Like Susan Brownmiller in “Against Our Will”, I feel I must begin this piece by stating that I have never been raped. Unlike Susan Brownmiller, I haven’t researched rape in any academic way. And I am male. However, I do think I understand shame around issues of sexuality, and I would like to bring this to the current #BeenRapedNeverReported discussion.
Sexual violence against women, children, and some men, is rife in modern Western society.The vast majority goes unreported, but millions of women and hundreds of thousands of men have experienced sexual violence in the UK alone. However, things are changing gradually, and one of those changes is that survivors are speaking out. From the streets of Dehli to the corridors of the BBC to the branch meetings of the SWP, people are talking about rape and the sexual abuse of children. Previously, those who shared their experience with just a few close friends, if anyone, are now taking to the streets – or to the internet. The latter includes the current twitter sharing of stories by women and men who’ve been raped but never reported it.
It seems to me that the guilt and shame survivors of sexual assault all too often feel is part of the problem of why many people still don’t understand how widespread rape is. Fear of being judged or not believed means that most of us are only aware of a few friends who’ve had to deal with this trauma.
But what if this was not the case?
What if every survivor felt powerful enough to tell their story without guilt or shame?
Not that long ago I was part of a movement that was determined to destroy the feelings of guilt and shame that all of us queer folk are brought up to feel. A feeling that diminished us as human beings; that prevented us from living our lives fully and taking full part in society. It took many decades to put Shame on the retreat, firstly within ourselves and then in wider society. Section 28 and HIV/AIDS, or at least our responses to both, lead to huge numbers coming out of the closet to more and more people. Their was no going back. While many still felt ashamed about how they had sex, Pride, the opposite of shame, became a reality for many. Across Britain today, “LGBTQ Pride” is something that our friends, family, workmates, and even the bigoted politicians of yesteryear, are happy to be seen at.
I hope nobody reading this thinks I’m so foolish and insensitive as to think we can make a straightforward comparison between overcoming the “shame” of being gay and the “shame” of being raped.
But can’t help thinking,wondering, imagining what the debate around rape would be like if every survivor felt able to be open with everybody about their experience.
I wonder what all those who are prone to deny or disbelieve or blame the survivor would say if they knew how many friends, family members and media celebs had been raped and abused.
I wonder how many men would have more empathy for survivors if they knew how many of their male friends this included.
I can’t help but imagine what each town and city would look like after every survivor had paraded through the town in a show of strength millions strong. And the shame those perpetrators of abuse would be made to feel.
Maybe we could even start to work out what justice would mean.
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