I didn't tell anyone when I was raped. I didn't run away when I was being sexually abused by my father. I didn't call the police when my ex-girlfriend strangled me in a drunken rage.
What's wrong with me? Nothing.
Over and over and over, women and girls receive the message to keep quiet, be sweet and not cause a fuss. Even Gwyneth Paltrow jokes that the best way to fight with your husband is to swallow your pride and give a good blowjob.
And yet the public is shocked and dismayed when victims of violent abuse stay or defend the abuser. Recently I found myself really irritated with Rihanna for reuniting with her abuser. However, when I step back and examine the landscape of our society, I realize that it's a rigged system. We expect the women of the current generation to rebound instantly from a history of thousands of years of severe oppression and suddenly be totally strong and fully confident. Such an expectation is not only irrational and unrealistic but harmful to the progress of our culture as a whole.
Women who speak out are often seen as rebellious troublemakers. Reporting rape or violence to the authorities doesn't guarantee that harm will stop; it doesn't even guarantee punishment of the perpetrator. Our legal system grants more value to the rights of the accused than to those of the victim. Even restraining orders don't work. Victims of domestic abuse face the most harm after taking legal action against a perpetrator.
Let me reverse the question at hand. Why would a victim run away? Why would a victim make a report to the authorities? What exactly is the incentive? Personal satisfaction?
Let's go a little deeper. What are some other reasons that a victim might want to keep abuse a secret? What about "preserving her value as a woman"?
A few weeks ago kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart asserted a rather subversive idea that the shame about sexuality that abstinence-only education instilled in her was one reason that she didn't want to run away from captivity. She said that she "felt dirty and filthy" after bring raped and thought, "Why would it even be worth screaming out?" She felt that her life had "no value."
Where on Earth might she come up with a silly little idea like that? Oh, I don't know, perhaps it has something to do with religion? One need only to flip a few pages into the Bible to discover the story of wicked old Eve. After being duped by the serpent, Eve plucks the fruit of the forbidden tree and gets a real ass-whooping from God. Instead of sending Eve to her hut to think about her transgressions, he casts both Adam and Eve out of Eden, the magical utopia, and damns her to a life of painful menstrual cycles and oppression by her husband. Fast-forward through a few thousand years of viewing women as inferior to their penile counterparts and bargaining them as goods between fathers and future husbands.
The Bible lays out the duty to remain chaste. In 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 the book reads, "Flee from sexual immorality. ... Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price." Well, that pretty much removes the option of casual sex.
What about rape, then? How did society treat rape in the past? Ever heard of the term "fallen woman"? Even if a woman lost her virginity by rape, she was considered damaged goods and therefore not marriage material. With few job options for women, not having a husband to provide for you meant that you were in for a life full of hardship and suffering.
Does this idea still persist? You bet it does, and not just in Muslim honor killings.
Modern-day American teen victims of rape are subjected to shame through social media. Word spreads fast that a boy (or group of boys) had his way with a young girl. The blame shifts to the victim, and fellow students add insult to injury by calling the victim a "slut."
In light of these facts, is it any wonder that a victim might turn the abuse and violence on herself and believe that she deserves the punishment, that she brought it on herself or that she is totally ruined by it?
Let's turn our attention to traumatic bonding. You might know of this phenomenon as Stockholm syndrome. An abuser breaks down the victim over time by using emotional, physical or sexual attacks that strike at the center of a victim's self-confidence or even personal safety. Often perpetrators vary their behavior; sometimes they're nice, and other times they're mean. Such an experience is confusing to the victim and, having lost self-esteem or freedom, the person develops a strong emotional connection to the abuser.
The government uses similar tactics when dealing with terrorists, yet no one says, "Well, why don't they just try to escape?"
In the case of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, I noticed that the police chief Michael McGrath said, "I'm not going to use the word torture out of respect." Respect for whom? What exactly is the word he'd prefer to use to describe the collective activities of tying someone up in a basement for 10 years, repeatedly raping that person and beating the individual so furiously that she miscarries a child and loses her hearing?
Keep in mind that this is the very authority figure who is supposed to be protecting the victims and pursuing justice on their behalf. Is the word "torture" only reserved for war?
So the next time you find yourself or a person around you saying, "Those girls should have just run away!" stop and ponder all these factors I've presented. I guarantee you'll realize that it makes perfect sense why they stayed.