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Will You Stand Up For Victims Of Sexual Violence?

You sign petitions or protest marches. But will you still be supportive when the victim is someone close to you? Someone who really needs you?

06/12/2016 04:59 SAST | Updated 07/12/2016 08:06 SAST
Tsering Topgyal/AP
Myanmarese refugees participate in a protest on International Women's Day in New Delhi, India Saturday, March 8, 2014. Myanmarese in Delhi alleged their government used forms of violence against women as weapons of war and demanded an end to it. They also urged India for protection from sexual violence, healthcare and education for their children in India.

It is the easiest thing in the world to say: Yes I will stand up for a victim of abuse, violence, rape, or sexual assault. In fact there are days, weeks and months dedicated to the awareness and support of victims. Plus, there is mass outrage, online petitions and even protests whenever a particularly heinous story makes its way onto the front pages of our newspapers.

But do the same rules apply when the victim, or the human rights violator – let's be frank, that is precisely what they are - is someone that is known, someone close to you?

The cold hard truth, is that the impact of an attack goes far beyond just the people involved.

While the fighter (why call us victims when we are fighters?) struggles to process what has happened - for me it was a month of denial before the attempted rape began to impose itself on my consciousness - the ones closest to the fighter will face similar emotional reactions: Denial, self-blame, anger, blaming the wronged party and probably so much more.

Rape, sexually assault, abuse and even something as simple as catcalling is NOT the responsibility of the target. It is the sole responsibility of the perpetrator.

When I revealed the attack and exposed my would-be rapist, there was shock and denial and fortunately enough a desire for immediate action from those who could take action in this case. But as the details were coaxed out of me and it became apparent that my attack was categorised as an attempted, rather than an actual rape, the tone changed.

I heard how I must have misread the situation. I must have given him the wrong idea because despite the countless times I as a woman tells a guy she is not interested, I must have been giving other signals, it must have been confusing for him. You know men are just like that some said. Or how could you let him in, in the first place? Yes stupid me! Someone knocks on the door just as I get ready to leave and I should not have opened. How foolish could I have been?

I've been termed complacent, naïve or blamed for misunderstanding the situation, I should never have been in that situation. Yes I should never have been in that situation because no one should ever do that to anyone.

Rape, sexually assault, abuse and even something as simple as catcalling is NOT the responsibility of the target. It is the sole responsibility of the perpetrator.

I heard from one or two friends who I had tried to confide in how nothing had happened and they brushed it off, sat in silence or changed the topic. I heard how since it was never reported to the police it couldn't have been the truth. Something like that happens, naturally your first instinct should be to run to the police, according to them.

Slowly the people you thought you could count on start to disappear. This fighter that is doing everything to survive is just too negative and draining to be around.

Years later in a general conversation on the topic of rape and sexual assault, someone else said it's "just" an attempted situation so that surely doesn't count right? How could it when nothing happened? Even lawyers would be able to say that there is no physical evidence, no witnesses so it's the victim's word against the perpetrators and let us all guess who is most likely to suffer more. Hell, even if there is evidence we know that the fighters are the ones that have fight even more to be believed.

I started to believe all the feedback I was getting. I tried to convince myself that it was nothing, I was merely over-reacting. I was the one that was messed up, a female with low self-esteem. However, the realisation kept surfacing that I had been betrayed by the people who told me that. I was hurt and angered. How could this be nothing? How can forcing yourself on someone successfully or otherwise be considered nothing? Which person in their right mind could honestly believe that stealing the most sacred part of our existence is nothing? How can destroying another human being be nothing?

I barely heard a whisper of 'Are you okay?' from most of the people who knew. It hurt especially when the silence comes from those that are supposed to be closest to you. The truth is we don't want to relive it, we don't want to give you the gory details of that moment when everything that you are -or were- was suddenly minimised to nothing, to a mere shell for someone else's pleasure. All we need is for someone to ask if we are okay, someone to sit with in supportive non-judgemental silence.

Ah and there is the anger, the burning hot rage that takes over on a whim. People see it. It can barely be contained. Sometimes it is the opposite, silence, depression and social anxiety. For some, Stockholm syndrome or a variation kicks in. That is the power of denial and trying to stay sane.

For the emotionally abused, the ones who are around them often convince them that they need toughening up. They need to be less sensitive. We all know that with our words we are capable of destroying the best friendships, the most meaningful loves and yet people expect the one who is torn down every single day by someone who is emotional abusive to not let it break them?

People who believe in emotional manipulation and whatever is the latest player guide to getting anyone into bed based on lies, emotional abuse and tactics that are meant to destroy a person's self-esteem are praised and lauded in movies, books and all over the media. Emotional abuse is a very real thing and yet you are expectant of more from the one who has to do everything in their power to build themselves up again.

For all of us fighters, no matter which version of abuse, we hear directly or indirectly:

'She is unfriendly, moody, unpleasant, needy'.

'She has issues.'

'We are all too busy with our families, friends' lives to put any energy into making sure that this fighter is actually surviving. '

Slowly the people you thought you could count on start to disappear. This fighter that is doing everything to survive is just too negative and draining to be around.

'Oh look, she is going on with her life so she must be okay.' Yes a fighter has to go on with life and we will be okay, but we need the help and support to get there. It is not a magic do it yourself, pretend it is so will be solution. It will rear its head again. The nightmares may disappear eventually, but the darkness that invades the soul never really does. Those wounds are opened every time something like this happens in a newspaper article or a TV show. We don't only need you to hold our hand when it suits you, we need it when we need it, perhaps even 10 years from now.

While the enablers of my destruction sat in silence I cried, I hated and loathed and questioned. I lost so much of myself and no matter what I do I will never be the same again. But I tell myself that is okay because as they obliviously carried on with their lives, I learnt to be stronger. I changed and many of you disappeared.

I have recently followed my career to the city my attacker lives in and just when I thought I had buried all the rage, it bubbled back to the surface and has forced me to confront what affect it has had on me. You see it is this rage that has led me to become the precise thing I despise. It only now, years later that I have completely begun to understand what I really went through that day. I am one of the very fortunate ones that, despite those described earlier, has some incredibly strong people who listened, who advised, who have dealt with my rage and depression alike with the utmost love and support. They kept me sane in a world where I could easily have been lost.

I know their worlds' have also changed. I know that their views have changed. I know the ones that have had the courage to get outspoken about what happened face judgement, just as I did. They also bear the emotional and physical impact of what happen as they have heard the story over and over again. It takes a toll every time. Eventually I suspect it traumatises them almost as much as it did me.

The impact of the attack on the person I am in the world around me has been profound. I cannot stand the guys who think it's so awesome to cat call. It takes every ounce of energy to not turn around and unleash my fury. I don't like to be touched, by anyone for any reason. I don't need a hug or even a handshake from someone that I am not 100% comfortable with. Don't flirt and joke with me, especially if I have told you to stop. And I cannot stand the men (and women!) who think it is amusing or cute to tease someone like me who has very specific attack-induced boundaries.

I find the rage bubbling to the surface when I hear co-workers and friends who speak with disrespect about their wives and female colleagues. I get angry at the fool who thinks its awesome breaking a person's spirit to get what they want, or the bastard who beats up his kid and wife out of ignorance, frustration and anger. I believe there is a special place in hell for those people who scream out against rape yet compare every ridiculous thing to it.

As much as I now love being alone and going on solo adventures, it has become the very thought of going out on my own that is terrifying. What if I get stuck in the middle of nowhere, it is a dangerous out there? Going out at night is a challenge. My view on relationships has changed, the easy go lucky nature of my personality was replaced with an intensity that I'm sure can be terrifying for potential suitors. There is no space in my world view for the rose-tinted hues.

But what of my attacker, I hear you ask? Nothing remotely significant happened to this human rights violator, the man who blew my world apart. In my view the system did more to protect him than it did me. He has glibly carried on with his life and career, defended and protected by those whose relationships and careers are tied up in his. Even those who told me they were not surprised that this guy would try and rape me given his behaviour towards women anywhere he went, ended up defending him in one way or the other. Many just remain in denial to this day, whether it is to the significance of the action of this rapist or the fact that he has done this at all is unknown to me.

But enough about that sick bastard. This is about the people around us, the people who can scream and shout their anger on social media but cannot do right by the victim when the horror touches so close to home.

It is easy to sign a petition, or even join a well-meaning protest march, and you should continue to do so. It is also easy to say I will stand for the rights of the victims. But when it comes right down to it, it takes a level of courage and understanding that many are apparently just not capable of. Standing firmly on the side of the victim, survivor, fighter takes its toll on the relationships closest to you. But if you don't stand as strongly and as vociferously for the ones closest to you as you do during your social media outrages then have we not failed as a society? You too need to be a fighter! Now that you know... do you think that you will still stand?

The author of this blog post has requested to remain anonymous - blog editor.