Never shame anyone for being ashamed of having experienced rape or sexual assault. Reluctantly, I confess to harbouring judgement towards women who felt ashamed after being assaulted. Obviously the perpetrator is to blame, obviously the survivor is innocent. I used to believe that through feeling shame, the victim was accepting some responsibility for what had happened, buying into a patriarchal system which demands ‘virginity’ and ‘purity’ from women. I now know it is not that simple.
When it happened to me, I felt shame. After my experience, the word I had in my head and repeated to friends was ‘gross’; I felt unclean. I took multiple baths, which later turned out to be a disadvantage during the medical examination (top tip: if you’re raped, don’t wash…anything, including the sheets). My instinct was to clean everything, myself, the room, my mind of what had happened. This was my first time having full sexual intercourse and I had waited for a reason.
Shame may not be rational, but in my opinion, it is natural and understandable. Slowly, when it is appropriate to do so, I am sharing what has happened with those who are well equipped to understand it. Rape is a crime done in secret. However, making it public can help fight against it.
I know I questioned my actions, right down to what I was wearing, which is something I never expected of myself. I questioned the fact that I was drinking, the fact I let him come back to my flat… I questioned every mixed signal I could possibly have given.
Does that put me in the wrong? No. I did not give consent.
However, whilse I personally want to overcome my initial feeling of shame, I also think it is very important to validate it as a response. I come from a liberal minded family and am surrounded by feminist friends who all support me. Despite this, shame was my natural response. I imagine it would be infinitely harder within particular cultures or religious groups or educations.
Empathizing with ‘shame’ is human. Not only human, but it is also essential to an intersectional feminist approach. Do not shame those who are ashamed.