On Rape Culture And Victim Shaming
It took me 20 years to realize what happened to me.
The day I finally realized what happened to me, I also realized why it took me so long to realize.
“I saw you kiss him.”
These words played repeatedly in my mind, as my mind’s eye flashed images of that day. I could see the bathroom that I was in, flashes of him helping me off the toilet played in my mind, and images, for some reason, of my underwear — the ones I was wearing that night. He did not remove them, so when I woke up the next day, the first thing I remember is seeing the cotton Garfield print, stained with blood.
I am sure there are a few reasons why that image of Garfield is the one that haunts me, but I cannot help but wonder if his little cartoon smile represents my innocence — the fact that I was a child.
It took me 20 years to realize that when he carried me from the toilet to my bed, covered in vomit from over-intoxication, it was rape. It took me 20 years to realize that, at the age of 15, I was a child.
Rape culture is very, very real.
It is so real that it takes women like myself and Cocoa Griot, who inspired this story, decades to even realize we were a victim. When it is finally apparent, it takes years to process the fact that it is not our fault.
We are conditioned to believe that when we are sexually abused, we did something to cause it. This culture of victim shaming manifests in many ways. As Cocoa wrote about, women are often blamed for what they were wearing. My bombshell was the idea that by going on a date with, kissing, or being intimate in any way with a man, he was thereby granted permission to my body.
After realizing that — for many reasons — I was not at fault for what happened that night, it was nearly impossible to imagine why that 15-year-old girl blamed herself for what happened for all these years.
Here are my reasons:
I was so ashamed and brokenhearted. I had this beautiful fantasy of falling in love and waiting until I found the person I wanted to be with, forever, to lose my virginity. All my friends teased me because they had already begun having sex, which was fine. But I had this idea of what I wanted, and it was not what they were doing. I wanted it to be special.
As ashamed as I was, I did try to talk to someone about it. That was when I heard it.
“I saw you kiss him.”
These five words may seem simple. But they are much heavier than they appear. They don’t just mean what they say, they mean so much more.
I saw you kiss him so you must have wanted it.
I saw you kiss him so you asked for it.
I saw you kiss him so you permitted him to do that to you.
I saw you kiss him so it was your fault.
These five words, along with all the other conditioning I had experienced, tricked me into blaming myself. Because I blamed myself, I never spoke of it again—to anyone. I created a new story and I pretended like it never happened, vowing that no-one would ever know, including the prince charming I had yet to find.
When you tell a story long enough, you believe it. At some point, I did believe my own story and was able to push the events of that night completely out of existence — or so it seemed. I repressed the entire thing.
If there is one thing I can thank Covid for, it is the stillness, the quiet time, and the time alone that it provided me.
I sat still with myself for so long under Covid, that repressed memories came back that I had no idea existed. I had been focused on my personal development for a decade. There were some things inside of me, however, that only stillness and silence would release.
Unfortunately, my first rape experience would not be my last.
And although I had repressed the memory of the events, the shame and guilt I felt behind it would shape my perception of every other time I experienced sexual violence, for years to come.
Not only did this shame shape my perception of sexual violence, but it also shaped my relationship with all men. If I was being harmed, it was my fault. To be safe, I must act accordingly. Because of this toxic relationship with men, I based my every move on their approval.
My first experience of physical abuse was by a man and it was because of me — it was caused by my actions. Therefore, I must govern my actions accordingly to protect myself from harm. I must ‘be good’. That was the subconscious belief system that I unknowingly carried with me for decades.
Why? Because 20 years ago, I was told it was my fault, I believed it was my fault and there was no-one there to tell me it wasn’t.
Men suffer too.
We often turn a blind eye to rape culture, in general, but our acknowledgment of rape culture as it relates to men is virtually non-existent.
Men are sexually abused too. Even fewer come forward than women, however, because of the rape culture around male victims. Men are automatically thought of as predators when we talk about rape, and women are thought of as victims. Sexual violence against women may be more prevalent and widely accepted, but if we wish to heal the wounds of rape culture, we must heal men too.
The idea is that men do not experience rape as women do because we have been conditioned to believe that men always want sex and are physically stronger. Because of these two beliefs, most of us do not picture a male rape victim the way we would a woman.
Think about seeing a 17-year-old male engage in sexual activity with his 25-year-old counselor. Then, think about a 17-year-old girl being sexual with her 25-year-old counselor. Feel that difference? Yes, that is the male rape culture that is so elusive. Many would see him as ‘scoring’ or ‘having game’ while they would see her as a victim of exploitation.
Men do not come forward because they have been convinced that it’s not manly to deny sex. We are all conditioned to believe that men are always stronger and therefore it would be impossible for a woman to force herself on a man. Not only are men not always stronger, but there are more ways than physical to force yourself on someone. The dynamic that exists in western culture, however, leaves no room for men to speak out and seek justice for being sexually abused.
There is a little boy inside of every man just as there is a little girl inside of every woman.
It wasn’t your fault.
If you have been violated sexually, physically, or mentally, it is not your fault.
It was not your fault because you had too much to drink.
It was not your fault because of the clothes you wore.
It was not your fault because you only said “No” once.
It was not your fault because you said yes last time.
It was not your fault because you flirted too much.
It was not your fault because you changed your mind.
It was not your fault because you are a man.
It was not your fault because you are a woman.
There is only one thing that gives another person permission to your body and that is you.
No matter how much you drank, what you wore, what your gender is, or how hard you fought to say no — it wasn’t your fault.
Not only was it not your fault, but you didn’t deserve it.
The roots of this conditioning are so deep that their removal requires a great many of us to look inside ourselves and strip away all the tiny beliefs that give life to rape culture.
It is time that more of us started telling more people it wasn’t their fault.
Written by Holly Kellums
Originally published on Medium.com
Featured image by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash
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I finally realized