What if, after a sexual assault …

What if, after a sexual assault, the first thing you wanted to do was tell people, because you knew that everyone would believe you? And that they would be there with you — steady and loving — through the days, and the months and the years that followed? What if they kept you company when you needed company and left you alone when you needed to be alone and took care of the children and did the dishes? Or if you were a child yourself, what if they kept coming over to play with you even though you felt mad sometimes?

What if everyone knew and kept loving you? What if all the family or friends you shared with the perpetrator, and who “didn’t want to choose sides,” understood they had to choose sides anyway, and they chose you?

What if the community gathered in unity to support you? What if we all knew songs to sing after a sexual assault — songs of grief, and songs of anger, and songs of healing? What if we sang them together because we believed the assault hurt the whole community, and we all needed to help with the healing?

What if you got paid time off from your job and everyone understood completely because this happens to so many of us, and then they were all happy to welcome you back with chocolates? And kept giving you extra breaks until you did not need that any more? Or what if your teachers understood completely? What if they knew it was going to be a long hard road, and they were consistently patient and encouraging because they believed in you no matter what?

What if money showed up to pay for the medical bills? The pizzas you ordered because you weren’t up for getting out of bed much less buying groceries? The finance charges that racked up from the weeks when the bills on the table seemed like something from another universe? The lost work?

What if the doctors were all respectful and compassionate? What if they made you feel better in every way? What if you could see a therapist whenever you wanted who knew what they were doing, and it didn’t cost anything? What if you didn’t even have to leave home if that was hard, but you could still get the medical care you needed?

What if everyone made sure you could stay at home and be safe there?

What if there was no down side to calling the police? What if they treated you like royalty, and you knew your whole family was safer because they were there? What if the courts were the same way? And if anyone from the justice system let a careless word slip about you, what if everyone within earshot murmured in disgust at the insensitivity and shook their heads?

What if everyone who gossiped about assault was sharing their outrage at the behavior of the perpetrator?

What if the perpetrator saw and heard all of this? What if everyone who considered supporting the perpetrator saw it too? What if everyone who might grow up to be a perpetrator saw it?

How could we make this a reality?

Because until we do bring this closer to reality, then too many of us are implicated in the devastation of sexual violence. The stigma, the denial, the blaming needs to stop now. Look for opportunities to make a difference for survivors, then take those opportunities. We can do better.