Open up to loved ones about sexual assault

Dear Annie: I’ve been feeling very inspired lately. As a firm believer in gender equality, I am so happy to see how the #MeToo movement has given so many women the relief of telling their stories and getting a weight off their shoulders. However, this also has inspired a feeling of panic within me.

I, too, am a victim; but my perpetrator was not a celebrity or a public figure, so I have nothing to gain by speaking out. However, I see the relief and empowerment some women are experiencing from coming forward, and I’m wondering whether I could feel the same. Though close friends know what happened to me, my family does not know, and neither does my boyfriend. I see the backlash that this wave of voices has caused, and it frightens me. My rapist was a friend whom my parents always liked, and my boyfriend knows him, too. I don’t want to ruin his life by telling people who would then hate him for something that happened years ago. I also am worried that they wouldn’t believe me or would assume the reason for my speaking up is that I want attention. But I also now realize this is a significant part of my history, and I don’t know what to do with it, Annie. Telling you has helped, though. What do you think I should do? — Scared of Secrets

Dear Scared of Secrets: I’m so sorry that someone you considered a friend hurt you in such a profound way. You should not bear the burden of keeping this secret out of concern for him. Protecting your own mental health is far more important than protecting the social standing of an abuser. No matter how many years it’s been, no matter how many friends you have in common, he committed sexual assault. Any fallout he faces now he brought on himself. Who knows? Perhaps he’ll emerge from this reckoning a better person. In any case, it’s not your problem.

By all means, you should open up to your boyfriend and family, as it seems your heart is calling you to do so. If you need encouragement, support or just someone to talk to about your experience, you can always call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-4673).

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