After Assault: Feelings of 'Shame'

Never shame anyone for feeling shame at being raped or sexually assaulted. I will reluctantly confess that in retrospect I think I harboured some judgement for women who felt ashamed after being assaulted. Obviously the perpetrator is to blame,obviously the survivor is innocent. I thought that by feeling shame they were accepting some responsibility for what had happened and buying in to a patriarchal system which expects ‘virginity’ and ‘purity’ from women. I now know that it is not that obvious or simple.

I feel shame at what has happened. The word I had in my head and repeated to friends was ‘gross’; I felt unclean. I took multiple baths; which later turned out to be a disadvantage during the medical examination (top tip: if you’re raped, don’t wash…anything, including the sheets!) My instinct was to clean everything, myself, the room, my mind of what had happened. This was my first time having full sexual intercourse and I had waited for a reason.

Shame may not be rational but in my opinion it is natural and at the very least understandable. It is a terrible thing to have happened and simply the fact it happened to you means you share some part in the act. Many survivors don’t want anyone to know, or only trust an immediate circle of friends.

Slowly, when it is appropriate to do so, I am telling people who I think can deal with the fact because I do not think it is something I have to hide. Rape is a secret crime but by making it public we can help to combat it. Personally, I think it is good to try and overcome the feeling of being ashamed. I’m not sure it helps to question your blame.

I know I questioned my actions, right down to what I was wearing which is something I never expected of myself. I questioned the fact I had flirted in the past, the fact I had drunk, the fact I let him come back to my flat… I questioned every mixed signal I could possibly have given. Does that put me in the wrong? No. I did not give consent.

However, whilst I personally want to overcome my initial feeling of shame, I also think it is very important to validate it as a response. I come from a liberal minded family and am surrounded by feminist friends who all supported me and yet my natural response was still shame. I imagine it would be infinitely harder within particular cultures or religious groups or educations.

Empathising with ‘shame’ is human and essential to an intersectional feminist approach. Do not shame people for feeling shame, funnily enough: it doesn’t help.