There is nothing about rape or sexual assault that confuses me more than the ability of everyone around the victim (or the survivor) to pardon the actions of the perpetrator. Whether the excuses sound like “well, you were wearing a really short skirt,” or more like “really – it’s not like he was going to murder you,” they are all equally unforgivable.
Since it was discovered that my mother’s husband had created and distributed many years’ worth of child porn of me until my late teens, my relationship with my entire family has changed irreparably. While they supported me theoretically, I struggled with finding someone who was capable of actually understanding the trauma I had been put through. Most of my family came to the conclusion that I was lucky, because he had not, by their definition, actually raped me. Others made jokes – I could only hope it was a defense mechanism, but really, when is it okay to tell a child pornography victim that they’re a “movie star”? Others, even people I had thought I could trust to understand, started to ignore me as time went on – I was a damaged commodity, and even though nothing about my personality had changed, I was no longer as “fun” or “cool.” But one thing they all had in common was that they made excuses for the man. Though they weren’t aware of it, I’d heard several members of my family make asides about my “short skirts” and “really, she couldn’t have expected anything else” or “she’s pretty, he couldn’t help himself. Everyone made excuses. Everyone had reasons. It took me a while to realise, but now I know: even despite his horrible act, a pedophile had been given more leverage than his victim. While his motives were understandable, mine were scrutinised – my audacity to wear skirts that might be considered short, or to be considered attractive in his predatory eyes, was enough to remove him from the harsh light of blame and force me into it.
The worst part, however, was my mother’s decision to remain in the marriage. I refused to see her, I issued ultimatums, I desperately pleaded with her, but nothing I said could change her mind. Here was someone who had carried me in her womb for nine months, telling me that “he’s sorry now,” so his previous actions were okay. He “loved her,” so distributing images of my naked, pre-pubescent body was forgivable. He “stopped doing drugs,” so assaulting the girl next door, who was younger and treated with more violence than I had been, was alright.
There are times to forgive someone, but this was not one. I realise there is little I can do to change the mind of someone so clearly deluded, but it wasn’t just one person: it seemed everyone thought her way. There were so few people in my life who acknowledged his wrongs that I started to wonder if it was my fault. Here I was, a young teenager living out of home and struggling to get through school and pay rent, spending my nights crying myself to sleep because I believed I, as a child, had somehow brought this upon myself. Somehow, as a girl in school, I had enticed this monster so adequately that he had no choice. Even now, when I logically know otherwise, I still have a hard time believing that I wasn’t somehow to blame. While the jokes, the excuses, the slut-shaming and rape apology seem like small details of the experience of surviving rape, I can assure you – they are not. They’re just words, but they are capable of pushing even the most resilient of survivors to the brink of their sanity.
It took a long time to realise that not many people take you seriously when you’re a survivor. I was even hesitant to write this, for fear that future employers would Google me, and deny me jobs or opportunities because I had the temerity to be sexually abused.
And the forgiveness of my abuser goes further than my family, further than my mother, further than any potential future bosses. Every time I go on the internet, check the news, watch television, listen to music – it’s there. Somebody is justifying the actions of somebody who targeted a child. Reddit, a site I originally went to for the humour and easy-to-digest science and politics, has apparently turned into something that allows rapists to tell their stories without fear of being attacked. Attacked verbally of course, nothing like the horrible, traumatic and unforgivable things they did to people like me in the past. In fact, the rapists’ comments seemed to attract less controversy than the expression of feminist ideals on Reddit. For example, anyone who expresses dislike for Daniel Tosh is met immediately with a downvote, whereas the rapist that heads this thread (huge trigger warning) got a few hundred upvotes, with many commenters defending him.
Men that show evidence of having, wanting to, or intending to rape someone even have a space on the internet where they can be victims, with the misogynist’s version of slut shaming – “creep shaming”. Apparently, I am not allowed to be afraid of a man who poses an obvious threat to me, nor can I even call him “creepy” or let it be known I may even be a little unsettled, for fear of being called a misandrist.
But really, this isn’t about misandry or the tendency of everyone I have seen to delegitimise women’s rights. It’s about a lot more than that. It’s about the sincere, traumatic and soul-crushing struggle of picking up the pieces when you are abused, assaulted or raped. It’s about needing support where there is none. Most importantly, it’s about society’s need to grow, and to understand that it’s time to support the victim, not the perpetrator. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in life was to grasp an idea of who I was after being abused. When something like this happens, you lose all sense of yourself, right down to physiological needs – for a long time, I could barely bring myself to eat or drink. Even now, I still struggle. People question my motives and my beliefs (“you’ve never been raped, stop being such a bitch, rape jokes are funny”), my triggers (“I feel suffocated having to follow these rules”), and even just my right to be sad sometimes. I can only hope that someone will see this article and start to think about the way they will treat any survivors in their life after this.