Warning: this post contains a description of a sexual assault
I’m not usually one for getting involved in hyped up, trending, viral campaigns that are designed to create awareness or change. Wearing purple or blue or whatever, was never going to stop my dad from dying of cancer or help my friend who has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
However, the #MeToo campaign which was created to demonstrate the sheer magnitude of sexual assault and harassment experienced by women, now that I could get on board with. There is no call to action, but just a simple declaration or for some, a more detailed account of their experience. I’m sure there are countless others that don’t feel to disclose anything at all – and why would they?
#MeToo embodies so much. It’s solidarity with others who have experienced similar, it is saying we will not be silenced any longer and for some it is the first public acknowledgement that we are not to blame. We did not create the circumstances that lead to sexual assault, that responsibility lies in the hands of our assailants. This is the only good that can come out of the dreadful circumstances surrounding the producer, Harvey Weinstein. Women are standing up, ordinary women who are assaulted every day in ordinary circumstances, such as being at work, or travelling on public transport or going to their place of education.
Exploring the word ‘victim’
There are several definitions of victim in the Oxford dictionary but these are the most relevant.
- A person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action.
- A person who has come to feel helpless and passive in the face of misfortune or ill-treatment.
Well, number one is definitely me. I have been sexually assaulted and harassed, and therefore harmed, on numerous occasions but I have never been number two. What I have previously done though, is taken on the responsibility of my attackers and made it my fault. If only I hadn’t been sitting the middle of the empty carriage, if only I could take a joke when they grabbed my tits, if only I hadn’t been so friendly, if only I had done more to protect myself. I wasn’t passive in these situations, I was in full-on freeze, flop or friend survival mode. Nor was I passive or helpless after the events or have I ever sought out sympathy – that’s not how this works.
The most significant unwanted sexual encounter I have experienced was a sexual assault at the hands of my now ex partners friend. This man, whom I’ll call Mick, was dying. He couldn’t get out much and his wife worked full time. My partner encouraged me to take Mick out for lunch or sit with him to alleviate his boredom and I quite happily obliged. He was an interesting guy and there was always plenty to discuss. In one of these conversations, he told me how he wouldn’t be concerned about “taking anything he wants from a woman because what possible consequence could there be? He’s going to be dead soon”. Right there was how he managed to justify sexually assaulting me.
Sometime later I had a party and Mick and his wife were invited. I was drunk and woke to find Mick assaulting me and I froze. I was utterly terrified. Eventually, he stopped but not once did I shout out or make a fuss, even though other people were in the room, including my boyfriend. The next morning, we both pretended everything was fine but after he and his wife left, I fell apart. I became hysterical and told my boyfriend what happened. We had previously had a conversation about if a woman was raped, would he consider it to be her fault. Devastatingly, he said yes and was true to his word. His response to me was that of hostility: how could I have presented him with such an awkward situation? If he really did that, why didn’t I push him off or scream?
That afternoon I went to work, hung over and utterly traumatised from both the assault and my partners rejection. My head was full of self-recrimination. I had obviously lead him on, been too flirty because I was drunk, I had created this, why didn’t I fight him off like my partner said?
But I had done nothing wrong
I now know that I froze because I wanted to get out of that situation alive. If my boundaries could be violated in such a violent way, he could have easily hurt me physically too. This is a basic trauma response and even though it was highly unlikely that I was going to be strangled in my bed, this isn’t how we think under extreme threat. It was better for me to take responsibility for his actions because if I do that, I have the (illusionary) potential of taking some control from a situation in which I felt completely out of control and powerless. I would at least have the ability to make some sense out of something completely senseless if I could figure out what I had done wrong.
Life got a bit out of control for a short while after this. My work suffered and I suppressed the friendly, affectionate parts of my personality. I did have some counselling which helped me to place the blame where it really belonged but the most helpful thing for me was to understand my responses. And then I got fucking angry with Mick, my now ex, my parents and certain friends who were all dismissive.
This was 15 years ago. On the whole, this doesn’t have much of an impact as I’ve done what I’ve needed to ensure this man doesn’t any power over me, but very occasionally I can get triggered. Or, as with the events of the past few days, I can feel a huge sense of solidarity and unequivocal, esteem building anger that says this isn’t fucking ok for anyone, including me, or my daughter or my son or any other person out there.
I have unfortunately seen some posts suggest that people using the #MeToo hashtag were playing the victim and potentially seeking sympathy. I see it as quite the opposite. We will no longer be victims by staying silent and enduring the shame that doesn’t belong to us. This is why such a simple act can make all the difference.