I wouldn’t say that people coming forward and speaking about their experiences of sexual assault is because society has become more welcoming or safe for survivors. We are still told that we deserved it or had it coming or that it was our fault. We are still doubted and we are still not believed.
However, it has become more urgent that we speak about it. We are seeing a revolution. We are starting to realise that if we stay quiet then none of this will change. We will never escape rape culture – and slowly we are becoming ready to stand up to this.
There is of course an argument that people are speaking out because society is more welcoming than it was. However, the sixth level of hell is probably not as hot or awful as the seventh but it’s still not somewhere I want to go on holiday. Why are we crediting society for this change when really it is all down to the strength and bravery of survivors?
It is a sad reflection on our society when 25% of women will experience some form of sexual assault – and the number of men who experience this is unknown due to the huge stigma associated with it.
It’s nice to think that rape is something that rarely happens or it doesn’t happen to anyone you know. We think of it as something that happens “over there” – wherever over there is – it is not something that happens in our town, to our friends, to people like us – whoever we are. We need to face up to the reality that rape is an epidemic.
We are fighting a war and our bodies are the battleground. Most importantly, our voices are the weapons.
Sexual abuse is essentially about power. When we refuse to be silenced or shamed, when we tell our story, we reclaim that power. I think this is what is happening – we are realising how powerful we can be.
Change starts with one person realising that power, and now slowly we are all waking up. The internet has certainly been beneficial in this as finding a support network has become easier, as has realising that you are not alone, that this is a widespread and insidious problem in our culture – and for something as deeply embedded as this, the only way we can destroy it is through a collective effort. It is only by elevating each other’s voices, believing each other, fighting for each other’s right to justice, and holding people accountable that we may succeed.
I don’t know if I can imagine a world without sexual abuse – but if I could, we would have got there through the strength of survivors who are prepared to speak up, be heard, and get justice.
Image courtesy of Michael Cali/ZUMA Press/Corbis