There is an old Chinese proverb: ‘the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.” As a nation we cannot address or change an issue until we name it correctly. There is a national conversation going on about children and women being raped, sexually assaulted, and molested since the Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade.
Media, politicians, and we the people have been using incorrect language. Stating “children or women are being raped,” unknowingly creates the description of a perpetrator-less crime. The correct phrase is, “Perpetrators rape children and women.” Perpetrators are both men and women, and most of these crimes are committed by men.
As a licensed psychotherapist who has spent a majority of my career providing treatment to women and families who have experienced rape, molestation, and incest, while the physical scars may heal, the reality is the emotional, mental, and spiritual wounds live on for most victims. To name some, the long-lasting consequences victims experience are PTSD, depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, mental anguish, self-hatred, self-doubt, low self-esteem, and difficulty with relationships.
There are theories as to why society does not talk about the perpetrators. It is possible that saying men rape portrays men as weak as they are unable to control their brutality. There are also covert and overt messages that women are to blame for a man’s inability to control his criminal behaviors. “See how she is dressed? She is a temptress. She was flirting. She wanted it, or she asked for it.” To genuinely believe those archaic attitudes is to believe women and children want to be violently physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually assaulted.
Another possibility is that men have been in charge, allowing the mindset of boys will be boys or the quid pro quo; do not hold me accountable and we will not hold you accountable.
It could also be the shame and denial of families, or of our entire nation, that a society does raise men who rape women or sexually assault and rape children.
Real healing can occur if we are willing to call out rape as a crime committed by a person, in the same manner we discuss a perpetrator who was arrested because they robbed a house, or a person was held on attempted murder charges, or someone stole a car. Instead of saying a woman was raped last night, a man has been arrested on rape charges.
Simultaneously we can focus on believing victims, validating their reality, not shaming them, walking beside them as they move through the healing process as best they can.
If our nation can begin by calling rape by its correct name, there is the potential for more women and children to feel safe enough to report what happened to them. The possibility of victims knowing there are safe people willing to assist and walk with genuine caring through their trauma may just heal all of us.
Debra Borzellino of Cheshire is a licensed psychotherapist and a Clinical Fellow of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and an American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Approved Supervisor.