This is our truth, tell us yours
Content note for brief description of sexual assault and discussion of victim blaming throughout.
As some of you may know from previous blogs I was sexually assaulted in my first week of university. University was my liberation, and I approached it with the enthusiasm of someone who had been in solitary confinement for the past 18 years. I was a naive, nice girl, one month past my eighteenth birthday, let loose in London, grabbing life with both hands. Which is how come I ended up dancing with a french post grad student, probably drinking too much, and willingly following him into the toilets when he took my hand. Naive in this context means I thought we might snog, perhaps a bit of groping, that was how things tended to go at parties. Anything more didn’t seem possible in the ladies toilets of a hall of residence with over 5oo students, most of whom were still filling the bar and dance floor.
As I said, I was naive.
When a second year found me crying, and walked me home, neither of us considered telling anyone, neither of us were that naive.
Two trial brought this to mind, a dimly remembered evening which I can honestly say has had little effect on me. Which of course is a problem in itself, a sexual assault is not supposed to be a meh moment, a so it goes moment. At the time if I saw him around town I crossed the street, but even that wore off by the end of the first year at college.
The not guilty verdict of Ghomeshi, and the guilty verdict of Adam Johnson both raised the issues of how a victim should behave. The not guilty verdict in the Ghomeshi trial was actually a guilty verdict, the women were found guilty of not behaving as victims should. It was a section of the public who found Johnson’s victim guilty (led by the ever repellant katie hopkins) .His victim was apparently guilty of being 15 and having a crush, of not locking herself away, of not anticipating the predatory nature of adult men.
And my mind returns to me, on my knees in a public toilet, being face fucked, and thinking its better this than rape. I do not remember his name, his face, I do remember, quite clearly that thought. I too was guilty of not anticipating the worst, of not keeping my legs together, of assuming that I might be safe around a strange man in a relatively public space.
Thats the odd thing about victim blaming, it doesn’t just look at what you wear, what you drink, or the fact yes, you can have consensual sex before, or after being assaulted. It also places the responsibility for an assault on the victim for not anticipating that an assault was a possibility. At its core thats what victim blaming means, and why it is so tied up with misogyny and patriarchal control of women’s bodies. Women (or people who patriarchy treats as women, without sometimes even allowing them into the class of women) are deemed to be responsible for their own assaults and rapes, since they should at all times operate in such a way that assumes any, and all men could rape or assault them. In order to be accepted as a victim you must permanently behave as a victim, as someone who can be victimised at any moment.
I wonder about mental health, of what this does to a whole section of society who know if they relax, have a drink, treat someone as a safe person, then they lose any ability to say J’accuse. I look at the worse mental health stats for bi women, and trans women, and women of colour, and cannot help asking myself if, almost like veterans with trauma. the perpetual paranoia is not eating away at their ability to be well and happy. Not the only reason for worse mental health, we are all intersections of unique items which make us who we are, but a part of the whole.
Is it any wonder so many of us spend our time in public spaces with earphones in, eyes fixed on a screen, although we all have stories of men who ignore that barrier, offended by our attempt to navigate through the world in a safe, non confrontational way. They demand our attention, intrude upon our boundaries, make us have to consider is this the one? If we converse with them, we are leading them on, if we ignore them, we invite violence.
How many of you have that practiced half smile for when strange men accost you in the street? That fixed expression judged to be not too friendly, but friendly enough, a smile created to please patriarchy, a mask we hope will protect us from being todays victim.
Then the killer punch, even if we police our clothes, our behaviour, our dress, our social media, every interaction with the outside world, we are still blamed, being assaulted is still our responsibility. Many of the people writing on the Ghomeshi verdict have mentioned the varying ways people can respond after an assault, and how memory works. Important pieces to be sure, but based on the basic misapprehension that there was any way the victims could have behaved which would have been considered without criticism.
This might sound like an extreme position to take, and you may be formulating in your mind descriptions of acceptable victimhood. It is true if you behave in a way that assumes that you are always at risk you win more brownie points from patriarchy. Thus rings which detect rohypnol are produced, be paranoid, test your drinks, and if you are drugged it’s your fault for letting your guard drop. So it is with any, and all behaviour whereby someone might behave as if not being assaulted is your number one priority at all times. Don’t have fun, don’t relax, don’t treat men as anything other than ravening beasts, then possibly you access a conditional victim hood, conditional on all other parts of your life being examined to determine you kept to this level of mistrust and paranoia at all times.
The myth of the perfect victim is floated before us, as a way we can keep ourselves safe. We need to realise it is a myth, rather than explaining that yes, some people have sex after being assaulted, sometimes memory lets us down, no one can ever live up to it because no one is ever supposed to. The perfect victim exists simply so that the real victims can continue to be blamed for causing their own abuse, until we stop explaining the behaviour of victims, and start demanding abusers blame themselves, then we will never end the blaming of victims.