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OPINION: Every time a sexual assault case like this hits the news, people ask why the woman didn’t come forward sooner, but they never look at the responses the women who do come forward receive.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
I want to start this off by providing a content trigger warning: This column discusses sexual violence, sexual assault, sexual abuse and everything that goes along with those things. If these topics are triggering for you or otherwise make you uncomfortable, I recommend you do not read it.
I was in the middle of writing this piece when news broke of a fourth lawsuit being filed against Sean “Diddy” Combs; this one, which also alleges sexual assault, accuses one of the most powerful men in hip-hop of sex trafficking and gang-raping a 17-year-old girl in 2003.
The plaintiff, who is remaining anonymous at this time, says that Combs and his associates plied her with drugs and alcohol before sexually assaulting her.
She included photos of herself in Diddy’s studio and with Diddy himself, which she says were taken the day she was assaulted.
People are still going to a) accuse her of being on a money grab and b) ask why she waited all these years to say something.
Never mind that Sean “Puffy” “Puff Daddy” “P Diddy” “Diddy” Combs is one of the most powerful men in hip-hop.
Never mind that she was a 17-year-old girl who was likely scared, afraid, and possibly ashamed in the aftermath of what happened.
People never extend even the tiniest bit of grace to victims who, for whatever reason, don’t immediately go running into the middle of the street to yell and scream about what just happened to them.
There’s an entire ongoing list of all the reasons Jane Doe didn’t say anything publicly.
There is an ongoing list of reasons why some victims of sexual assault never come forward with their stories.
Sometimes you aren’t even sure it was sexual assault because you don’t have a full understanding of what exactly constitutes sexual assault.
I was once so drunk at a party, I decided to lie down on my friend’s couch and wait until the spins stopped. I was on the verge of either throwing up or passing out, or possibly both, and I just needed a minute.
A guy I knew came and sat next to me on the couch. He was cool, so it never occurred to me that what happened next would happen.
It started with him just randomly touching me. Through my drunken haze, I looked at him, called him by name and told him to stop. He did for a moment, but then he upped the ante and put his hands under my shirt, grabbing my breasts.
I again asked him to stop, and he did, for a few minutes, but then he stuck his hand in the waistband of my pants, and despite me repeatedly asking him to stop, he reached down in my underwear and fingered me to climax.
And because of the way my body responded naturally to the stimulation, I thought that somehow negated the assault.
No means no, but did my body say yes?
And that’s only one of the times I never reported it; there have been several others.
These are the questions that I asked myself over and over again in the aftermath.
I also wondered if anyone would believe me if I told them what happened. Is sexual assault only penetration? Do fingers count as penetration?
When a power dynamic is at play, there is another layer of fear that comes into play.
Is he your pastor? Your boss? A teacher? The team doctor? Your uncle? A family friend?
Did he tell you that if you told on him you would be in trouble, too? Were you too young to understand what was really happening to you?
Is he a powerful music mogul? Are you afraid of impacting your career?
Is he known for retaliating against his enemies? Are you afraid he will retaliate against you too?
Is he a charismatic R&B singer? A powerful Hollywood executive? An actor everyone loves?
Have you watched the media tear down other women who have come forward with their stories?
Have you seen social media rip women apart for telling their stories?
Have you watched gossip sites spread rumors and drag victims through the mud all for clicks and giggles?
Has this world made it entirely impossible for a woman to feel protected? Have people made it clear that this is not a safe space?
Has rape culture made it so some forms of sexual assault are downplayed and victims of those acts are made to feel like they are making a big deal out of nothing?
Have victims been accused of telling their stories for money? Does taking a monetary settlement make the assault go away?
Does a monetary settlement mean the accused isn’t guilty?
You mean to tell me you understand slipping the dude at the club a few bills so you don’t have to wait in line at the club, but you don’t understand that agreeing to pay a case to go away is easier than either side having to have their business aired out in public?
Trust me; there are some stories a lot of people don’t want aired out in public, and I’d be willing to bet that’s not always on the plaintiff.
If you look at every woman you know, I can guarantee at least one of them has been sexually assaulted and hasn’t told her story because of the reasons I outlined above, and it’s highly likely the person who did it wasn’t anyone nearly as famous as Sean Combs.
But you want to know why these women waited to talk?
Monique Judge is a storyteller, content creator and writer living in Los Angeles. She is a word nerd who is a fan of the Oxford comma, spends way too much time on Twitter, and has more graphic t-shirts than you. Follow her on Twitter @thejournalista or check her out at moniquejudge.com.
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