Rape happens in one stagnant moment, but its backwash seems infinite. Survivors are shunted between deniers, apologists, police, vilifiers, and lawyers for as long as they’re in pain. It creates a kind of psychic homelessness, leaving no foundation from which to scramble towards healing. Those who need sanctuary most are shoved out in the dark by the side of a road that nobody ever uses. If trauma isn’t enough, society is only too willing to revictimise them.
Many recover and create a tolerable life, but apologists and deniers are always ready to deport them back to ‘trauma country’. They’re spat back into isolation in a constantly moving cycle of communal abuse and homelessness.
Sexual assault is not merely a rapist’s crime, but one society perpetuates years afterwards. Instead of offering compassion to victims, we assign blame. On the rare occasion that we hold the rapist culpable, we make the survivor defend their own rapists by threatening to attack and destroy them.
When a friend is burgled or mugged, we’re only too happy to offer compassion, but rape gets different treatment. That’s how sexual assault fades out of our consciousness—There was no rapist. There is no danger. We’re safe because it was the victim’s fault, and if we just wear this dress and stay out until that time, it won’t happen to us.
I’ve been the victim of a few different kinds of crimes, and even assault was immeasurably easier to recover from than sexual assault. Rape feels personal. It is intimate. It seems to seep all the way through your skin and into every single cell in your body. It doesn’t only traumatise you. It changes the way you see your very soul because it’s intensely difficult to understand that you didn’t contribute to the crime.
That is why we need to do better when we discuss rape. When we point a finger at the survivor, we are not the first. We won’t be the last. The survivor has been doing it ever since their assault. That shame is the very core of rape, and we give it power.