THE CULTURE OF SILENCE IN ABUSE: Why Most Women Keep Quiet

Abuse against women remains a pressing global issue. Reports show that one in three women worldwide experiences abuse in their lifetime. It is also the most under-reported crime because most of the victims tend to dismiss or suppress the problem.

On why most women keep quiet or refuse to talk about abuse is a cultural issue that needs to be addressed. As everyone has a part to play in building a safe space for women and protecting women’s rights, understanding the behavior and culture of silence in abuse will provide every woman we know a strong voice and help end the cycle of violence today, tomorrow, and for the generations to come.

“The magnitude of the abuse and suffering of women worldwide is shocking and overwhelming. We must challenge the ignorance and indifference that cause such misery for millions of women, especially those with no voice or platform.” – Annie Lennox, www.thetimes.co.uk

WARNING: Triggers on abuse.

Why Most Women Keep Quiet. 

In 2018, the Twitter world created a movement using the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport to support Christine Blasey Ford against former President Donald Trump who questioned her alleged abuse. The campaign encouraged women to come forward with their untold stories and was reported to be tweeted more than 800,000 times, activating awareness about unreported abuse and providing victims a platform to be heard. 

Most of the survivors’ tweets tend to revolve around the fear of victim-blaming, not being believed because of the perpetrator’s powerful position, threats from the abuser, malicious rumors, injustice, shame, and unreadiness to speak because the issue is very personal.

An interview was done by ABC News to a psychotherapist, Beverly Angel, revealing shame and self-blame as the dominant factors of resistance. She states, “Sexual assault is a very humiliating and dehumanizing act against someone. The person really feels invaded and defiled, and there is a lot of shame attached to that.”

She further explained that self-blame is also strongly attached to shame, “Victims of sexual assault almost always blame themselves, and we can understand why, because in our culture, we tend to blame victims in general.”

The Culture of Victim-Blaming is a Problem of Misinformation.

Victim-blaming as a problem of misinformation is reflected in what social psychologists refer to as the “Fundamental Cognitive Error” in which people tend to underestimate the contribution of their beliefs and theories to observation and judgment, and fail to realize how many other ways that they could have been interpreted. It is the idea that we don’t really have any insight into the fact that we’re making any sort of interpretation, assuming personality characteristics, and minimizing detailed external or environmental factors.

This is indicative of the kind of cognitive biases or sort of information we expose ourselves to, which happens a lot in the news or social media. Much of our biased introspection and initial response are shaped by the cascading effect of information, in which there is no cognitive effort to think a little more about it and deliberate. There is a tendency to follow the larger category of social influence.

Sadly, victim-blaming is a disturbing trend, often prevalent in cases of abuse against women. Society assumes that women are more responsible with the way they dress and behave, leading to the idea of immune neglect that men are not held accountable for the way they treat and respect women.

Such a culture of victim-blaming generates a vicious cycle, resulting in women not reporting abuse cases, and tolerating continuous acts of harassment. One of the most common global debates in rape cases is the woman’s clothing as the top cause of triggering the beast in men.

Philippine Senator Risa Hontiveros released a statement in July 2018 about No Dress Code for Rape, stating, “A woman’s clothing choice doesn’t cause rape. Clothes don’t cause rape, rapists do.” She further argued that the public should be educated that men forcing themselves upon women constitutes rape and harassment.

According to The Washington Post, the idea that clothing contributes to sexual assault is false, citing examples of studies that rapists choose to rape regardless of and that clothing has nothing to do with it.

“Women are not the problem,” The Gospel Coalition advocates in defense of the women directly harmed by the controversial sexual misconduct of the well-known apologist, Ravi Zacharias.

Ruth Rose, a former columnist and professor at the University of California, who was once a victim of harassment, told NBC News, “It’s not about sex. It’s about power over another person. It’s about entitlement. A lot of men still feel entitled to take what they want, and that’s an act of power.”

This highlights the in-depth behavior or character problem of the perpetrator, that must be addressed and scrutinized, rather than the victim’s clothing.

“Our culture has lost sight of the beautiful distinctions God had in mind when God created mankind in His own image,” states Dave Willis, author of the book, Raising Boys Who Respect Girls, which advocates helping sons reclaim true manhood by teaching them how to respect true womanhood. Readers are drawn to an inventory of blind spots and deep root issues of disrespect as well as facilitated to a healthy respect for self, others, and God.

Justice is Not Always Served.

It was also emphasized by Psych Central that many women do not report sexual harassment and assault because they fear not being believed and receiving justice. 

For instance, BBC News recently reported that the vast majority of sexual offenses and rapes in the Crime Survey for England and Wales do not get solved.

Justice is not always served as cited by the psychotherapist, Beverly Angel, to ABC News. In particular, “out of every 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free, according to a report by RAINN that cited 2010-2014 Bureau of Justice statistics”.

An Even Greater Problem is Social Apathy.

While the reporting process for some abused is horrific, traumatic, and terrible, others lack knowledge and access to safety and support. 

In fact, research has identified that 92% of survivors who disclose or share information about the abuse experience negative response or lack of emotional, social, and practical support. Such negative interactions drive them more to isolation and repression of unresolved pain. 

According to World Health Organization, depression rates are three times higher for women who are exposed to abuse and 20% of them attempt suicide. An even greater problem is social apathy or lack of awareness on the extent of abuse cases and safe places for women to be heard.

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame cannot survive.” – Brene Brown

Due to the humiliating and threatening nature of abuse, most of the victims feel unsafe to share about the event and feel alone in their pain. Psychologically, it would take time to build and earn trust. A safe place for them means a comforting presence that listens with empathy to their anguish and trauma.

Women Are Made in the Image of God and Must Be Honored.

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27, NIV

The fact that God created male and female in His image tells us that human beings were designed in holiness and reverence. As we see the image of God in manhood, we see also the image of God in womanhood. Both are equally made with high regard and honor.

To see God’s creation of womanhood defiled by ruthless acts of abuse and harassment dishonors the original design of the Creator. Why? Because God honors women.

According to Bible History, Jewish men did not regard women in public. Jews and Samaritans also hated each other that most Jews would not travel through Samaria. But in John 4, we see Jesus, a Jews, breaking the culture of animosity and gender inequality.

He sensed a woman hiding in shame when He sat down by the well in Samaria. Studies suggest that women in the Bible times often come to the well to draw water in the morning or evening. But a Samaritan woman who was drawing water alone in the heat of the day, seems an act to avoid gossip and shame at the presence of other women. It tells us an image of an outcast, broken for acceptance and significance.

Here, we see Jesus initiates a conversation, the longest recorded conversation He had with a woman.

“When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” John 4:7, NIV

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a]) John 4:9, NIV

As the conversation progresses, Jesus offers her living water, “but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14, NIV

Like the deep well, Jesus drew out the inner stirrings underneath her routines, a false image that defined her life – shame, rejection, disappointments, and broken relationships.

He broke the silence of a hurting Samaritan woman through an initiated, non-judgmental conversation. He brought healing to her wounds by offering her Himself, the living water. The woman responded positively and even influenced the whole community to come to Jesus who alone can silence trauma, abuse, and shame.

From God’s unique design of womanhood to how Jesus Christ treated women provides for us the biblical paradigm of honor and respect towards women, which the world, hopefully, must live up to.

Let us help raise awareness and educate the world to a healthy respect of self and others according to God’s image. Let us build safe places for women and stop the cycle of violence against women today, tomorrow, and for the generations to come.

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