Opinions, we have all heard, are like assholes; everyone has one. There is also the more genteel version of the ubiquity of opinions, that everyone is entitled to their own. The thing about opinions, however, is that they are not facts. Opinions, I think, should be based in fact in order to hold any credence, or be of any value, but often they are not.
When it comes to abuse, many people – from friends and relatives to some therapists, to the victims ourselves – have opinions on when and how we should ‘recover’, and when and how the aftermath is ‘allowed’ to impinge on our day-to-day lives. Some people believe that, if you were abused as a child, you should be well over the abuse by the time you are 21. There is absolutely no basis in fact for this opinion; different people recover from abuse at different paces. People also recover at different levels; meaning that they deal with the abuse at the level they can manage at any given time. Sometimes, this means not dealing with it, because they feel they couldn’t cope – at that moment – with the upset that looking at the abuse and its effects on them would bring to their lives.
Another commonly-held opinion is that everyone should be affected by abuse in the same way: That, because one person reacts in a certain way to sexual abuse, everyone should react in the same way. Again, there is no basis in fact for this. While there are a set of behaviours that manifest in a lot of people who were abused, not everyone will have the same reaction to their life events. Nor will everyone react in the same way at the same time. For example, many women who are abused and/or raped by family members choose not to deal with their abuse, or to deal with it on certain levels only, because they do not believe they could deal with the fallout if they delved fully into the complexities of the effects of the abuse on them and their relationships.
Then, there is that old chestnut about how ‘real’ sexual assault is a rare thing and a lot of women either lie or exaggerate what has happened to them. Again, there is no basis in truth for this. Thankfully, this opinion is being challenged more and more in mainstream media, and on social media with women recounting their own experiences of sexual assault. Perhaps the most shocking thing about these revelations is the opinion, held by so many sexually-assaulted women, that this type of abuse is ‘normal’ and ‘part of being a girl/woman’. See, for example, #everydaysexism (where many of the examples are, in fact, of sexual assault), and #shoutingback (where women recount their experiences of sexual assault) on Twitter.
Another old favourite among rape-apologists (male and female) is that women are somehow complicit in their own abuse. Sadly, this opinion has no basis in fact, either. It is true, however, that many women are conditioned to believe that because they engaged with a man, or didn’t engage with him; or because they stopped saying no when they were attacked; or because of what they were wearing they ‘invited’ an assault. This is a sad reflection on the attitude society has to victims, not on victims themselves.
We all hold opinions, on everything from the job the government is doing, to what colour works best where, to what makes a good book. We’re all entitled to hold whatever opinions we like, but if we expect our opinions on serious topics to be taken seriously, we need to educate ourselves on the facts surrounding these topics first.