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The Right Time to Come Forward with Your Sexual Assault 

click to enlarge The Abduction of the Sabine Women

Nicolas Poussin, 1635

The Abduction of the Sabine Women

So you've been on the receiving end of unwanted sexual contact — what the U.S. Bureau of Justice defines as sexual assault. The Centers for Disease Control estimates you're joined by one in three women and one in six men who experience sexual violence in their lifetimes. Frankly, those CDC numbers sound a little crazy. If they were true, surely we wouldn't be so ready to call you liars and hysterics and invent Byzantine narratives about why you fabricated a story. Let's put a pin in that one.

There are plenty of fellow survivors, organizations and smear campaign cabals ready to support you on your path to the post-assault fame and fortune that surely await. But you might be asking yourself, "When is the best time to come forward in order to please cable news pundits, focus groups drawn from The Handmaid's Tale, GOP officials and random dudes on barstools?" That depends.

There are three kinds of sexual assault, or, as we prefer to call it, "woman trouble." First, there's the kind that no man anyone knows personally would ever commit and frankly we're shocked you'd make such an accusation. Then there's the sort that's no big deal because every red-blooded American man has done it. Finally, there is what we consider "legitimate rape," meaning instances that play out in the manner of Old Master paintings with swarthy men on horseback scooping up alabaster-skinned, attractively fleeing women, their hair blowing in the wind — the kind of thing that spurs a Mel Gibson or a Liam Neeson into action for virtuous revenge with armies and stirring speeches. Look at that — goosebumps.

Oh. You're still here.

Anyway. Were you a minor at the time of your assault? Yeah, that's not going to work for us. Young people get confused. Especially hyper-emotional teen girls, whose hormones render them walking Taylor Swift songs equally obsessed with male attention and revenge. Their tissue-thin morality is matched only by their iron will to withstand crushing pressure from peers and parents just to ruin some poor young man's bright, gropey future. Far more believable are boys, whose natural integrity is so solid that it remains unaffected by the occasional acquaintance rape/felony horseplay. White male boyhood, incidentally, lasts until age 38 or whenever his gaming thumbs become arthritic. Better wait until you mature and can evaluate the incident with some distance.

Let's say you come forward as an adult. It's pretty suspicious that you waited so long. Keeping secrets makes you look a little untrustworthy. Besides, memory is tricky. Especially lady memory. What do you really recall 100 percent? We mean besides your locker combination and a series of harrowing images that have haunted you for decades. If you had a calendar, that would be something.

Was it a trans person in a bathroom? No? Are you sure? Did you ask? Fine. Whatever.

We're gonna be frank and say if alcohol was involved, that's a deal breaker. We're not saying you're to blame for whatever it is you think you recall possibly imagining, regardless of how irresponsibly wasted you were or how you were dressed, despite this trashy outfit you've got on right now. Was whoever you imagine maybe, kinda touching you drunk or high? Because that would be a problem, too. It's simply that for dudes, ingesting alcohol, recreational drugs or a very strong clove cigarette removes all responsibility. It's essentially like stepping on base in a game of freeze tag. With your junk out.

Stop daydreaming about the thrill of having your personal life and mental health evaluated by strangers for a moment and think about how the timing of this will impact your alleged pretend imaginary misunderstood "abuser." How is a man supposed to maintain his sterling reputation with all kinds of aggrieved women popping up like whack-a-moles you can't even whack with a closed fist? An accusation can ruin a man's life and force him to wander the earth like Woody Allen or Roman Polanski slinking around at Cannes, their champagne glasses unfilled for minutes at a time. It could be months before his comeback. He could wind up inches from First Husband. He could end up the laughingstock of the United Nations.

Ask yourself if you can't just, you know, let it go. That would be extremely chill of you.

What about telling your story posthumously? Hmm. We don't totally hate the concept but it still robs a potentially great man of due process, the right to live completely free of criticism and the opportunity to sputter and shout until a thin line of spittle connects his lip to the table before him. This, may we remind you, is America.

It's not that we don't care about sexual assault. After all, we have wives, daughters, sisters and other women whose names we remember offhand, and we care deeply about how their safety impacts us. If we didn't care, would we have made it through all those seasons of Game of Thrones?

Finally, consider whether you should speak up at all. Too many women sharing their experiences could potentially dilute the stigma — or worse, shift responsibility — around sexual assault. And we wouldn't want that.

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or Follow her on Twitter@JFumikoCahill.

Got a humorous take or tale to share? Then the North Coast Journal wants to hear from you. Contact us at to pitch your column ideas.

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About The Author

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor of the North Coast Journal. She won the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s 2020 Best Food Writing Award and the 2019 California News Publisher's Association award for Best Writing.

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