I’ve been thinking about some of the reactions to my last post about my sexual assault. One of the things that has come up a few times is people calling me brave. Brave for sharing, brave for speaking so candidly. This seemed like a weird thing because I didn’t feel brave, or at least speaking about such things shouldn’t be brave.
Maybe Lisa made the point best; speaking about how it is brave, but it absolutely shouldn’t be. I’m not the one who did anything wrong. I have nothing to be ashamed of. Why should anything I have to say about my assault be brave? I know it apparently is because of the way society still thinks about sexual assault, but it shouldn’t be.
We all have boundaries. Some of us have boundaries in different places, but we all have them. Some people share easily, some are hard to get to know. Some people are sensitive, others have thick skins. Each to their own, and all ways of being are ok, they’re just different.
One boundary we all have in common is our skin. It is our most primal boundary and there is something fundamentally and intensely personal about it. Again, people have different physical boundaries that they set for themselves, but we all have them. Some people are huggers, some don’t really like being touched.
When someone violates the physical boundary that separates us from another, something happens to our sense of self. Our psychological boundaries are violated as well as our physical ones. We can’t separate the two, they are necessarily, intrinsically linked. We don’t have a body and a mind, we are body and mind.
When our bodies are violated, our sense of self feels tarnished. Our power and our choices about our own bodies, our most basic boundaries, are stolen from us. Something about that sense of powerlessness almost always triggers a sense of shame and guilt. It doesn’t reflect reality, and it’s awful to feel this guilt and shame, but it’s understandable. When we are unable to protect our most basic boundaries we feel guilt for allowing something to happen to us that we didn’t choose. There is also a justified fear of judgement, which no one wants to experience. Almost all of this is happening on a subconscious level, which makes it even harder to fight against.
Emotions are hard to fight, even if you know in your head they don’t reflect reality.
This is one of the things that has come out in the documentary ‘Hitting Home’ that is currently showing on the ABC (please watch it!). The question of ‘why don’t you just leave?’ comes up and women constantly say that they feel so much guilt and shame they couldn’t bear the judgement if they told someone.
Abuse is always a matter of control. The control begins much sooner than the abuse in terms of domestic violence, but even in lone assault cases, that sense of powerlessness, guilt and shame are drivers for silence, and that makes the statements about victims being brave to speak out, true.
I have no guilt and no shame. I am lucky. My experience is not the experience of most victims. I had a woman tell me just this week that she was propositioned by a married man wanting to have an affair with her (she is happily married and said no) and felt too ashamed to even talk about it. No one even touched her. How awful! She questioned what role she played. Did she lead him on? What was she wearing? She did nothing wrong, but our society grooms women to question how they contribute to awful men doing awful things. The victim should not have to question how they contributed. They are not responsible for the perpetrator’s actions.
I didn’t do anything wrong. No victim did. No matter what they did leading up to the abuse, nothing excuses it. The perpetrator is always responsible for their actions; the victim never, ever is.
Victim blaming on any level only contributes to the problem in a very tangible way. Don’t ever fall into the trap of saying that the victim could have protected themselves if only they’d *insert excuse here*. Let’s stop asking why women don’t leave and how they could have protected themselves, and start asking why abusers behave the way they do. The abusers are the problem, not the victims. Never, ever the victims.
We have nothing to feel ashamed of. We shouldn’t have to be brave to speak out.