I believe her. Because it happened to me too.

Yesterday, alone and feeling perfectly content in a window seat at a pizza restaurant, I sat thinking about Dylan Farrow.

The first properly bright day of the year, the sun warming my face through the glass. Why was I thinking about Dylan Farrow? I tried to trace my thoughts back. There was the #Ibelieveher Twitter campaign – I’d posted about how hard it must have been for her to speak outĀ  – and then of course there were all the articles and links on blogs and facebook, all the messages of support…

And then suddenly, oh god yes of course! A voice, unbidden, popped into my head to gently remind me that I had also been sexually abused as a child by my adoptive father. And that was why I was thinking about Dylan Farrow.

I do not mean to sound flippant. Such is the nature of trauma. My brain is well versed in the art of forgetting; of burying deep and putting to one side. It is a coping mechanism that served me well in my early years, and although I “came out” (for want of a better expression) years ago to friends and family as having been abused by my father, somehow the memory remains slippery and fleeting. Now you see it, now you don’t. And so that is how I came to find myself in a pizza restaurant, two whole days after first reading of Farrow’s public disclosure, suddenly remembering that (oh yes of course!) I had had the same experience.

I have given much thought to the publishing of this post. I’ve spent time examining my motivations and preparing myself for possible consequences. What if revealing myself as vulnerable means people lose respect for me and stop taking me seriously? What if they read this and find themselves unable to laugh at my attempts to be funny anymore? What if they think (oh yes, please don’t imagine this hasn’t occurred to me too) that I’m selling myself out for just a few more lousy page views? These are my fears around disclosure and nobody even knows who I am.

Indeed this post began life with the title simply, “I believe her” – my intention being to write a more distanced and intellectualised critique of the judicial system and the attitudes of suspicion and hostility that surround survivors who speak out. But I couldn’t do it. Not after I remembered. The little voice popped into my head to gently remind me of why I felt such an affinity with Dylan Farrow and it left me unable to muster the necessary detachment. So I wrote this instead. Because it feels more honest, more real, and more human, and because I hope it might reach out and touch someone somewhere. I hope it might help them. I hope it might help me.

Please know, reading this, that I have experienced the rank sense of betrayal, confusion, and fear that comes from a much loved parent taking ones trust and smashing it against the wall. Notice I don’t write “adoptive” parent. I see the papers are doing that. Trying to create a little distance. Trying to make it somehow less. The little girl inside thinks, ‘they’re on his side.’

Know that I have also experienced the frustration, pain, and self doubt of not being believed or protected. Adults can be self serving. Messy, poisonous fall-outs are to be avoided at all cost. Believing compels the believer to act. Bad news can paralyse. The little girl inside feels utterly, utterly alone.

But I’m an adult now and yes, you could say I was angry. It’s an anger mixed with acceptance however. Sometimes some sadness. But what I’m not, is ashamed. I am not ashamed because I know, without reservation, that it was not my fault. There wasn’t anything that I could have done. You want to know what it was? Bad fucking luck. These things happen to some people and they happened to happen to me.

And no I have never gone to the police, and no I don’t ever intend to. Because I know full well that the investigation and court process would likely be lengthy and distressing, and that at the end of it all I would be extremely unlikely to secure any kind of conviction. Anyone tempted to ask me, “But how would you feel if you discovered that he had done the same to someone else?” can go and eat a crap sandwich. I was not in any way responsible for his behaviour back then, and I am not in any way responsible for his behaviour now.

So yes, you could say I was angry. Angry about all of those things. But the thing which makes me the most angry may surprise you. I will explain…

Here it is. I am not a victim. What I am is a survivor. SO PLEASE STOP TELLING ME THAT MY LIFE HAS BEEN RUINED FOREVER, THAT I AM DAMAGED BEYOND REPAIR, AND THAT I AM A POOR THING WHO NEVER STOOD A CHANCE. Those things aren’t true. They were never true. And I do not need or want that sort of sympathy.

Yet this is the message we so often convey to women and girls. That to be raped is worse than death, that to be abused means you can never be happy, that to be a victim means never, ever being the same again. This stereotyped fantasy of the “ruined” woman (after all, who will marry her now?) has its roots deep in mysogyny. In our well intentioned efforts to sympathise with victims and express our condemnation of perpetrators, we risk perpetuating stigma and severely disempowering those we seek to support. Survivors of sexual violence need care, yes of course we do, but more than that we need respect. Respect and justice. We have no real use for the bleeding hearts and flowers.

And yes I understand that trauma has many and varied responses. That all are valid and not to be dismissed. But these are only ever hugely compounded by a lack of respect and no justice. We live in a culture that is heavily invested in protecting the perpetrator while it discredits and patronises the survivor. The horrible end result is that some of us do not make it.

Me? I did not escape unscathed. Old wounds left to fester undoubtedly helped to fuel the alcoholism and addiction that, until recently, plagued my adult life. I am slow to trust. I am fearful of the man walking behind me in the street. But I am also full of compassion. An habitual supporter of the underdog. I have strong feminist values and a keen sense of social justice. I believe in the importance of not judging others until you have walked a mile in their shoes. I believe in the human capacity to change.

Who knows how I may have been different had I grown up differently. I can’t know that. The woman I am is the only woman I have. But that woman is still very much alive. Still with a brain, a heart, a body, a spirit, and probably more than half a lifetime ahead of her.

And that life will never be ruined. Because it is not over.

 

If you have been affected by this post then here are some links you may find useful:

RapeCrisis.org.uk

TheSurvivorsTrust.org

RAINN.org

ChildLine.org.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Gappy

Blogger and single mother of three. Likes cake. Hates Jeremy Clarkson. These are my principles - if you don't like them, I have others.
This entry was posted in Politics and feminism. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to I believe her. Because it happened to me too.

  1. On a hill in Knighton says:

    Dear Gappy,
    Found your blog entirely by accident late last summer, drawn in by your experiences of Guardian Soulmates.

    Then I read both back and forwards in time and I guess I have now read all your posts.

    I have never read a blog before, or ever felt the need to write to an unknown author.

    I admit, I may possibly be a weirdo, but I have been meaning to drop you a line for a while.

    Your post today has made me put aside my work, sit down and try to thank you for your writing.

    I love your writing. It never fails to be interesting, thought provoking, articulate, amusing, sometimes all at once.
    Among other things, you have sent me to my dictionary, caused me to look up Bermard Manning and I’m not afraid to say, a couple of times you have made me cry.

    I am in awe of the way you are dealing with and expressing your life events, that in many ways mirror some of my own experiences.

    Since I don’t know you, you don’t know me and anyway, this is the Internet so it’s all completely imaginary….I would like to give you a handshake in thought, and say from me: Please keep doing what you’re doing, just one day to the next, because you are fantastic.

    All the very best, David

    • Gappy says:

      David, thank you so much. Both for taking the time to read, and for writing such a lovely, lovely comment. It has absolutely made my day, it really has. *big smiley face.*

  2. Heather says:

    Wow what an amazing comment from David! Hope you feel good about what you’ve done today.

  3. macondo mama says:

    Dear Gappy,
    Though I’ve pretty much disappeared from the internet since I stopped blogging, I have continued to read your posts and just want to tell you how much I love your writing, how I nod along with so much of what you have to say, and how much respect I have for your strength, your honesty and your smart words. Sorry to be such a lurker, just de-lurking for a quick e-hug and I’ll be off again.
    xox

    • Gappy says:

      Hey I remember you! Such a shame you’ve stopped blogging. Thank you so much for your comment – it’s lovely to know that you still read and I appreciate your kind words. Now we just have to lure you back to the blogosphere… x

  4. Peri says:

    ‘Vulnerable’ has never been a word I associated with the mystery woman named Gappy, whose blog I so enjoy reading. I feel honoured that you’ve shared this. #ibelieveyou #ibelieveyou #ibelieveyou

    I always believe you. x

  5. Peri says:

    S’ok. In your own time. I’m not going anywhere. I love your blog. I love the way you write, your style, your turn of phrase, the way you use language. You are quite, quite splendid.

    x

  6. Steve says:

    I can remember reading a statistic in the newspapers many years ago and it has always stayed with me. In every street all over the world there will be at least one child who is being abused in some way by their parent / sibling / family friends. When I read stories like this I look up and down my street and wonder. People who have never suffered at the hands of an abuser like to believe it happens a long way away from them. It doesn’t. It is possibly happening next door. It possibly happened / is happening to that shy kid across the street who can’t make eye contact with anyone. It possibly happened / is happening to that kid who creates merry hell in the alley behind your house who you think is a thug. It is happening in the dark, hidden away. It needs to be brought into the light and given nowhere to hide. It needs to be rooted out and killed. And that takes the bravery of those who have suffered to speak out and share their experiences. It needs the media to focus on those who have suffered, their stories and not focus on the perpetrator. Thank you for sharing.

    • Gappy says:

      I know. I often think the same. I know of at least two other girls in my class alone at school who were also being sexually abused by their male parental figure. It’s terrifying really. People just don’t realise how common this is.

  7. Trish says:

    Your post stopped me in my tracks when I read it and I didn’t know what to say at first. It seems others have said the things I struggled with.
    It’s really quite shocking and desperately sad how prevalent sexual abuse is.
    I hope the writing has been cathartic for you. X

  8. Scott says:

    I want to thank you so, so much for telling any jerk pulling the “but what if he does it to someone else” line to eat a crap sandwich.

    I’ve written, deleted and rewritten this comment a few times, deciding what if anything to say about a time I was sexually assaulted by a stranger and witnesses refused to tun over store security video to police, and the crap those useless witnesses had the gall to say and demand of me, and I think brevity is better today.

    So yes, thank you. We’re not responsible for our attackers’ actions and any jerk trying to put that on us can eat a crap sandwich.

    • Gappy says:

      Thank you for your comment Scott. It really means a lot to me that something I wrote in this post has meant a lot to someone else. That was the point in writing it. Gappy. x

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