What I wish people knew about my assailant

My name is Brianna Ledsome, and I am a survivor.

We have this broken perception of what sexual assault is and is not in our society. It permeates the minds of survivors when we are contemplating the implications of our trauma, and it makes rape culture that much harder to diminish. Rape is not just a man in an alley. Rape is not just a defenseless woman who couldn’t protect herself. Rape is diverse and traumatic. According to RAINN, “Among undergraduate students, 23.1 percent of females and 5.4 percent of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation.”

Someone once revealed to me that they believed all people were inherently good, and that those who did bad things only had forgotten their goodness and would be redeemed. While sure, that may be true, and deep in my heart I believe that it is, it caused a stabbing pain in my soul, and I was immediately nauseated. It was out of this anger at the world for assuming what my assault was for me that I began to create “What I Wish People Knew.”

For survivors, society already does not accept our stories. We are met with questions and invalidation. The burden of forgiving your perpetrator is a lot to ask of someone whose trauma is not met with compassion. Whether or not individuals are redeemable is not a supportive dialogue for survivors. In fact, it can be counterproductive in providing support.  “What do you mean my assailant is an inherently good person? You know what I wish you knew about him?”

And thus, “What I Wish People Knew” was born. The project is a photo series showcasing the experiences of survivors and the things they wish the world knew about their assailant. It emphasizes that perpetrators and survivors are male, female and nonbinary. It shows that survivors are every race, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic class. It proves that assault is not a uniform experience for a homogenous group. It is diverse. It affects all kinds of people. As of today, 100 survivors, from Xavier and beyond, have shared their stories with me, and they are being showcased on @WhatIWishPeopleKnew on Instagram.

This series is important. It is not just a way to challenge the narrative that rape is only one thing but also provides a way to empower survivors in sharing their stories. It makes survivors feel like they are not alone.

Not every story is the same. In fact, they are often vastly different. But it is the shared experience of the community of survivors that makes vulnerability and confronting trauma that much easier. It creates a space to heal.

It is said that people start to heal the moment they feel heard. The point of “What I Wish People Knew” is to ensure survivors feel heard and validated. So often, survivors are met with questions of how their assault occurred and what they were doing when it happened. “Were you drunk?” “What were you wearing?” No one ever asks about the assailant, and so often a survivor’s story is met with equivocations and justifications for why the perpetrator is incapable of doing such a thing.

The most important words to say to a survivor when they share their trauma with you are simple. Just three little words:

I believe you.

Brianna Ledsome is a senior Philosophy, Politics and the Public and political science double major. She is a guest writer from Youngstown, Ohio.