I’ve been thinking recently about survivors’ attitudes to their own rapes. There seems to be a real range of ways in which people look back on their experiences – unsurprisingly – from those like Alyssa Royce who don’t see it as anything of real consequence to those women from the Telegraph who have found it has profoundly shaped their lives for decades. So whilst my own attitude is no more valid than theirs (and mine may well change in the years to come), I thought I would lay out my thoughts.
You’re blue in the face from reading about how important I think it is to talk about rape. But the other thing that I do think is really important is to own your rape experience – even if you do it privately, with no one else involved. By that, I mean that rather than attempt to hide the fact that you were raped, or push the memory far into the recesses of your mind, you admit to yourself that yup, I was raped. Is that morbid? Possibly. But mostly I see it as affirming. For a few reasons:
1. You survived
Here you are. You had a horrific experience, someone attempted to break your spirit, and yet here you stand. And for a while, your existence may have been undignified. But you’re still here.
2. YOU survived
Yes, you will have changed. Of course rape has changed you. But are you really telling me that you bear no resemblance to the person you were before? Have your tastes in music and books changed, have you drifted from every single one of your friends? Someone tried to break your spirit, but that crucial bit of you, that essence, remains. You’re alive, and you’re still you.
3. You survived, and you got something extra
Trust me, you did. Even if you can’t see it yourself yet. But when someone goes through something as intensely traumatic as sexual abuse, and comes out the other side, they’ve grown. Somewhere is a steely strength that no one will ever be able to rip from you again.
4. You got some shit from it, too
Enough from the mind/spirit section of the bookshop. Obviously rape is not some life-affirming experience, or everyone would want one. It’s painful, it’s tough, it’s humiliating (it shouldn’t be, but we all feel it), and it makes us feel scared. A lot. So yes, we rape survivors can go about feeling proud for having survived, and having some extra confidence. But the problem is that sometimes that confidence is hidden deep. We don’t realise it’s there. Far more often, we’re hurrying down empty streets, or feeling our hearts quicken when there are footsteps behind us, or – as happened to me recently – we completely freak out when friends pin us down in a just joshin’ sort of way.
But here’s the thing: own it. I experienced rape: part of me is a Survivor with a capital S, and part of me is a victim with a timid lower-case v. And whilst it’s hard to think of plus-points of the victim part, we can at least say this. When someone tried to imply that I didn’t deserve to be loved, he fucked up. I happen to know that I’m loved by a number of people, but I also love me. I’m trying to keep this from descending into affirming chants, but I do think that’s important. I love the whole of me, and even the new shitty bits – because they remind me of the strong bits. Yes, I scuttle down too-quiet streets. But I also dare to walk down streets in the first place. So props to me, and props to you. Own it.
So what those little shitty bits tell us is that rape gives us new limits, new things to worry us that never crossed our minds before, at least to any great extent – but those limits are also pretty weak. We can push past our limits. And because of that, I always try to think of myself as a rape survivor – and I say it proudly.