I would like to open this interview for those reading to understand the amount of courage it takes to discuss such an issue, despite how it’s “trending” on social media right now. I guarantee you it is not trending by the hands of those who have suffered sexual assault or abuse of any form as much as it is by those seeking to exploit the pain and trauma of survivors, causing them to relive their experience all over again.
Niedira Kenny is one of my closest girlfriends, whom I’ve known over 15 years. She is also one of the strongest women I know who inspires me endlessly…and her stance within this interview further solidifies my sentiment of her. We’ve been through it all together, and I am deeply honored that she came to me 1) to open up and share her story with me, and 2) to ask me to help her share some of her experience and perspective with the world for the very first time since it happened, nearly 5 years ago. Because I too share a similar story and have been a megaphone for countless of others to share their stories, I knew the magnitude of the call I received.
This is not only a message to the critics who spew their unsolicited and vile comments via social media, but this is a word of Empowerment for those who feel like the wounds of their experience(s) are being torn back open by these recent events in the media and news. Not only do we share your story, but we are coming to your defense to push back against those who have no right to oppose why you chose your particular path to healing!
Peace & Love,
Ebony S. Muhammad, Publisher of Hurt2Healing Magazine…and Survivor.
Ebony S. Muhammad (EM): With the recent surge of survivors of sexual assault speaking out, we’ve also seen the unfortunate pushback of their courage to finally tell their story. There have been those on social media who speak, most of the time out of ignorance, as the authority of when survivors should give their report/account. From your perspective and experience, why does the time vary for survivors to speak out?
Niedria Kenny (NK): The short answer is because we are all different and we process differently. The long of it is, many factors play into why a person has chosen to be silent, resulting in disclosing of their assault to occur years later.
Factors such as fear of losing employment. Fear of being judged and told that you did something wrong. Fear of being called a slut or whore or as a mother, fear of being stigmatized as a bad mom because you were out in the first place instead of “home with your child/children.” However, no one knows that your child was with the other parent the night it happened, and you have a right to be able to go out to eat or to the mall or to dinner etc. Fear that you’ll share your story and it will fall on deaf ears. Fear of your attacker striking again. Fear of people not believing you. Fear of people picking apart your story to say that you could have prevented it and concluding with comments about how you did something wrong.
When it’s not a random rape attack by someone you don’t know, you fear that you will have to see them again. You work together, you’re a part of the same social circle, you attend the same church, you do business together, they are family etc. You don’t see a way out. You are embarrassed and simply don’t want anyone to know what happened to you.
For some, like myself; after the attack they are still in survival mode their selves. So, reporting the assault for the sake of “speaking out” to prevent “others” from potential danger and to be the one to put a rapist behind bars, is an afterthought. They are thinking about what they need to do, to continue to survive. If they can do this without saying something, which in a lot of cases is what they have done; then that’s what they do. That’s what I did.
REF: Survive, outlive refer to remaining alive longer than someone else or after some event. Survive usually means to succeed in keeping alive against odds, to live after some event that has threatened one
REF from video game perspective: Survival mode, or horde mode, is a game mode in a video game in which the player must continue playing for as long as possible without dying in an uninterrupted session while the game presents them with increasingly difficult waves of challenges.
Then, there’s fight or flight.
REF: What Happens During the Fight-or-Flight Response. In response to acute stress, the body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated due to the sudden release of hormones. The sympathetic nervous systems stimulate the adrenal glands triggering the release of catecholamines, which include adrenaline and noradrenaline.
When you’re done fighting you take flight: It happens at the time of the assault and like adrenaline; it last until it doesn’t last. And like the adage, “It is …. until it isn’t anymore.” In other words, “What will be, will be, until it isn’t anymore.” That includes pain… and fear.
That adrenaline manifest in running, hiding, being very quiet… just as you would if your life is still in danger. You feel as though you are still under the attack. So, you sit there, and you be quiet so that no one will know. No one can find you when you’re quiet and you stay tucked away in that dark corner, unseen. You wait for it to “go away” (the feeling: the attacker) You hope that it will just “go away”
When the feeling subsides, and you feel “safe” sometimes you talk about it. That could be years later. That could be the next day, depending on how long it took that individual to come to grips with what happened. If they are lucky, they realize it was not their fault and then, they begin to speak.
It is important to remember when we are addressing one’s actions and response to anything, that everyone is different. We are created with same but not equal body parts or processing abilities.
With that simple understanding first, we would allow ourselves to be less critical when judging a person’s willingness or unwillingness to come forth at which the time their assault happened or at a later date when determining them to be credible or not and when chiming in with our own premature hypotheticals about what we would have done or what someone in that situation would have done.
For so many reasons, a person chooses to disclose it later: They have sought help for themselves and are now strong and courageous enough to talk about it without fear of judgement. They know they did nothing wrong. They are ready to take the next step to address what has happened so that they can overcome a fear of the past. They are willing to stand in the gap for others because they can identify with why someone else didn’t say something- so they come forth as a sacrifice to try to assist the next person to ensure they are not alone and that it’s ok to come forward. They want to be a part of the solution by educating and bringing awareness to aspects of why people don’t speak up. They couldn’t do any of this before, because they couldn’t do it for themselves at the time. You can’t help others if you are not well yourself. You must take care of yourself before you can take care of others.
Your fear of not surviving becomes overpowered, overshadowed with your determination to live and to assist others in doing the same. And this…. May take time.
EM: Filmmaker Ava DuVernay recently tweeted the above pie graph outlining the commonly used “causes” critics claim women are raped, with the entire graph pointing to “rapists”. For those who don’t understand this message, is there any justification for a woman to be sexually assaulted? Why would anyone suggest these other causes are warranted?
NK: Again, the short answer is NO. Just as the word no, means no. These reasons are suggested mostly by people who have been made to believe and have accepted it as an answer, through perpetuation.
Whether they are a victim or a critic chiming in to “repeat” something they heard. It’s very, very easy to judge but it requires thought, attention to detail, analysis, and many more compassions which should exist in humans, to be able to not judge. This means work for the simple minded.
I believe they suggest this because it’s an easy way out of having to tackle a real issue. It’s an excuse to protect their loved one; their family member; their organization; the reputation of an affiliation; the attacker. And we’ve all heard that excuses are what the devil dropped on his way to hell. Victims then believe this, because everyone else has said it. And they too want an easy way to just accept what happen when they are trying to get over it or put it behind them or forget it ever happened. It’s easier to do when you can say it must have been your own fault. But that very thing is why they are a victim.
I don’t personally dress in a provocative manner but if I did, that’s absolutely no invitation to take, rob and steal from me something that I have not willfully consented to you having.
In fact, these excuses above have been challenged in the fact that rape happens with children and adults at the hands of people they know and none of the above excuses apply to something they were doing.
In my case, I had on pants that went to my ankles, a leotard that buttoned at the crotch and a wool, long sleeved coat and knee-high boots – nothing about that said, come rape me. I was sober enough to drive and I was sober enough to say STOP-NO! And it still happened.
If you can’t conclusively say that rape occurrs for these above excuses on this pie chart, then they should not be considered reasons. More importantly, and once again; the rapist is the reason a rape occurs. There isn’t one scenario which would satisfy the statement that a woman/girl deserved to be raped, was asking to be raped or knew that by doing any one thing, that it would warrant rape and then be acceptable as a cause. Period. Just as there isn’t one viable reason for a person to steal from someone.
And unless you can show me one thief who stole property who was caught, who was able to tell a Judge that the company he stole from deserved it because their prices were too high, and he his charges were dismissed because a Jury collectively agreed that this was a valid reason; then why is rape? If this happened, Versace would get robbed every day, because it’s acceptable.
If you want something from something and you cannot have it, and it’s not given to you; it is NOT YOURS to take under any circumstance. A woman’s body is her temple. Forcing entry is a break-in. Engaging in a sexual assault and rape is a violation. Sex without her consent is robbery on a level that could never be satisfied with sentencing because she cannot get that back. Yet we still can’t get people to believe that the act itself is wrong or to acknowledge that rapist is the problem in this scenario and not the victim!
NK: I would have to wholeheartedly agree with the Minister’s statement here, as it pertains to the gravity of a rape! A part of me died, which had to be restored. If you know anything about GOD’s timing, you know that it can never be seen in between the second hands of the watches we wear or on the clocks we watch. He has an eternal and divine timing source, which we could never comprehend. Knowing or being able to process His timing is incomprehensible.
What we are to do is pray for our healing and trust the process, have faith in the source of our existence and survival in knowing that His mercy and grace is sufficient.
EM: How can judgmental comments, ignorance, limited knowledge and lack of experience concerning what survivors go through damage the willingness for them to speak out?
NK: In the age of social media, which provides a platform for information to exist on a level where it is shared and seen daily by millions; Anything from a bad customer service experience to the most recommended DIY project is recommended and distributed by its users. There is no mistake that the news on social media travels faster than newspapers can press it, T.V. reporters can report it and online publications can upload it.
Victims and survivors of rape are among those users. Because this too, it is a topic of discussion. Especially since the #MeToo Movement.
I have to say that judgmental comments, ignorance, limited knowledge and lack of experience concerning what women and men go through might just be the number one cause beyond a person’s fight or flight, survival mode; which impairs their ability to speak out.
With regards to women and myself; they have already run these scenarios through their head when internalizing and thinking that they did something wrong or deserved it, because the world put a definition on people who dress or look a certain way being susceptible to rape to justify it happening. They have already been made to feel that rape is not a crime punishable by jail-time. They have already been made to feel that such a violation on their body is not serious enough to warrant jail-time of a first offender or a high-profile public figure, or even a random man who preys on women…. And that their precious bodies or even virginity are not worthy of consideration when it comes to being violated.
So, when they are ready to speak, they encounter what they feared in the beginning; which are those comments about how it took so long to talk, how they were dressed and not limited to what they were engaging in when it happened. They do not want to relive it again under public prosecution and humiliation and embarrassment.
Comments and judgements are the reason a victim may retreat from speaking even though they are ready to tell the story. Why? They are not ready to be attacked again by a much larger forum called “the world.” They don’t want to live through the assassination again, the humiliation or embarrassment on a larger platform this time and by people making statements about what they could have done when the issue is not what they could have done or should have done. The issue is that rape shouldn’t happen, so any comment about why it happened is repulsive. Victims will often refrain from making comments or speaking publicly after seeing how others (the public, social media users, ignorant people, people who have never experienced it, people who are protecting others) respond to another victim’s story. They began to reassess their own story all over again.
These comments made out ignorance will hush a victim, therefore setting off a mass destruction of victim’s stories, whereby they then retreat to their black hole. OR the comments will produce a firestorm of others who are willing to talk in defense for others. And therefore, you will see people who decide to tell their stories 2-5-10-15 years later. It’s not that they have an ulterior motive in sharing. It’s that they have been reading comments, processing comments and they are fed up with the ignorance, so they decide to speak! But for the ones who are not there just yet, sadly but understandably; they retreat.
EM: What actually takes place in the mind of a victim after being assaulted? What thoughts, fears and emotions do they experience? How does this play a role in whether they tell anyone?
NK: Personally, I had thoughts of guilt and shame. I replayed the night immediately on the way home. In fact, I began to replay it as I was walking from the building and establishment in which it took place, as I walked back to my car. “What should/could I have done differently?” “I shouldn’t have said yes, I will take you to get your car.” I should not have said, “Yes, I will walk with you inside for a second.” All of that replayed in my head. But the problem with that is, those thoughts only come after it had happened. And if nothing of this magnitude had of happened, you would not have had those thoughts. I replay what ifs, for no reason, because what if was not a question, minutes before it happened because it shouldn’t have happened….it wasn’t supposed to have happened. Those THOUGHTS should never supersede the fact that it should have never happened because it wasn’t right at all!
Those thoughts only come after, because you had no reason to feel that it was about to happen. Because you trusted them. But that’s the guilt. I felt guilty. I felt shameful, because in my case, after it happened; I noticed there was a surveillance camera which had captured it all and all I could think about was who would see it and who was watching it happen and how they could watch it without helping me. I felt as though I had been raped by everyone who saw it.
The very next day, a manager, an owner and customer of the establishment began to taunt me on social media (on my Instagram account) about what happened. Sending messages by posting videos of themselves inside the shop on the same spot mimicking what happened and mocking me and making statements about my undergarments…. without saying my name. It was very clear that they had watched what happened and they thought it was hilarious. How disgusting!
I didn’t want to tell anyone at that point because I felt as though if I never agreed to take him to get his car or walk with him inside the establishment it would not have happened and I knew that’s how the world would process it, without any consideration given to the fact that this was my friend and I trusted him and had no reason to believe that rape was a possibility in this situation.
I felt as though the people who were watching it, represented the world: Cold, Heartless, Careless, Disrespectful, Uncaring, Unconcerned, Gross, Disgusting, Nasty, Dirty, …. So why should I tell anyone?
When I thought I had the courage to make a report, I called the police, who also made me feel as though “the victim” was the one who did something wrong; so, I changed the story to act as if it was reporting about someone else and not me.
EM: What do survivors need for themselves and from others immediately, and then over time as they begin to process what has happened to them?
NK: Regardless of when a survivor has chosen to speak out, they need compassion without blame and understanding without judgement from the people they are entrusting with their story. They need someone to believe them. They need someone to tell them that they did not deserve this, because that is the bottom line truth. Overtime, they need their support group to allow them the necessary time to speak. While it’s important to report it, again, we are all different and may not be ready to share with anyone aside from the person we shared it with; the details of what happened. So, what we need is for someone to recognize that we may need time and just support in the process of healing ourselves first. Do not rush them, because it makes them feel guilty and they are already dealing with guilt over it happening to them. It creates a heavier burden when they feel pressed to rip the Band-Aid off right away. It’s easier to peel away at a scab and allow fresh skin to be seen, than it is to keep rubbing a wide-open wound.
While healing “properly” is taken into consideration with my analogy above- I can’t say that there’s a proper way to address an overall concern which affects every individual differently. Xanax treats anxiety, but everyone with anxiety can’t stomach it. In prescribing prescriptions, a good doctor can gauge from questions what will work better. And therefore, all suggestions will not work for every person.
EM: Why do you believe it seems easy for critics to speak vehemently to survivors, especially in a way that tends to re-victimize them? What words do you have for those who feel they have that right?
NK: The question answers itself; its EASY. It’s the easy button! If we don’t want to deal with something, we just ignore it or tell the victim that they are the problem and there… It’s solved: Stop wearing short shorts.
They are the problem for it happening to them, they are the problem for bringing it up, they are the problem for addressing it. All the while nothing gets handled. And it’s not even an easy fix. It’s just an easy response. When people don’t know or understand, it’s natural to criticize. Otherwise, they are superstitious in believing in things that they don’t understand. No one knows why rapist rape people or why they are rapist to begin with. There’s a dichotomy in that alone and something that needs to be addressed. And instead of people tackling that as the issue, they attack the victim as the problem. Thus, they are not a part of the solution.
It’s easy for people to attack a victim because they are defending someone they love and can’t/don’t want to believe for themselves that this person was/is, capable of doing such a thing. Rather than consider it as a possibility after listening to details and evidence they shun it, are opposed to hearing it, shut down listening or are outright ignorant as hell in being able to do due diligence. They simply do not want to hear it because it concerns someone that they love and adore for whatever reasons; Son, Father, Pastor, Business Partner, Elected Official, Churchman, Community Organizer, Doctor Brother, Uncle, Cousin, Family Member, etc. They have loyalty to that individual or are under control or are reaping a benefit that comes from association or affiliation with that person, so they want to support that person at all cost. They too, are victims of manipulation and deception and are selfish enough to come to the defense of an abuser to make sure that their benefits do not suffer from the prosecution of this monster!
The ones who speak out without any grounds for dismissing a survivor’s claim are disgusting individuals to me. They represent the epitome ignorance, the epitome of selfishness, the epitome of vile and they too, are just as bad as the rapist himself. Because they too, have now raped a victim of their right to tell their story. They rape a victim of their right to share it on their own terms, they rape a victim of their right to free themselves of the demons of their past. They rape a victim of their right to address the abuser/attacker. They rape the victim of their right to be innocent and due process. They rape the victim of their right to processing emotions differently. They rape a victim of their right to be angry or sad or emotionless or full of emotion when sharing their story because of the judgement that will follow about how they “should be acting” if this truly happened to them. They rape a victim of their right to save the life of another individual, therefore leaving them feeling that this happened to them in vain.
What I would love for these people to do is to have a seat at the table with victims and survivors of rape and allow each of them to tell their very different stories of how their rape happened. I would like for them to be as opened minded as they have been closed minded, to listening to victims and survivors who have decided to speak out along with those who have yet to take a public platform and stance against it, so that they can understand that people are different and that rape is real and that rape under any circumstance is a crime and that no one deserves to be raped. I would like for them to listen to the stories before they discredit the storyteller. I would like them to hear the story before they dismiss the contents. I would like for them to understand the circumstances surrounding a victim’s life at the time in which their rape occurred to try to gain an understanding as to why it was not reported immediately.
Most of all, I need them to just know that rape is wrong. And that even if you don’t believe it happened, keep in mind YOU WERE NOT THERE!!!!! So, listen before you prosecute, listen before you pass judgement, listen before you chime in and NEVER EVER, AGAIN IN YOUR LIFE SAY to a victim “Why are you just now reporting it!” And if you can not do any of this, DO NOT CHIME IN AT ALL.
EM: What words do you have for the survivors and their supporters to encourage and empower them concerning how to deal with critics?
NK: Dear survivors, you have survived what may possibly be considered the worst of what life can deal you. You are not to blame. This is not your fault. You did nothing wrong. You are worthy. You did not deserve this, and you did nothing to deserve this. Your attacker is the one who did something wrong. He/she is a sick individual mentally, emotionally and spiritually wounded and quite possibly destroyed so this is the way to rebel. THIS does not excuse their behavior. It does justify your voice to speak out and to speak up and to be courageous and confident in standing in your truth. Someone violated you. You did not violate them by anything you wore, by any amount of drinks you had, by any establishment you chose to patronize, by any affiliation or social organization you decided to be involved in, by any flirtatious behavior you had… because if you said no OR did not consent; you were raped and it was not your fault. I believe you. I understand, I stand with you. You are not stigmatized… I do not see you differently just because someone violated you. You are exactly what you were prior to the rape occurring. Except now, when you tell your story, you are a hero.
Dear Supporters of rape victims and rape survivors, I need you to tell them the same.
EM: What do friends and family of survivors need to know, do and/or say when someone opens to them about being sexually assaulted? Are there any additional don’ts you would like to mention?
NK: Your family member and or close friend has just endured a traumatic moment. They are afraid. They are in survival mode. They are fearful. They feel violated. They are embarrassed. They are humiliated. They are already blaming themselves in most cases. They are already on the brink of not surviving! They want to die! They want to survive! They are conflicted. They just lost a part of themselves. They are confused and cannot process why this just happened to them.
They are a victim! Don’t ask them if they were drinking. Or how much they drink…Don’t asking them what they were wearing? Don’t ask them why they decided to go or do anything with their abuser/attacker on the day that it happened. All these questions imply that they did something wrong.
The message here is that rape is wrong on all levels, multiple levels and is never justified. So, when someone says they were raped, it doesn’t matter what the circumstance was. Because there is no excuse to justify it and there is no reason that validates rape. It is never the victims’ fault.
It is ok to give advice to women about going out and how to be vigilant. In doing this, you are making them know that rapist is out there. Rapist are the problem and since they are out there, here’s what you need to know about being aware but even if it happens and you did all that you were “supposed to do” they exist because they are who they are; it is not your fault! But never making them to feel that something they are doing is what warrants the rape or sexual assault.
Never tell them what they “should have done”, because again, you are telling them that it is their fault. Never tell them what you “think” they did is what allowed the opportunity for the rapist to rape them. They are a victim in any instance of rape! Support their decision to share the information with you and do what you can to access the resources and tools available and at your disposal which would aid in the immediate healing process and in the case of someone who has spoken later, continue to offer them support. Support in the form of letting them know that their choice to speak about it 10 years, 5 years, 2 years later is okay.
EM: Is there anything else you would like to add?
NK: I would have spoken about this sooner if I did not have to consider the insensitive, ignorant, and unwarranted re-victimization comments that would have followed. I would have spoken sooner if I knew that people understood that rape was wrong on all levels. I would have spoken sooner if I knew that I didn’t have to risk being called a bad mom over this happening. I would have spoken sooner if I knew that this wouldn’t ruin my business connections, affiliations, relationships and sabotage my success if I brought charges against the attacker. I would have spoken sooner if I knew that I would not be exiled from my social circle and deemed a snitch or a seemingly promiscuous woman since this happened to me.
I would have spoken sooner if I wasn’t worried about how I would look to the public, being someone who advocates against this very thing. I would have spoken sooner if I was not worried about people saying I got what I deserved just because they don’t like me. I would have spoken sooner if I was not worried about people who would say that I am just looking to make money off the story, make money off the man, destroy a man’s life who “probably just did not want to be with me.” … according to what people would conclude.
I would have spoken sooner if it wasn’t an NBA player whom everyone loves and adores. I would have spoken sooner if it wasn’t a man that everyone in the community respects and admires. I would have spoken sooner if I had as much money as this man so that I could afford the legal defense that he would have. I would have spoken sooner if he wasn’t a politician who knows how to ruin my life if I ever make this allegation. I would have spoken sooner if it wasn’t my boyfriend or my husband, my pastor, friend or family member.
I would have spoken sooner if I was comfortable with the police. I would have spoken sooner if I did not over hear someone say that a woman did something that warranted rape. I would have spoken sooner if I knew that people wouldn’t say that there are reasons that accompanied rape. I would have spoken sooner if I knew that authorities took rape seriously. If I knew that I would have been protected, I would have spoken sooner. If I knew that someone would not take advantage of my vulnerabilities after this happened, I would have spoken sooner. If I knew that I could be normal in my response to the attack, I would have spoken sooner.
If I could have expressed true emotions after my attack without judgement on how I should be reacting, I would have spoken sooner. If I knew that I could be safe with telling someone, I would have spoken sooner. I would have spoken sooner if I knew that people would not blame me or look for reasons as to why this happened to me. I would have spoken sooner if I was comfortable with knowing that a prosecution would have happened… a conviction and that my attacker would have been jailed. I would have spoken sooner if I knew that I did nothing wrong! I would have spoken sooner if I knew someone would have believed me.
Most of these reasons are my own. However, a lot of the reasons above are reasons that belong to other women about why they don’t speak up sooner or when it happens.
If I had someone who I could speak to who would have comforted me, rather than condemn me, I would have spoken sooner. If I knew that the world would not chime in on what they think I should have done differently about this night, I would have spoken sooner. If I knew that people would consider the circumstance and would not speak unless they knew what happened, I would have spoken sooner.