Earlier this year, Amelia and I discussed how the phrase “don’t be a tattletale” can both disarm survivors and embolden perpetrators. As I moved into Middle School, this phrase turned into a more sinister version, “Snitches get Stitches.” Usually, it was said in a joking tone of voice, but I heard the threat anyway: If I say anything, there will be negative consequences.
Now, you may be thinking, “Dani, of course people are kidding when they say that phrase.” Unfortunately, many people do believe that coming forward is an act of aggression to spark witch hunts against innocent people. Look at Christine Blasey Ford who spoke up about Supreme Court Justice Brett Cavanaugh assaulting her. In the six months after she came forward, she had to move four times because people who had nothing to do with the assault were threatening to kill her and she was not able to return to her teaching position at Palo Alto University. She was also publicly shamed and harassed. Her life was forever changed because people decided she was wrong to be brave enough to come forward.
Perpetrators rely on your silence and fear to come forward. As IMPACT Personal Safety, SoCal lead instructor and Girls Fight Back CEO Nicole Snell says, “These people use scare tactics and manipulation to silence their victims so they can continue to live in their bubble of immunity. They don’t want to be held accountable or face the consequences of their actions.” They know what they’re doing is wrong, and they don’t want to stop.
Unfortunately, repeated threats like “snitches get stitches” become soundtracks in our heads and lead many survivors of abuse and violence to remain silent for years, decades, or even for their entire lives. Survivors often choose to deal with their trauma on their own rather than face retaliation or isolation from their family or society. Without validation of their experience or the realization that they are not alone, survivors find themselves at increased risk of mental illnesses, such as generalized anxiety disorders, PTSD, and depression, and therefore at higher risk of suicide.
To a less dramatic extent, repeated threats and rejections to our pleas for help can lead us to believe we are completely on our own, even for lesser matters than trauma. If we are spurned by trusted adults and peers enough or in a decisive enough way, we may stop asking for help at all. There is currently a billion-dollar market built off of this “self-care” idea. It’s completely up to us to manage our own stresses and we don’t need help, we just need a bubble bath.
It is so important to remember that we are never alone, whether it’s a question we have and/or experience we have endured. There is help to be had out there and sharing our story may just be the help someone else needs to get through their own trials. There is freedom and healing to be had in community with others.