This has taken a very long time to write. It’s been brewing for a while I think, and before you read it I should probably say this: It’s me having a bit of a cyclical ramble, and it can at times sound like I’m having a go at people (potentially you) for saying that I’m brave for having shared with the world that someone once tried to sexually assault me (and also for sharing my blog and mental health saga). I’m not having a go at you, not in the slightest. Your words of support meant that being open about things has never been a regret.
I completely understand why the word ‘brave’ is used to describe people who talk openly about things like this. This is more me having a go at the fact that we live in a world where it’s necessary to talk about how brave someone it for talking about the bad things that happen to far too many people and which has been happening for God knows how long and in countless places across the world. This is me coming to the realisation that it’s pretty s*** that we live in a world where those who are sexually assaulted should for one second feel afraid to speak out. That’s the conclusion I came to. It’s not that I hate being called ‘brave’ for speaking out, I hate that I was in a society where I felt afraid to do so in the first place and that it took years to have the ‘bravery’ to do so.
There are currently countless drafts of this. I’ve been trying to write it for a while but just haven’t been able to find the words.
Last week I saw ‘The Hunting Ground’. It’s a film about sexual assault and rape in universities in the US. It’s incredible. If you ever have the chance to watch it, please do. It’s without question one of the greatest, most informative and eye-opening documentaries I’ve watched to date.
There are countless things that I’ve ranted and raved about in the drafts that predate this. From people ignoring it and thinking it doesn’t happen as much as people say, to universities taking steps to fight the problem but also ignoring the problem by not acknowledging the work they’re doing to stop it*, I went off on tangents all over the place.
But I think the thing I was trying to get at was the need to talk about sexual assault openly.
I’ve been called brave for writing about what happened to me, for being willing to tell strangers these personal things about my life that I didn’t share with many of my closest friends for over a year. I’ve said in the past how I don’t think I’m brave, and I think I finally realised why I don’t think I am, and it’s not just to do with the fact that I know there are (sadly) countless men and women out there who have gone through far far worse than I have and who are willing to talk about it, trying to show people that they’re not alone and make people face up to the fact that it’s been a problem for decades.
The issue I have is that to say that I’m brave to talk about it implies that there should be fear in the first place. There shouldn’t be.
When I shared my blog with people, I was ‘brave’. But doesn’t that imply that I should have been afraid of being open about things? Why should survivors be afraid? It should be the perpetrator, the attacker, the person who turns a blind eye who should be afraid that the world will see them for the person they really are.
Should I be afraid of the stigma that surrounds sexual assault? No. And neither should anyone else.
I shouldn’t have to be brave because I shouldn’t have to feel afraid.
It probably sounds like I’m having a go at people who’ve called me ‘brave’ for sharing my story. I’m not, and I’m sorry if it’s sounded like that so far.
I think the thing that bothers me is that we live in this world where to talk about the bad side of humanity and acknowledge it’s pretty damning imperfections takes a huge amount of bravery. Because we keep it quite hush hush. It’s only the horrifying extremes that make it onto the front page of the newspapers or are read out on the evening news.
To call the ones who speak out brave can inadvertently make those who don’t feel weak (not all, but some). I felt weak when I couldn’t talk about my assault, and that had a knock-on effect for my mental wellbeing.
It shouldn’t be that we have to pluck up this huge amount of bravery to be able to talk about sexual assault. That we have to summon this bravery to talk about something that affects so many people, that we’re afraid to talk about it in the first place, that shouldn’t be the case.
That we’re afraid to talk about it in the first place because of the reactions people may give, the stigma that’s attached to it, the fear of being blamed for something you have no control over, that we have to summon the courage to face these terrifying factors in order to look for justice, in order to improve our mental wellbeing, just to be able to feel like we’re not keeping something a secret anymore – it’s not right.
We shouldn’t have to be afraid. That’s why we shouldn’t have to be brave.
P.S. One final thing I realised when going through this was one of the things about ‘The Hunting Ground’ that was partially the catalyst to me writing this. After the film, we were fortunate to have a Skype interview with the producer who shared many interesting things about the process behind the film. One of the things which sparked this rant about ‘bravery’ was that she said there were many people who shared their experiences with her but who didn’t feel able to do so on camera because of the fear of the reaction it would evoke. Not only that, it was the fact that the film is now deemed ‘controversial’ for highlighting what has been happening all over the world for decades. It’s wrong that survivors should have to feel afraid, and it’s wrong that films such as this are deemed ‘controversial’ for (ironically) having the bravery to make a stand.
*Oooo, an asterix, I’ve never had to use one of these before. The same day that I saw ‘The Hunting Ground’, a post popped up on my newsfeed from ‘It Happens Here Durham‘, where the author wrote about there now being a Sexual Violence Task Force. This is an amazing step for my old university to be taking and something that they should be proud of, yet they don’t seem to want people to know about it and only those who take an active interest in the topic know about its existence. I can’t help but think that sadly, by not wanting to really acknowledge the work they’re doing, they’re having a similar reaction to that of universities in the US – whilst they aren’t ignoring it and trying to cover it up in the same way as I saw in ‘The Hunting Ground’ (which was quite frankly shocking), are they more concerned about how it might look to be the sort of place where such a task force is necessary and worrying about the impact it could have on alumni funding and student numbers? Surely, yet again, if we were talking about sexual violence openly and acknowledging the problem and it’s wider context, there would’t be this need to hide the task force and seem ashamed of it, and instead feel proud to be one of the first universities to be taking steps towards finally trying to combat the issue.
P.P.S. There’s probably something that says I need to give credit to where I got this pictures from….so thanks Google.