This is our truth, tell us yours
Recently I crossed swords (if that isn’t too phallic a term) with the self obsessed walking ego that is Julie Bindel. She took exception to something I wrote elsewhere saying we shouldn’t hide rape, child abuse and domestic violence behind the euphemisms of pimp and forced prostitute. She likes the word pimp, it is her insult of choice to throw at sex work activists, or the pimp lobby as she calls us. I am pretty sure that any undecided who reads it probably comes away thinking JB is not the person to talk to about sex work, so all power to her.
The problem is JB doesn’t limit herself to asking whether rape victims enjoyed their rape, or telling them they are victims of domestic violence if they are in a BDSM relationship. She believes she has an expertise in sex work, and that is an expertise she needs to share. She believes that she is so important to the rescue of women she perceives as victims that without her, well I am not sure what she thinks would happen without her.
In the storify here she attacks End Victim blaming for making the work harder that few can bear. It is a very revealing statement. What work? Bindel is a journalist. She chooses her subject matter, if she doesn’t want to write about something she does not need to. She does not need to” bear” it.
That verb, it’s an interesting one…suggesting that tales of rape and abuse are unbearable. Not for the victims, oh no, remember this is the walking ego here, but for her. There is an idea of her holding her nose, taking a deep breath, like the Victorian ladies who used to visit the slums to weep over fallen women. It fits with the narrative that rape is unrecoverable from, that sex work damages someone irredemably for like, and of course places those campaigning against it at the heart of the story, rather than those they believe are victims.
Could you imagine a social worker who worked with victims of child abuse telling a child she found their story hard to bear? Or a volunteer advocating for refugee victims of rape and torture? They might go home, have a stiff drink, a hug from a loved one or an hour killing grunts on Halo, but if they were serious about their work they would not glorify their part in it, describe the experiences as unbearable. Again I remind you Bindel does not actually do anything beyond publicise herself, and narratives she believes in. She is not appearing in court with a woman whose father raped her, or manning a telephone helpline as someone whispers from the bathroom. She is a campaigner, nothing more.
I am not a well paid journalist, I do not get invited to conferences, but I do know what empathy is. A wise person once came up with the best description of the difference between empathy and sympathy I have ever read. Sympathy is when you see someone in a hole and jump in to give them a hug. Empathy is throwing them a rope to get out of the hole. There needs to be a third category, jumping into the hole getting out your shovel and making it deeper.
A fundamental part of recovery from any bad experience in life is accepting your own agency in it. This is not the same as accepting blame. However people confuse the two, and in doing so disempower and revictimise. A bad experience is actually a process, and most of our psychological harm comes from questioning the process. Perhaps an example will help explain.
Imagine a woman who is raped, around the rape are a number of choices she made, to walk home, to not fight back, to have a third glass of wine. She blames herself for those choices. Only by unpacking them can someone integrate what happened. Not fighting back is actually a powerful choice, one that may save her life, yet guilt about not doing so is carried by so many rape victims. This is just one example, you may be able to imagine ones from your own lives, only when we see our agency, or responsibility can we look back on our lives with contentment. Seeing ourselves as victims blown around by whichever wind is blowing is not the path of healing. When those around you encourage you to remain a victim, to see what has happened to you as a mystic accident you can never recover from, then they fall into the camp of abusers, no matter what they might claim