on internalizing victim blaming

the heaviness of all the sexual violence and domestic violence i’ve been sitting with and supporting women through has been all sorts of re-triggering for me lately.  and while i feel powerful in my ability to do this sort of work, it’s reminded me of the holes in my own healing.  the other day i was remembering my own rape.  i was remembering the story of how another woman was prepared to confront her stalker and  feeling confused by why i have never confronted the man who raped me.  i was wondering aloud about the benefits of confronting him.  he is young, attractive, charming and well liked.  and he clearly has no idea he raped me, even though i said “no” clearly and loudly multiple times before he came inside me.  and maybe if i could confront him, he would understand that he needs to really listen when a woman says no, that no really does mean no, that he cannot assume she really wants it.  when i shared this doubt aloud, i was asked if i could track him down.

this morning i found the email he’d sent me afterwards.  an effusive email about how he was excited about our “wonderful meeting.”  i never responded and i havent looked at it since it was sent to me more than two years ago.  re-reading it now makes me nauseous.

as i dealt with the real physical reaction to seeing his words again, seeing his name, i wondered what it would look like to share
my experience with him.  and beyond sharing it with him, why i am so resistant to tell my story to other men, even to lovers.  why i feel anxious when i say the word rape aloud, when i say i’ve been raped.  why there’s a little voice inside me that thinks i shouldnt call it such.

but i have been raped.  its so stupid to deny my own experience, it’s painful to deny it.  but even now i hesitate to offer the details of my rape.  because i am afraid that men will be dismissive, that they will defend the man, say he clearly didn’t know what he was doing, blame me for staying the rest of the night in his tent, blame me for making him think i wanted to have sex even though i
said “no” at least three times.  say that it wasn’t that bad.  someone has said that to me, someone i love and respect, told me that it didnt sound like it was “that bad.”  it was my first experience of vaginal sex and it was non consensual, but sure, it wasnt “that bad.”  all of these are normal reactions when women share their stories of violence, and i dont want anyone to deny my experience.

after watching women be dismissed or even blamed for their experiences of sexual assault, after watching women have to substantiate their experiences of violence, i have crept inside myself and avoided telling people i dont trust to listen to and believe me.  and more often than not, those people are male bodied and male identified.  and that feels like a secondary violence.  to be trained into silence by a culture of victim blaming, to take on guilt for my own assault, to internalize the message that my experience wasn’t that bad and i’m just being dramatic, it all feels like a violence on top of another violence.  and i hate it.

occupy charlottesville’s women’s caucus is planning an event to bring the full impact of our culture’s avoidance of sexual assault and domestic violence into the light.  one of the pieces of the event i am interested in is a story telling hour.  now these arent the
sorts of stories you’re going to want to listen to, they arent the sorts of stories you’ll want to clap about afterwards, but you need to hear them.  everyone needs to hear them.  because unless we’re being open and honest, these violences will only be allowed to thrive as they do right now.  and i want to tell my story on that day, without fear of who is in the audience.  because someone will hear my story and it will feel familiar.  someone will hear my story and realize that maybe they havent always been seeking the clearest of consent from their sexual partners.

there are things we have to learn from these stories.  and things we have to learn from my silence, from other womens silence.  we are shamed and blamed for our sexuality, we are taught that very few will believe us if we come forward to tell our stories, we are taught that violence is acceptable.  i want to be shattering those cultural norms and creating new ones.  but i need strong male allies in my efforts.  i need boys who will listen and trust me to be clear about my own experiences.  i am asking for you to be courageous and vulnerable, and i know thats scary, but we wont get anywhere together otherwise.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. paxus
    Jan 17, 2012 @ 03:31:11

    i appreciate you stepping up and out with this. we have talked about this recently and i am glad it is part of you public virtual identity. And getting people to come to stories you think they “should hear” even if they are uncomfortable is often challenging.

    People attend these types events for lots of different reasons, because they care about he people speaking, because they want to help change the culture, because they are part of of the occupy family. And you can mix the stories, ones of hope and success in recovery or justice, with the ones which are shattering and/or just wrong.

    And i fully agree we need to talk about these tricky topics, filled with victim blaming and responsibility re-direction. THanks for this piece of that discussion.


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