Hate the culprit, silence the survivor

The urge to speak up for survivors may come from a good place but it often has bad consequences. The way I've seen people speak up for survivors, the anger and unforgiving spirit they evoke, often causes confusion for survivors and calls for a type of justice that the survivor would not agree with.

A lot of times when we talk about the emotional trauma that survivors go through, by survivors I mean people who have been abused in any way, we point to the confusion that survivors feel about the situation they went through. We discuss how difficult it is for them to define their role in what happened to them. We talk about how messed up it is that they have to go through this sort of psychological warfare where they are constantly rethinking and redefining what happened to them so that they can heal, come to some sense of peace, or understanding about their situation.

Because of the psychological warfare that I've described above, I don't think that the default of many survivors is to hate their assailants. The picture painted above describes one who feels unclear about a number of things. They could feel confused about their role, their assailant's role, or society's role in what happened to them. They could feel confused about the normative implications of what happened or what justice would look like in their situation.

Many people, when talking about justice for the survivors, evoke anger, a spirit of unforgiveness, and demand for the assailant to reap particular repercussions. For instance, people will say things like:

"They don't deserve to be members of our society."

"Their job should fire them."

"Their partner should leave them."

Their children should not support them."

"They deserve to rot in hell."

"They should go to prison."

They may even demand these things years after the assailant inflicts affliction onto the survivor. So on one hand, you have the survivor whose judgement is suspended because they are still trying to figure out what happened to them. They are still trying to wrap their minds around how they should feel. On the other hand, you have others who want to throw the assailant to the guillotine and rip anything that gives them happiness away from them.

While I know survivors of trauma don't want my pity. I feel bad that they, that we, can't heal in private. We are always having to make sense of how we feel about our situation via unforgiving angry folk who have judgements about our situation before we do. What is right, how things should be handled, how one feels gets even more confusing when we have to filter our understanding through others in this way.

There's no stopping this though.

I don't know if there should be a stop to this. Perhaps it is good that there are people fighting for us even when we don't know if we want to fight or should fight. Perhaps it is good that others are propelling justice to take place before we know what is just.

But what if we want justice but do not want the repercussions to be so harsh? What if we want those who have caused us pain to suffer some or maybe understand what they did to us, and refrain from doing it ever again but we don't want them to lose their livelihood, love, and other things that are invaluable?

No lie, the support from others feels good, the outrage they feel for us helps us to see that what happened shouldn't have happened. It helps us to see that we were wronged. The issue is that when this happens survivors are made to feel like justice should be what society wants. I wonder if they voiced their confusion, if their lukewarm desire for punishment was illuminated, would be dismissed? Would you say that you know better? Would you respect their wishes? Because that's what it feels like.