I had to leave work to calm myself down today. A female colleague said: “I tell my daughter (who is eighteen) that, if she is going to wear tight clothing, she deserves whatever she gets.” I paused. Was this woman, who I have full respect for as a colleague, saying what I thought she was saying? In this day and age?
“That’s a dangerous thing to say to your child,” I said. A rare challenging tone in my voice that she was not used to. “Basically, you are saying that if she is sexually assaulted, then it will be her fault. That the perpetrator is innocent,” I said.
“That’s right. That’s what I believe. If a girl dresses up in a way that reveals her body, she is asking for it. Boys will be boys,” my colleague continued.
Seething with anger, I left the conversation before I exploded. This wasn’t the time or place to explode. Every cell in my body was burning with anger and pain, as acute as though I myself were a daughter who had been blamed for being raped. Trans-generational trauma is like that. It flares up at various moments, and it is not easily cooled down.
Yet, I am grateful that I heard this woman’s attitude today. Because now I see that these prehistoric attitudes exist even in people I thought were intelligent, decent women. And these attitudes are now being passed on to her daughter, to the next generation. She is continuing rape culture. She is ensuring that women in future generations will be shamed and blamed for sexual violence. But her words are just one example of the ignorance of those who are helping to continue rape culture.
I have a son. And what she is also saying is that he is an animal, unable to exercise choice and acting purely on prehistoric instinct to hunt and procreate. What this attitude also says is that he is perfectly within his right to rape if a girl dresses in ‘tight clothing’. My son is also offended by these attitudes.
Secondly, my mother was a sexual assault survivor, and the thing that caused more damage than the rapes was the attitude of her parents. “The second wound” is what it is known as in psychology. My life was irrevocably altered as a result of her trauma, her sense of shame and fear. Most of this was caused by ‘the second wound’- being blamed by people she loved and trusted.
My mother is dead. There is strong evidence that her early death was largely related to the unprocessed trauma of the rapes and the blame.
Yet, I am grateful to hear the opinions of people like my colleague, because it acts as a barmometer for how far we have to go, and why giving up is not an option for me.
I want to make sure that there is some change in my lifetime to the way rape survivors are treated, or to make sure that there is less rape.