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Feminspire | July 12, 2014

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The Dangers Of Rape Apologism To A Survivor

The Dangers Of Rape Apologism To A Survivor

There is nothing about rape or sexual assault that confuses me more than the ability of everyone around the victim (or the survivor) to pardon the actions of the perpetrator. Whether the excuses sound like “well, you were wearing a really short skirt,” or more like “really – it’s not like he was going to murder you,” they are all equally unforgivable.

Since it was discovered that my mother’s husband had created and distributed many years’ worth of child porn of me until my late teens, my relationship with my entire family has changed irreparably. While they supported me theoretically, I struggled with finding someone who was capable of actually understanding the trauma I had been put through. Most of my family came to the conclusion that I was lucky, because he had not, by their definition, actually raped me. Others made jokes – I could only hope it was a defense mechanism, but really, when is it okay to tell a child pornography victim that they’re a “movie star”? Others, even people I had thought I could trust to understand, started to ignore me as time went on – I was a damaged commodity, and even though nothing about my personality had changed, I was no longer as “fun” or “cool.” But one thing they all had in common was that they made excuses for the man. Though they weren’t aware of it, I’d heard several members of my family make asides about my “short skirts” and “really, she couldn’t have expected anything else” or “she’s pretty, he couldn’t help himself. Everyone made excuses. Everyone had reasons. It took me a while to realise, but now I know: even despite his horrible act, a pedophile had been given more leverage than his victim. While his motives were understandable, mine were scrutinised – my audacity to wear skirts that might be considered short, or to be considered attractive in his predatory eyes, was enough to remove him from the harsh light of blame and force me into it.

The worst part, however, was my mother’s decision to remain in the marriage. I refused to see her, I issued ultimatums, I desperately pleaded with her, but nothing I said could change her mind. Here was someone who had carried me in her womb for nine months, telling me that “he’s sorry now,” so his previous actions were okay. He “loved her,” so distributing images of my naked, pre-pubescent body was forgivable. He “stopped doing drugs,” so assaulting the girl next door, who was younger and treated with more violence than I had been, was alright.

There are times to forgive someone, but this was not one. I realise there is little I can do to change the mind of someone so clearly deluded, but it wasn’t just one person: it seemed everyone thought her way. There were so few people in my life who acknowledged his wrongs that I started to wonder if it was my fault. Here I was, a young teenager living out of home and struggling to get through school and pay rent, spending my nights crying myself to sleep because I believed I, as a child, had somehow brought this upon myself. Somehow, as a girl in school, I had enticed this monster so adequately that he had no choice. Even now, when I logically know otherwise, I still have a hard time believing that I wasn’t somehow to blame. While the jokes, the excuses, the slut-shaming and rape apology seem like small details of the experience of surviving rape, I can assure you – they are not. They’re just words, but they are capable of pushing even the most resilient of survivors to the brink of their sanity.

It took a long time to realise that not many people take you seriously when you’re a survivor. I was even hesitant to write this, for fear that future employers would Google me, and deny me jobs or opportunities because I had the temerity to be sexually abused.

And the forgiveness of my abuser goes further than my family, further than my mother, further than any potential future bosses. Every time I go on the internet, check the news, watch television, listen to music – it’s there. Somebody is justifying the actions of somebody who targeted a child. Reddit, a site I originally went to for the humour and easy-to-digest science and politics, has apparently turned into something that allows rapists to tell their stories without fear of being attacked. Attacked verbally of course, nothing like the horrible, traumatic and unforgivable things they did to people like me in the past. In fact, the rapists’ comments seemed to attract less controversy than the expression of feminist ideals on Reddit. For example, anyone who expresses dislike for Daniel Tosh is met immediately with a downvote, whereas the rapist that heads this thread (huge trigger warning) got a few hundred upvotes, with many commenters defending him.

Men that show evidence of having, wanting to, or intending to rape someone even have a space on the internet where they can be victims, with the misogynist’s version of slut shaming – “creep shaming”. Apparently, I am not allowed to be afraid of a man who poses an obvious threat to me, nor can I even call him “creepy” or let it be known I may even be a little unsettled, for fear of being called a misandrist.

But really, this isn’t about misandry or the tendency of everyone I have seen to delegitimise women’s rights. It’s about a lot more than that. It’s about the sincere, traumatic and soul-crushing struggle of picking up the pieces when you are abused, assaulted or raped. It’s about needing support where there is none. Most importantly, it’s about society’s need to grow, and to understand that it’s time to support the victim, not the perpetrator. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in life was to grasp an idea of who I was after being abused. When something like this happens, you lose all sense of yourself, right down to physiological needs – for a long time, I could barely bring myself to eat or drink. Even now, I still struggle. People question my motives and my beliefs (“you’ve never been raped, stop being such a bitch, rape jokes are funny”), my triggers (“I feel suffocated having to follow these rules”), and even just my right to be sad sometimes. I can only hope that someone will see this article and start to think about the way they will treat any survivors in their life after this.

Submitted by an anonymous contributor

  • Rhiannon Payne

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I wish you ALLLL the best. <33333

  • Caroline

    This is a great article. I understand and relate so much.

  • Helena

    You are NOT to blame, you are so strong for writing this and I am sending so much love your way <3

  • polkadotbot

    Thanks so much for sharing your story! You sound like a strong, mindful woman.

  • P.


  • Carmen Tracey

    wonderful article, but needs a trigger warning. the revelation early in the article that the author was abused as a child and had pornographic images of that abuse distributed was extremely triggering for me, and i can see lots of other potential triggers as well.

    • visitor

      the word “rape” is in the title, i think that should be warning enough

  • Marlena Carcone

    This is so powerfully written. Thank you for telling your story.

  • Tamora Pierce

    I don’t care if you were naked in the shower, he is to blame; he is a criminal and he should be in jail. There is no defense for men like him. There is no fault for those he preyed upon, like you. Your mother is an enabler, as are all the others who blame you. It’s because of people like them that so many survivors are afraid to report their attackers.

    Hold your head up high. You have survived. I only wish these people could feel what you have felt.

  • Sol

    Thank you so much for sharing this, it means a lot. A stranger tried to rape me last year on the street, then threatened me to death and chased me with a knife until I found help. But, again, ‘I wasn’t actually raped’, and ‘he didn’t kill me, he only scratched me and bruised me a little bit’, so apparently I am not allowed to feel abused or upset in the eyes of most people, to the point where I feel ashamed about my own thoughts. So thank you for sharing, I feel a bit more human now

  • Audrey Scott

    It takes so much strength to write an article like this. You bring such an honest voice to all survivors of rape and sexual abuse. What you went through is possibly the worst thing a child or simply a human being could ever endure, but while your story is tragic, your presence is inspiring. The things you say in this article are things that all survivors need to hear. “It wasn’t your fault” can never be said enough. Thank you for writing such an enlightening and moving piece.

  • Jodie

    Thank you.

  • Allison

    Writing this article was brave and I applaud you for it. I wish you the best, and I hope people start to understand the way you do in the future.

  • Chris Allen

    Thank you. Thank you for having the courage to write this. Thank you for having the courage to share it on an internet that’s rife with slut-shaming and woman-blaming. Thank you for having the courage to allow your pain to show, and to speak of it. Maybe this will be the story that will help someone understand, who didn’t understand before; if you’ve reached one person and helped them see the truth in all this, you’ve changed the world for the better. If one survivor feels supported, feels that someone out there *does* understand, you’ve made the world a little bit better, for them and for all of us.

    My grandfather was the molester; my grandmother was the enabler. I was three. It took the majority of my life for me to even let myself *remember* what he did to me. I am lucky in that my parents believe me and support me. My grandparents (the ones in question) are both dead.

    Once I finally felt safe enough to let myself remember (after about 40 years), a lot of my lifetime’s worth of fears made sense. It was a very difficult time to live through: I nearly became an alcoholic; I was having anxiety attacks—at one point my husband came home to find me in the closet with the door shut, curled up on the floor and shaking.

    I had to understand that there is strength in allowing the emotions out, allowing yourself to fall apart, allowing the pieces to just lie there on the floor, that it’s not weak to do so because it takes a peculiar kind of strength to let go of all the ways one desperately holds the fractured pieces together, to turn them loose and let them be what they are and let yourself outwardly be the broken person you are on the inside. To find a way to cope with the fracturing, you first have to not only admit it’s there, but also let it have its say.I had to learn to deal with the anger of the abused three-year-old inside me. I had to learn to live with a lot of things.

    And that’s a part of it so many don’t understand: it’s not “character building.” It’s not “A bad thing that happened, but you’re all better now, right? You’ve healed, yes?” It’s an internal amputation, as much as if someone chopped off your arm or your leg. You don’t “heal” from it and become normal again, as so many assume: instead, you learn to live *despite* it.

    It’s like living with a bear in your house: you may have times when it’s not in the room—but it’s still in the house, somewhere, lurking. You may have times when the room you’re in is beautiful, and you’re happy—and those times you treasure. But it’s guaranteed that you *will* have times when you walk into a room, distracted with thinking about a report for work, or your kid’s school supplies, or figuring out if you have enough in your budget to buy that new DVD… and the bear lunges out of hiding, claws you to the ground, and stands over you, growling and roaring. And after you’ve faced him down *again*, and he’s retreated, grumbling, to his hiding place… you get to doctor your wounds *again*, and walk around with a limp for a while *again*. That’s what people don’t understand about triggers: triggers call the bear, and when a trigger is used, it’s ALWAYS an ambush. It’s not an “I’m going to sit down and work a bit more on this piece of my damage,” it’s an ambush: when your defenses are down, your tools and weapons are scattered, and you were sleeping peacefully until the trigger called the bear to jump out of nowhere and attack you. Again.

    Survivors don’t heal—they just get good at surviving every day, every night, and every day again. They get good at laying traps for the bear, at fighting the bear, at using tools and techniques to ward it off or drive it away or lessen the number of times it does an ambush, at learning new ways to bandage the wounds.

    And what family, friends, and the public at large need to understand is that when they blame you; when they refuse to grant your right to be heard and believed as a person and to be respected and loved as a person; when they think triggers are stupid and insist that the act you suffered which put that bear into your life FOREVER is “just a joke”—what they’re doing is slathering honey and raw meat juice all over you, and whistling for that damned bear. YES, it DOES do damage. FURTHER damage. When someone does this stuff, they’re hitting a disabled person; they’re tromping all over someone who’s down and gasping from a mortal wound… and some even seem to delight in using their hobnailed boots to drive their laughter and/or scorn further into you.

    For me, part of learning to live with the bear was to learn all I could about child molestation… and it was like acid in a wound to find out just how common it really is, and how nearly always, it’s someone the child knows—most often a family member or boyfriend (or sometimes girlfriend) of a family member. It was like burning acid, because I compared the statistics and the numerous survivor accounts to society’s ignorant beliefs about it, and it drove me crazy: how can we stop this, if we won’t even acknowledge its full magnitude? if we won’t grapple with it and not stop for reputation or family shame or any of the numerous reasons families and communities don’t want to believe it happened and is happening? Rape survivors are in the same boat: how can we stop it if we aren’t willing to face the reality of who does it, what causes it, how culture allows it/encourages it/blames the victims?.

    Our culture has a real problem with according women and children human rights, and respect, and value, and validation as human beings. Our culture still wants to pretend the bad stuff happens somewhere else, or only to poor people, or only to “THOSE kind of people” (fill in the blank with any/all statements that blame the victim). In short, as a whole our culture is like a child who refuses to admit to a wrong they did, and refuses to take the responsibility to fix it. That’s changing… and it’s people like you, speaking up and speaking out, who are helping create that change. Thank you again.

    I’m blessed with a wonderful supportive husband, and supportive family. I feel for you not having that, and hope that you find support, love, and understanding from friends who are family, since your own family has let you down so very badly. One of the hardest things after abuse is to learn to love yourself and to be there for yourself, to give yourself support. It sounds like you’ve worked hard on doing that, and I hope you keep doing so.

  • Blackbird.

    Thank you for sharing this article with us all, this story makes me feel so sick, i wish you all the love in the world.

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  • vinay thakur

    First of all thanks for sharing this article, no doubt you are a brave person, don’t be shamed or feel guilty for whatever happened in past, it was not your fault. Actually Rape is never a victim’s fault. It’s dad that we live in a society where a victim needs to defend his/her actions more than perpetrator, we need to change this. It’s our (your, my and every one who is reading this article) responsibility to change this mindset, it’s not a easy thing to do, but we should not give it up. I commend your courage and I have no doubt that you will come out of this trauma and enjoy your life. All the very best. Stay strong and be happy.

  • Tortor

    Thanks for writing this. It must have been hard.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you so much for writing this. I wish that rape and abuse victims were supported more by the people around them, and I wish that they didn’t have to feel like this. I know several people that have been raped and were able to tell me about it, and I feel as though it happens so much more often than anyone would like to believe or admit. In many cases, the aggressor still runs free. I know somebody that was raped whilst at school and although the person in question was expelled, they decided not to press charges. Many of her school friends didn’t believe her and she was made to feel guilty for ‘ruining his education’. People can be cruel.

  • Lauren Borrero

    Gee that was terrible. I will never understand why a “mother” would choose a man over their daughter. When you become a mom you are supposed to care for your kids not put them in danger like that.