The first feeling to emerge from the fog of shock is shame. And when it comes, it hits hard. Suddenly, the disorientation, the dullness and the emptiness give way to a searing, inescapable assessment of culpability along with an unbearable sensation of humiliation. You find yourself pinned down, struggling flame-cheeked and defenseless, under the oppressive load of millennia of misogynist, sexist values that whisper in your ear, incessantly, how could you let this happen? You feel uncovered, exposed, disgraced. Stripped bare by a stranger, in more ways than one, your dignity has been annihilated. You have been rendered worthless and the undeniable fact seems to be you should have known better, you should have seen it coming, you should have fought harder. After all, what is the first priority of womanhood? To protect your sexual value with your life. You failed. Where else to turn but self-blame?
When somebody treats you like a disposable object, useful for one purpose only and then able to be thrown away without a second thought, and when that view is so frequently reinforced by a culture that still values women for their sexuality first more often than not, shame at not being able to protect yourself from rape, to keep yourself safe, is overwhelming and automatic. Girls are told from a young age that it is their responsibility to keep themselves safe, even though they are rarely trained or equipped to know how to do this. The devastating and overpowering message that goes with this is that when a woman’s safety is jeopardized, it must, somehow or another, be her fault. No matter that I never believed this for a minute, nor that, if you had asked me my thoughts on such things, I would have argued ruthlessly and assertively that these ideas are not just plain wrong but are destructive and degrading, even criminal in their toxic capacity to strip women of their human rights. Despite all this, shame arrived on my doorstep unbidden, and just like the rapist, forced its way in without the slightest consideration for me or my well-being, let alone my rights.
Fortunately, I was surrounded by loving, caring, honest and brave people who did everything they could to disprove, dispel and counter the poisonous and insidious ‘values’ that make possible that terrifying sense of shame. It can never be said too often: no victim is ever responsible for their victimization. The only way rape can ever occur is when a rapist makes the choice to violate and assault another human being. There are no circumstances that can alter that fact. There are no excuses, no justifications and no defense. There is only ever one person responsible for rape and that is the rapist. If you ever encounter that creeping, creepy sense of shame in response to any infringement of your right to sexual autonomy, or any other human right for that matter, don’t hesitate to counter it instantly and determinedly with these irrefutable truths. And if you don’t feel strong enough just yet to do so, then go to someone who will do it for you, or read this, or contact me – don’t give it even a moment of your precious time or energy. You’re worth way too much to give shame anything.