I would like to open this interview for those reading to understand the amount of courage it takes to discuss such an issue, despite how it’s “trending” on social media right now. I guarantee you it is not trending by the hands of those who have suffered sexual assault or abuse of any form as much as it is by those seeking to exploit the pain and trauma of survivors, causing them to relive their experience all over again.
Niedira Kenny is one of my closest girlfriends, whom I’ve known over 15 years. She is also one of the strongest women I know who inspires me endlessly…and her stance within this interview further solidifies my sentiment of her. We’ve been through it all together, and I am deeply honored that she came to me 1) to open up and share her story with me, and 2) to ask me to help her share some of her experience and perspective with the world for the very first time since it happened, nearly 5 years ago. Because I too share a similar story and have been a megaphone for countless of others to share their stories, I knew the magnitude of the call I received.
This is not only a message to the critics who spew their unsolicited and vile comments via social media, but this is a word of Empowerment for those who feel like the wounds of their experience(s) are being torn back open by these recent events in the media and news. Not only do we share your story, but we are coming to your defense to push back against those who have no right to oppose why you chose your particular path to healing!
Peace & Love,
Ebony S. Muhammad, Publisher of Hurt2Healing Magazine…and Survivor.
Ebony S. Muhammad (EM): With the recent surge of survivors of sexual assault speaking out, we’ve also seen the unfortunate pushback of their courage to finally tell their story. There have been those on social media who speak, most of the time out of ignorance, as the authority of when survivors should give their report/account. From your perspective and experience, why does the time vary for survivors to speak out?
Niedria Kenny (NK): The short answer is because we are all different and we process differently. The long of it is, many factors play into why a person has chosen to be silent, resulting in disclosing of their assault to occur years later.
Factors such as fear of losing employment. Fear of being judged and told that you did something wrong. Fear of being called a slut or whore or as a mother, fear of being stigmatized as a bad mom because you were out in the first place instead of “home with your child/children.” However, no one knows that your child was with the other parent the night it happened, and you have a right to be able to go out to eat or to the mall or to dinner etc. Fear that you’ll share your story and it will fall on deaf ears. Fear of your attacker striking again. Fear of people not believing you. Fear of people picking apart your story to say that you could have prevented it and concluding with comments about how you did something wrong.
When it’s not a random rape attack by someone you don’t know, you fear that you will have to see them again. You work together, you’re a part of the same social circle, you attend the same church, you do business together, they are family etc. You don’t see a way out. You are embarrassed and simply don’t want anyone to know what happened to you.
For some, like myself; after the attack they are still in survival mode their selves. So, reporting the assault for the sake of “speaking out” to prevent “others” from potential danger and to be the one to put a rapist behind bars, is an afterthought. They are thinking about what they need to do, to continue to survive. If they can do this without saying something, which in a lot of cases is what they have done; then that’s what they do. That’s what I did.
REF: Survive, outlive refer to remaining alive longer than someone else or after some event. Survive usually means to succeed in keeping alive against odds, to live after some event that has threatened one
REF from video game perspective: Survival mode, or horde mode, is a game mode in a video game in which the player must continue playing for as long as possible without dying in an uninterrupted session while the game presents them with increasingly difficult waves of challenges.
Then, there’s fight or flight.
REF: What Happens During the Fight-or-Flight Response. In response to acute stress, the body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated due to the sudden release of hormones. The sympathetic nervous systems stimulate the adrenal glands triggering the release of catecholamines, which include adrenaline and noradrenaline.
When you’re done fighting you take flight: It happens at the time of the assault and like adrenaline; it last until it doesn’t last. And like the adage, “It is …. until it isn’t anymore.” In other words, “What will be, will be, until it isn’t anymore.” That includes pain… and fear.
That adrenaline manifest in running, hiding, being very quiet… just as you would if your life is still in danger. You feel as though you are still under the attack. So, you sit there, and you be quiet so that no one will know. No one can find you when you’re quiet and you stay tucked away in that dark corner, unseen. You wait for it to “go away” (the feeling: the attacker) You hope that it will just “go away”
When the feeling subsides, and you feel “safe” sometimes you talk about it. That could be years later. That could be the next day, depending on how long it took that individual to come to grips with what happened. If they are lucky, they realize it was not their fault and then, they begin to speak.
It is important to remember when we are addressing one’s actions and response to anything, that everyone is different. We are created with same but not equal body parts or processing abilities.
With that simple understanding first, we would allow ourselves to be less critical when judging a person’s willingness or unwillingness to come forth at which the time their assault happened or at a later date when determining them to be credible or not and when chiming in with our own premature hypotheticals about what we would have done or what someone in that situation would have done.
For so many reasons, a person chooses to disclose it later: They have sought help for themselves and are now strong and courageous enough to talk about it without fear of judgement. They know they did nothing wrong. They are ready to take the next step to address what has happened so that they can overcome a fear of the past. They are willing to stand in the gap for others because they can identify with why someone else didn’t say something- so they come forth as a sacrifice to try to assist the next person to ensure they are not alone and that it’s ok to come forward. They want to be a part of the solution by educating and bringing awareness to aspects of why people don’t speak up. They couldn’t do any of this before, because they couldn’t do it for themselves at the time. You can’t help others if you are not well yourself. You must take care of yourself before you can take care of others.
Your fear of not surviving becomes overpowered, overshadowed with your determination to live and to assist others in doing the same. And this…. May take time.
NK: I would have to wholeheartedly agree with the Minister’s statement here, as it pertains to the gravity of a rape! A part of me died, which had to be restored. If you know anything about GOD’s timing, you know that it can never be seen in between the second hands of the watches we wear or on the clocks we watch. He has an eternal and divine timing source, which we could never comprehend. Knowing or being able to process His timing is incomprehensible.
What we are to do is pray for our healing and trust the process, have faith in the source of our existence and survival in knowing that His mercy and grace is sufficient.
EM: How can judgmental comments, ignorance, limited knowledge and lack of experience concerning what survivors go through damage the willingness for them to speak out?
NK: In the age of social media, which provides a platform for information to exist on a level where it is shared and seen daily by millions; Anything from a bad customer service experience to the most recommended DIY project is recommended and distributed by its users. There is no mistake that the news on social media travels faster than newspapers can press it, T.V. reporters can report it and online publications can upload it.
Victims and survivors of rape are among those users. Because this too, it is a topic of discussion. Especially since the #MeToo Movement.
I have to say that judgmental comments, ignorance, limited knowledge and lack of experience concerning what women and men go through might just be the number one cause beyond a person’s fight or flight, survival mode; which impairs their ability to speak out.
With regards to women and myself; they have already run these scenarios through their head when internalizing and thinking that they did something wrong or deserved it, because the world put a definition on people who dress or look a certain way being susceptible to rape to justify it happening. They have already been made to feel that rape is not a crime punishable by jail-time. They have already been made to feel that such a violation on their body is not serious enough to warrant jail-time of a first offender or a high-profile public figure, or even a random man who preys on women…. And that their precious bodies or even virginity are not worthy of consideration when it comes to being violated.
So, when they are ready to speak, they encounter what they feared in the beginning; which are those comments about how it took so long to talk, how they were dressed and not limited to what they were engaging in when it happened. They do not want to relive it again under public prosecution and humiliation and embarrassment.
Comments and judgements are the reason a victim may retreat from speaking even though they are ready to tell the story. Why? They are not ready to be attacked again by a much larger forum called “the world.” They don’t want to live through the assassination again, the humiliation or embarrassment on a larger platform this time and by people making statements about what they could have done when the issue is not what they could have done or should have done. The issue is that rape shouldn’t happen, so any comment about why it happened is repulsive. Victims will often refrain from making comments or speaking publicly after seeing how others (the public, social media users, ignorant people, people who have never experienced it, people who are protecting others) respond to another victim’s story. They began to reassess their own story all over again.
These comments made out ignorance will hush a victim, therefore setting off a mass destruction of victim’s stories, whereby they then retreat to their black hole. OR the comments will produce a firestorm of others who are willing to talk in defense for others. And therefore, you will see people who decide to tell their stories 2-5-10-15 years later. It’s not that they have an ulterior motive in sharing. It’s that they have been reading comments, processing comments and they are fed up with the ignorance, so they decide to speak! But for the ones who are not there just yet, sadly but understandably; they retreat.