I’ve never doubted you. I know you’ve suffered and I believe every word you’ve ever had to say about it. I know you worked doubly hard to ensure the abuse wouldn’t consume you; you’re strong in spite of it. You were lucky you were able to channel the emotions into protecting yourself, naming your abuser publicly and all the things they did to you empowered you. It didn’t matter if they weren’t punished by the state for it; the point is you did your bit. Have a big pat on the back for that, you deserve praise for your courage and amazing personality.
Let me give you another scenario though; one that is far more common in a rape culture. A physically and mentally vulnerable woman is “difficult to read”. She might not have the ability to consent and her closest friends and allies with an understanding of power and control know this. They make the effort to explicitly spell out their intentions, being tactile only with the express permission of the person concerned. There are people who understand that sexual advances may be misinterpreted so they put in the extra effort to not make those advances, controlling their urges so that the vulnerable person is not put into a position where consent becomes an issue. If, despite this, a person continues regardless with what they deem ‘normal behaviour’ it is because they feel entitled to their own impulses irrespective of the person they’re focused on. This is power and control. Now imagine the victim decides to share her feelings with people she trusts, she’s not sure what happened, whether it was abusive or not. See, I empathise here. As a 10 year old girl, I wasn’t sure why exactly the mosque teacher was wrong for stroking my inner thigh, I just knew. Yet still, more than a couple of decades on, I still sometimes feel like maybe it didn’t happen exactly like that, maybe he was just being absent minded, maybe it was my fault for sitting next to him. Dearest worthy survivor, what do you think happened here? Would you like to speak to him so that he can confirm it never happened? You only have my word right?
When I was 15 a family friend pinned me against the stairwell and tried to wrap his mouth around my face. I wriggled free but he tried to ‘tickle’ me later so I ran away from home for the night. I was grounded for a week and I still didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t tell them because I knew what would happen; they wouldn’t believe me. I didn’t tell anyone so he tried to do the same again, a couple of years later. On this occasion I got angry and asked him what the hell he thought he was doing. His response? “Well, I’d heard you were a slag so I thought I’d give it a go.” In that moment I knew I was right for silencing myself. He had an answer for everything and given that the world would readily agree that I was some kind of teenaged slapper, I pushed the anxiety and feelings of being out of control to the back of my mind. That wasn’t the last time a man would touch me without my consent. Random strangers would think it perfectly fine to pick me up and fling me over their shoulders, once a man even grabbed my crotch in a nightclub. Of course I learnt my body is not mine to protect, my body exists for entitled men. That’s possibly why I didn’t report the gang rape at age 20. What was the point? Who’d listen to me anyway? I feared that people wouldn’t believe the abuses I’d suffered because of how many incidents I’d been subjected to. This is a particularly strong trigger which had me burst into tears only a few months ago when a pub landlady accused me of making up the harassment I’d been subjected to by 3 separate punters. Of course I was some kind of princess for believing I was so hot all these men just couldn’t resist.
Then there was the time I disclosed to my male best friend at the time that my partner (also his best friend) had forced me to have sex against my will. He was furious. Not with our mutual friend mind, at me for telling him this sort of stuff. He wanted to know what I expected him to do and when I admitted through tears I did not know he shouted at me for saying it in the first place. We never spoke about it again. Another of our mutual friends would play the concerned mediator, gaining my trust by giving me assurances he wanted us to work through it with his support. About 3 hours after I told him his friend had punched me in the back twice, he tried it on. Drunk and bewildered I shrugged it off but within the same hour he would relish telling my ex that I had told him he was an abuser. Shattered I was then subjected to a lengthy verbal taking down with these two men glaring at me. This ex-partner of mine was inappropriate with other women within the group too and desperate as I was to maintain the status quo, I backed him up, shaming myself in the process. After my relationship ended I heard another woman in the group had accused him of rape but nobody believed her on account of her being a bit of an ‘airhead’ oh, and also the ‘local bike’. To this day that man is celebrated by his sycophantic friends as a comedian and a fun person to have at a party. I have no doubts that I am the manic depressive with split personality disorder.
As a survivor I will never escape the demons that started chasing me with each of these incidents. I will always remember the clothes I was wearing, how tactile I was and still am and the readiness with which my experiences were dismissed and how easily I was shunned.
Twitter ‘sisters/worthy survivors’, how are you different from the men I describe above? I have complex post-traumatic stress disorder so pretty much every other sentence ever uttered is a trigger to me, yet despite this I was able to cope with strangers offering their tuppence on how worthless I am. I could do this if we were working towards processes that would make it easier to establish abuses perpetrated with minimal impact on victims.
By calling into question the validity of one victim’s disclosure, you have silenced us all.
The picture as you paint it is the reverse of the graphic below.