There is a growing phenomenon reported by many social media users on TikTok of individuals realizing that they were sexually assaulted months or even years after it happened. What has been prevalent within these situations is the fact that the perpetrator is often a significant other or someone close within the survivor’s life. To give you a greater understanding of the videos, the creators set the scene of a regular day cooking or simply sitting in class. Suddenly, they are struck with the realization that they were sexually assaulted months or years ago. It’s not that they necessarily forgot that the event took place, it’s that they didn’t understand or realize the behaviour was actually sexual assault. These videos sometimes have a trigger warning, but there are times where they aren’t included.
Many people realize that they have been assaulted, later in life. It can be beneficial to have an understanding of why this occurs for healing, and peace of mind. We have listed some possible reasons below, but it’s often different for many people so don’t worry if you don’t relate to any of them.
The Halo Effect
The halo effect is when we see a person in such a positive light, that our minds convince us they can do no harm. This tends to be a common occurrence within romantic relationships. It’s very easy to be blinded by love, and if gaslighting or manipulation is happening it can be even more challenging to spot sexual assault. In some cases, many individuals may deem the sexually abusive behaviour as normal because they are already intimate with their partner. On the other hand, growing up in certain environments where masculine power is the dominant force, sexually abusive behaviour may feel normal. However, there is a fine line between initiating intimacy respectfully and abusively. Just because you’re romantically involved doesn’t make it okay for your partner to demand sexual acts of you. The halo effect can also occur with other very close people in your life, and doesn’t necessarily have to be a romantic relationship (i.e perpetrator could be a close friend). It’s hard to know how to react when someone you care deeply about does something that hurts you. You may want to convince yourself that nothing wrong happened, as this relationship is one you hold close to your heart.
Mistaking Coercion for Consent
Consent is not consent if you feel scared to say no. A lot of survivors will often feel guilty calling something assault if they said yes, or simply didn’t say anything at all. They believe that because the word “no” was not spoken they can’t call what took place sexual assault. However, that is far from the truth. It’s important to recognize that our society has placed a lot of pressure on the word “yes,” when in reality it means nothing if it was said out of fear and coercion. So, for years or months you may convince yourself that because you didn’t fight back or say no, that what you experienced would not classify as sexual assault, even if it was. This is a result of wrongful education, and in no way should you feel guilty or ashamed.
A lot of people who decide to report sexual assault to a friend, family member or legal team are often victim blamed. This means that the survivor is told that what took place is their fault (but we know sexual assault is never the survivor’s fault). If someone is told that their experience is invalid, then they may disregard what took place and believe the false narrative others have created for them. You may realize later in life that what these individuals told you was false, and that you did in fact experience sexual assault but were convinced to blame yourself for what took place.
Common phrases of victim blaming include the following:
“Weren’t you drunk?”
“Are you sure that happened?”
“Maybe it was a misunderstanding.”
Memories Can Be Clouded
When we are put in a stressful or traumatic situation, our bodies enter a mode of survival. You may become so focused on remaining safe that what takes place in the moment becomes less important to pay attention to. In other cases, you may try to block the memories out of your mind because they are simply too painful to re-hash, and when you do go back to think about it you fear you can’t trust your judgment. Overtime, these memories can re-surface, and you may no longer be able to stay in denial or avoid what took place. For more information on this, check out our articles, Why Can’t I Remember a Sexual Assault? and How the Brain is Affected during Trauma.
Managing this new realization can be challenging and overwhelming to take in. Even if what took place happened years ago, your mind is still processing and healing from the information you’ve now discovered. Be gentle with yourself, and know that none of what you experienced is your fault. These are a lot of emotions to unpack, which is why it’s important to be patient during your healing process, and do what is best for your mental health. Below, we provided a few strategies and steps to take after coming to this realization. We also recognize that these aren’t the only reasons one may realize they were sexually assaulted months or years later. If we missed anything you may be feeling, that doesn’t mean what you experienced isn’t valid.
- You shouldn’t have to go through this alone. You deserve to be supported which is why seeking professional help from a mental health expert or someone who specializes in sexual trauma could be beneficial. They could better assist you in understanding why you’re going through this now, and guide you in this time of healing, and the options you have if you want to move forward and report, or take legal action. If money is an issue, the free helplines that are provided below can also be of great aid. If there’s a friend or family member you trust, it can also be beneficial to open up to them about this.
- Express how you feel through journaling if you’re not ready to share what’s happening with a friend, family member or mental health professional. If you want to learn more on this, check out our blog on journaling.
Written by: Taryn Herlich
Resources (NOTE: may be triggering as they discuss sexual trauma)
Free Helpline: https://hotline.rainn.org/online