"I believe Jennifer*. I believe Jennifer. I believe Jennifer."
Those were the words that came out of the judge's mouth. Tears sprang to my eyes. I was in a court room as a support person, and was with a young woman who had very reluctantly testified about being sexually assaulted. The words uttered by the judge were so powerful. And as we have come to learn, so rare in a court of law.
There are very good reasons why 97% of victims of sexual assault do not report, including the very real consequences of re-traumatization, of losing control over some aspects of your life, and of the case ultimately not ending in a conviction.
So unless someone else phoned 911, whether you report is completely your choice. Someone already took away your choice in an unfathomable way: by using your own body against you in their wage to obtain power and control over you. Afterwards, if you've survived, you have a choice.
If you do report it you are on this roller coaster called the criminal justice system. Once you get on you don't really have a choice of when to get off. The ups and downs can be harrowing. Luckily, there are some great people out there to help navigate it together with you.
If you don't report it you will be on a slightly different path but it may still feel like a terrifying roller coaster you can't get off of.
What can make either experience less terrifying is getting support from someone who specializes in supporting victims of violence. There are victim support workers who work in the community and other ones who work in the police station. You can still receive support from the community ones if you haven't reported. They can help provide you with emotional support, information, practical support and referrals. There are trauma counsellors experienced in working with victims of violence- some who are in private practice and others who work in an agency. They can help you learn skills to feel safer, to re-learn to sleep, to stop thinking about the past events, and eventually to process and integrate those events.
If you reach out for help and don't receive what you need I totally understand if you feel reluctant to reach out again. But I really hope you do. Because, yes, there are many people in the system who don't get it. But there are also some very special workers and counsellors who do. And having their support can mean your sanity when it comes to surviving the aftermath of sexual assault, including the criminal justice system.
Whether it's from a judge, a counsellor, a victim support worker, a friend, or a family member I hope you too get to hear the words that meant everything to Jennifer: I believe you.
*Name has been changed to protect identity.