5 Common Things Survivors Of Sexual Assault Blame Themselves For, But Never Should

Ad failed to load

A good friend of mine was sexually assaulted recently and she turned to me for help figuring out what to do about it. I’m not going to go into the details of what happened, but I will tell you is that she had a reaction that so, so many assault survivors had: She wondered if it was her fault. I spent hours on the phone with her, both holding space for her story and her confusion, while also gently reminding her whenever I could that no part of what happened to her was her fault.

"People who are sexually assaulted commonly blame themselves for decisions they may have made before (e.g., I should have not worn such a revealing dress), during (e.g., I should have tried harder to escape), and after (e.g., I should have gone to the police right after it happened)," psychologist and trauma expert Lata McGinn tells Bustle. "They may also fault themselves for how they may have felt during the assault (e.g., I can't believe I was physically aroused during the assault) or after (e.g., I am weak because I can't get over this)."

If you ever want a perfect illustration of how twisted our rape culture is, talk to a sexual assault survivor about the things they thought after being assaulted. You’ll hear questions about what they could have done differently. Is it because of how I dressed? Was I flirting? Did I drink too much? I did say yes to a kiss…

Ad failed to load

Instead of blaming the rapist, our culture spends an inordinate amount of time both subtly and overtly blaming the person it happened to. We ask what she was doing. We ask what she was wearing. We tell him men can’t be raped by women. We point out how much they had to drink. We don’t believe that people have the right to revoke consent after giving it for a specific sex act.

A man literally told me in a bar the other day that “everyone lies” and “women make things up” and therefore I shouldn’t believe the things that my close friends have told me about their sexual assaults. This took the "women are liars" argument to a whole new level. This random guy, who I'd just met, thought I shouldn't believe my friends. I. Shouldn’t. Even. Believe. My. Friends. It still makes me so angry I can barely think about it.

So, in the spirit of combating rape culture, here are five common things survivors of sexual assault blame themselves for, but never should.

Ad failed to load

1The Assault Itself

David Solce/Unsplash

This should be obvious, but apparently plenty of people still don’t get it. The only person who is at fault in the case of a sexual assault is the person doing the assaulting. Got that? Rapists are to blame for rape. Not victims. Not survivors. Not mini skirts or alcohol or walking alone a night. Rapists. That’s it.

2Not Saying “No”

In some situations, people don’t feel safe saying “no.” Or they’ve frozen and don’t how to react. Or they don’t want to cause a commotion, which is what happened to me when I was sexually assaulted on a public bus. Not saying “no” verbally doesn’t mean that what happened to you was OK or that you somehow allowed it to happen. Sometimes we do what we need to do to protect ourselves and that can include not saying “no.”

3Not Fighting Back Physically

Sasha Nadelyaeva/Unsplash

The same goes for not physically fighting back. While self defense is awesome and a lot of people feel really empowered by it, sometimes it’s safer to not fight back. If, for example, your attacker is much bigger or stronger than you, it might be instinctual not to fight back. Also, there’s always a chance that fighting might make them angrier, putting you at risk of more injury. But as a reminder, not fighting back does not mean it’s your fault and does not mean you wanted it to happen.

Ad failed to load

4Feeling Aroused

This is one that survivors carry a lot of shame about: Feeling arousal during a sexual assault. It can feel like your body is betraying you, like you “secretly” do like what’s happening to you. However, particularly for people with vaginas, arousal can be another way your body is actually protecting you. Rather than being a sign that you want a sexual assault to occur, lubrication might actually be protecting you from further injury. Think about it: What happens when a dry vagina is penetrated? It hurts; it scrapes; it can even tear. Lubrication, then, is your body’s way of making sure that doesn’t happen.

Also, arousal involves both your brain and your body. While your brain might be screaming that it doesn’t want something to happen, the physical reactions your body has can be completely separate. In fact, research has shown that women in particular are capable of feeling physical arousal without any mental arousal. So it’s possible that if you felt aroused during a sexual assault, that’s what was going on.

5Having An Orgasm

Andrew Ruiz/Unsplash

Just as some people’s bodies get aroused during sexual assault, some people have orgasms — about four to five percent, research suggests. Though, that's just of reported cases, so the true number is likely higher. And, emergency room doctors and nurses report that a large number of people who have been sexual assaulted report one or both occurring.

While these five things survivors blame themselves for may be common, they're not the only things that weren't your fault if you were sexually assaulted. Remember, nothing about what happened to you was your fault. Nothing.

Editor's Note: If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

7 Signs Your Energy Is Closed Off To Love, According To A Psychic

Finding love requires more than just the actions of going on dates or setting up an online dating profile. It also requires opening yourself up to love and giving off the vibe that you're open. You may not even realize it if you're energetically bloc…
By Suzannah Weiss

It Took Heather Graham YEARS To Make A Movie About Women Ditching Toxic Men. The Reason? Men.

They say you should write what you know. But in Hollywood, that age-old advice apparently needs an addendum: Write what you know — as long as men are into it. And for actor and newly minted director/screenwriter Heather Graham — a woman who swam thro…
By Kelsea Stahler

Target Just Launched A Gorgeous New Home Brand — And Most Pieces Are Under $30

Design lovers rejoice! Everyone's favorite store for pretty much everything is about to make all your daring decorating dreams come true. Today, Target's corporate blog issued a press release that provides a peek into Target's new homeware line, Opal…
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

17 Brilliant Ways To Support Parkland Survivors Wherever You Are

Following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, survivors are demanding Congress take action. A large group of students who survived the shooting are opposing politicians' "thoughts and prayers," arguing that inst…
By Sarah Beauchamp

Bustle's Editors On K-Beauty + McDonald's

If you're a glass-half-full kind of person, you're probably rejoicing over the fact that the week's more than halfway over. And if not, keep your chin up. I've got some insane Fashion Week and McDonald's news to hold you over. So, without further ado…
By Melissa Mills

Here's Where Your Next Trip Should Be, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

If you've been craving a vacation, now is a good time to take the plunge. According to data collected by travel site Expedia, late winters and early spring are pretty much the best times of the year to go on vacation. Based on average airfare ticket …
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

How This Quadriplegic Beauty Lover Beat Cancer & Became A Professional Makeup Artist

In 2010, one day before she was supposed to start cosmetology school, Steph Aiello was involved in a car crash that left her paralyzed from the waist down with limited ability to move her hands and one of her closest friends dead. She would spend the…
By Sara Tan

7 Common Marriage Rules That Aren't Good For Relationships

When it comes to marriage, everyone loves to give their two cents, and with all the warnings and advice floating around out there, no wonder people find marriage intimidating. Luckily, you don't always have to play by the rules, and there's some bad …
By Carina Wolff

The Infuriating Way Hollywood Movie Sets Are Designed To Make Life Harder For Women

Whitney Cummings is fed up — with the way Hollywood treats women, and in particular, the way the it treats female directors who have children. While the entertainment industry may be working hard to get more women behind the camera, Cummings wants to…
By Casey Cipriani

Why Uggs Are Never Going Away, Whether You Like Them Or Not

Uggs. The word alone can conjure up memories of teenage years, regrettable outfits, and undeniable comfort. But if, like me, you thought that you've already said goodbye to those fleece-lined tan boots, you can think again. It seems fashion has adopt…
By Lauren Sharkey

Netflix's New Romantic Movie Will Have You Crying Like It's 'The Fault In Our Stars'

Cancer movies are a heartbreaking staple of Hollywood and have been for decades. It's almost a law of nature: new year, new cancer movie. This year, it's Netflix's Irreplaceable You, a heartbreaking original about a longtime couple who get thrown for…
By Olivia Truffaut-Wong

Here Are All The Terms You Need To Know If You’re Watching Olympic Ski Events Right Now

Every four years the Winter Olympics rolls around to remind me that A) there are so many important Winter Olympic sports, and B) I know virtually nothing any of them. And I know for a fact, I'm not alone, I bet most people don't know what the differe…
By Danielle Colin-Thome

Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu Have Matching Tattoos & The Story Is So Cute

Olympic season gives people the feels. From those shipping Canadian ice dancing pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to Shaun White's gold medal win on Tuesday, the feels are real. Now, there's another reason to get all up in your emotions. Adam Rippon a…
By Shea Simmons

A New Study Says Being In A Relationship Could Change Your Taste In Wine — Here's How

I’d be willing to bet that for many of you, a nice bottle of wine is awaiting you in your near future — and if you’re planning on sharing that bottle with a partner, there might be more to your choice than meets the eye: According to recent research,…
By Lucia Peters

Carrie Brownstein On Why Even The Obama Era Should Have Enraged You

An icy January morning soon after Hollywood's show of solidarity for the #MeToo movement at the Golden Globes and almost exactly one year into the Trump Administration feels like a momentous time to be sitting across from Carrie Brownstein. The Sleat…
By Samantha Rollins

Here’s What The Upcoming Year Of The Dog Means For Your Chinese Zodiac Sign

On Feb. 16 the world will celebrate the Chinese New Year, welcoming the Year of the Dog in like the good doggo it is — we hope. A new year means new zodiac predictions for the 365 days ahead. So, what does the Year of the Dog mean for your Chinese zo…
By Brittany Bennett

7 Signs You're Ready To Get Into A Relationship, According To Experts

It can be difficult to tell when you're ready to start dating again. Maybe you're coming off of a bad breakup, maybe you've just been focused on other things. And, ironically, one of the signs that you're ready to be in a relationship is that you're …
By Lea Rose Emery

I Got A Breast Reduction & It Was About So Much More Than The Size Of My Boobs

As a young teenager, I pretty much reached peak physical maturity overnight. One day I was wearing my first training bra a la Lizzie McGuire, and the next I was sweatily fumbling around a Victoria’s Secret with 32DD boobs, trying to summon up the cou…
By Sierra Taylor Horton

This Is, Hands Down, The *Grossest* Thing Babies Do Inside The Womb

Your baby's life in the womb may be safe and warm, but it's also kind of grody. Seriously, the whole process of growing into a human being includes more than a few icky moments along the way. But this is the grossest thing babies do inside the womb b…
via Romper

The 15 Best Fiction Books Of February Feature Tons Of Extraordinary Women

When the cold winds of February blow in, there's nothing I want more than to hide under my covers with a good book. Luckily, there's more than a few fantastic new fiction books coming out this month, so the only tough decision you'll have to make is …
By Melissa Ragsdale

17 Moms Reveal The Most Disgusting Part Of Their Pregnancy

Pregnant bodies do weird-ass things. Weird-ass, gross things. I mean, my pregnant body did (twice), and I have long-suspected I'm not alone. So I asked other moms to share the most disgusting part of their pregnancy and I learned that, not only am I …
via Romper