“I know it wasn’t my fault,” I told my counsellor last summer. “It was his; he was the one who did it… At least it was only me he got.”
This was my reaction to being raped a second time. At least it was only me.
I couldn’t quite understand why she was so upset by this, not at the time. After all, surely it was better that I was the victim than someone else? I was already damaged goods, I’d already been through it once before, and I was getting the right support so didn’t have to experience the ordeal of finding it again. If he was going to attack someone – and statistics would imply that it was premeditated to some degree – then I was grateful it was me and not another woman.
I thought that I was being rational and mature about a terrible situation, that my presence that evening had somehow saved this nameless, faceless victim. To some extent, a lot of women do this, try to put a positive spin on it. I know I’m not alone, and protective strategies such as this have their place. We need ways to carry on.
But as time went on, I started to realise something awful. Because by assuming that responsibility, or accepting myself as the “right person”, I was becoming complicit in the victim-blaming culture that had developed around me.
No, I wasn’t suggesting it was my fault because I had been alone in the sauna, or that I had made myself vulnerable in the clothing that I had worn. However, by adopting a position as the “best” target, I had created a hierarchy of merit.
No-one deserves to be raped. No-one is asking for it or putting themselves in the wrong position or to blame in any way. It is only ever the perpetrator’s fault. End of.
A single woman shouldn’t feel “grateful for the attention”, nor should anyone feel that it’s “harmless fun”, and someone who has been there before shouldn’t feel any less important or any more deserving because of their past.
The End Victim Blaming Campaign asks us to think about our own frame of reference, how we respond to stories and why we respond in that way. Sometimes it’s also useful to think about how we would respond if it was another person reacting that way too, allowing us some perspective and a chance to review without feeling that the self-care is self-ish.
I know that if a friend or colleague told me that they were relieved it was them, that they didn’t matter and they weren’t important because they were damaged, I would be appalled. Because we all matter; we are all worthy of love, care and respect.
As a teacher, I’ve worked alongside children who have been victims and witnesses of male violence against women and children. It never fails to shock me how many so-called professionals will say, “At least it’s only ----‘s family, it’s not like they had much promise anyway.” No. Just no.
You see, there are even further reaching implications than hierarchies compounding victim-blaming. The idea that some people are more deserving of assault than others is in direct opposition to equality. If we believe in equal rights for any group, we need to believe in equality for all. How can I support feminism and the idea that all humans are equal if I don’t consider that child to be just as deserving of safety and love as every other child in my school? How can I support equal rights for all people if I won’t even afford myself the same dignity as I afford others?
Challenging others starts with challenging ourselves. How do we respond to others and how do we respond to our own situations? Do we allow ourselves healing time? Do we allow ourselves to care? Because believing in our own rights and equality, believing in our own right to safety and compassion, is an important step in challenging the hierarchy and victim-blaming culture.
There is no “right victim”, not even me.
The Right Victim was written as a submission for EVB Campaign's website, which they are posting on 20th February 2014.