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 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.

"Get over it" means shut the fuck up, already.

"Get over it" means stop publicly reacting to sex abuse and rape culture. Don't acknowledge it. Don't process your feelings about it. Don't say out loud, definitely not out loud, that it's wrong. That makes people uncomfortable.

Better that I alone, that any survivor alone, should be uncomfortable instead.

Of course, that discomfort is naturally my fault. For my persistent refusal to "get over it."

Embedded in the admonishment to "get over it" is the implication—an accusation—that there's something wrong with me if I fail to "get over it." That this is something I should be able to do.

It is a thing said, an accusation made, by people who do not understand what they are suggesting.

Ignore all of the psychological and physical trauma of surviving rape, including the post-traumatic stress disorder with which I have lived now for far longer than I was allowed to live without it—a mental health issue that I can manage, but can not "get over."

Ignore that I never saw anything resembling justice.

Ignore that it caused deep faults in relationships with people who are important to me.

Ignore the rape threats I get. The people who tell me no one wants to rape me because I'm so ugly. The people who tell me who I should be raped because I am so ugly.

Ignore everything that is evocative of rape: The other survivors I know and love, who sometimes need to talk about what they survived; journalists who contact me to talk about rape; rape plots in movies and TV shows I watch, often that I'm entirely not expecting; rape jokes just fucking everywhere; rape casually used to mean beating someone at a video game or being charged an exorbitant ATM fee; the news; the warm regard for celebrity rapists; advertisements that use rape-related imagery; viral videos of pranks the alleged humor of which centers on sexualized breaches of consent; all the narratives, the imagery, the idioms, the punchlines, and every other piece of detritus that facilitates the rape culture; the store where he worked; the musician on the t-shirt he was wearing; the smell of gin; the music that was playing when it happened.

Ignore all of these things, and all of the things I haven't put into words.

Tell me, I say to the person urging me to just "get over it." What would it take for you to "get over" something of which you stand to be reminded virtually every moment of your every day?

I don't think about any one moment of my past, not even the worst ones, all the time. There are long stretches were I don't consciously think about this thing that was done to me at all.

I think that's true for lots of survivors. It's always there, but it's not always present.

My point is not that every single reference to rape is triggering for me, either significantly or even mildly. My point is that being a survivor who moves through the world without encountering some aspect of the rape culture is truly impossible. There are potential triggers everywhere. That reality can make "getting over it" difficult.

If people uttering these foolish words were actually interested in survivors' ability to heal, they would understand this. They would be just as passionate about challenging the rape culture as we are. To reduce triggers for survivors; to meaningfully address a culture that abets rapists in creating more survivors.

But they aren't interested in that. Because "get over it" just means "shut the fuck up."

No. I will not.

And if you are a person reading this, and already prepping your derisive snort about how people so sensitive even exist in the world, I will tell you this: The truth is, for some survivors, existing in this world is actually very difficult.

If you are someone who has survived abuse, or neglect, or poverty, or illness, or systemic oppression, or any one or more of the number of things that can leave someone with lingering consequences of trauma, but you've managed to survive without any triggers, or you've managed to find the resources and support and safety and space you needed to move beyond them, then good for you. You are very lucky.

I am very lucky. I am still occasionally triggered, but nothing like I was 20 years ago, when I was felt like a raw nerve walking through the world every day. Part of that was my determination to process what had happened to me, and part of it was the hard work of doing that processing, and part of it was the sheer stupid luck of having the resources and support and safety and space I have needed, which sometimes just meant having a friend in the right place at the right time.

What if I'd not had this friend or that friend in the right place at the right time? During a rough month, or a single terrible afternoon? I dunno.

All I know is that if nothing ever happened to you that was bad enough to leave you traumatized, lucky you. And if something bad happened but you have survived it and/or processed it trigger-free, lucky you. And anyone who didn't isn't weak or damaged or oversensitive or too goddamn fragile for the world. They're unlucky.

If you understand why telling people without boots to pull up their bootstraps is indecent garbage, then it shouldn't be too difficult for you to understand why sneering at someone with triggers "I got over it" is indecent garbage, too.

I will never get over that sexual abuse is something that happens to anyone, anywhere, ever. That includes my own past.

You are free to not give a shit about what happened to me, but don't ask me to agree.

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