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A secondary survivor

I haven’t suffered through a rape myself, but I found out recently that my partner has. She’s carried it by herself for nearly 10 years.

One day she was brave enough to tell me. I don’t know why, but I am glad she found the courage and felt safe enough to do so. I will be forever grateful to her for that.

She is going through counselling at the moment, and I can honestly report that it really is helping. She’s able to look me in the eye now when we talk through it. She can use the term rape. The shame, the guilt the misdirected feelings of blame that she’s placed on herself all this time are starting to shift to where they should be. At the rapist. I can’t begin to put into words how proud I am of her and the mountains she’s had to climb to get where she has today. She will always have my support. I will always believe her. It was never her fault. It doesn’t matter that she’d been drinking, it doesn’t matter that she was dressed in tight, revealing clothing. It doesn’t matter that her body physically reacted in a way to protect her. It doesn’t matter that she feels she could have fought harder or that after a while she stopped resisting to get it over with. She did not deserve this. It was not her fault. She is not to blame. No amount of questioning her behaviours up to, during or after the rape itself will EVER convince me otherwise.

I have a confession to make though. Until this, I felt very anxious about the current cultural shift towards discussion of “rape culture” and the prevalence of sexual abuse. I found it hard to believe that it could be so widespread. I’d never done it myself, I didn’t know of any friends that had or thought were questionable morally. Surely all this talk and discussion on twitter and in the media was just opportunistic attention-seeking and money-grabbing opportunities right? Surely ALL these stories couldn’t be real?

But they are. And I’m sorry.

Reading stories on the internet, it’s easy to feel detached. Impersonal, indifferent. unbelieving. After all, why would you want to talk about this publicly? Why not just go to the police if there’s a problem? Why didn’t you do anything about it at the time? Surely it’s for the attention or the money or the career prospects and you were happy about it back then you’ve just changed your standards since?

But it’s not. And I’m sorry.

I watched a survivor share her story with me. She couldn’t look me in the eye. Hiding behind her hair, or only comfortable to talk about it when she’s clutching her arms round me and burying her face into my chest to avoid eye contact. Over the last few weeks I’ve realised that this was because she was ashamed of it. And I’m horrified. Not only did she have to go through this terrible ordeal, she blamed herself for it even happening. She couldn’t speak about it because she didn’t think she would be believed. In the conversations we’ve had since, she believed that once I knew the details, I would think she was “damaged goods” and I would want to leave. She spent a lot of time believing that she was bringing “her shit” into our relationship and putting it on me.

Watching the emotion, feeling the pain of it, on someone I love so much, there was never any doubt in my mind of her story. I felt so sorry for her. I felt the helplessness of wanting to make it go away but not being able to, I felt the rage against the perpetrator, the desire to find him and make him pay. I felt the fear of what it must have been like in the immediacy of the event. I felt the anguish and anxiety and detachment of the aftermath. The injustice of having to bury this heinous crime and deal with it by yourself because you genuinely think no one will believe you, that it will destroy your relationships, that to report it and go through the process will result in horrendous muckraking and moral questioning at the time when you need it the least.

But mostly, I feel ashamed. Ashamed as a man. Ashamed as a partner. Ashamed for my role in society. I think of all the things I used to think and believe and I know that it would have contributed to the societal pressure to keep it all in. Ashamed that I passively contributed to a system that allows this. That makes it so hard for victims.

She was the one who put me on to this site yesterday, she found it through counselling. I understand how important it is to be able to tell these stories safely. To be believed. To show that the reaction will not always be what you think it will in your head. I’m still trying to encourage her to write, I think she will soon. I haven’t told her I’m doing this, though I suspect if she’s still reading the stories she’ll know this is mine. I didn’t know what a “secondary survivor” was until I came here. Thank you for this opportunity.

I’ve read a number of the very personal stories on here and the guilt leaves a stain on my soul.

But I am changed by this experience.

I feel closer to her than I ever have. I will continue to listen, I will continue to believe, I will fight for change, I will be better.

And to anyone reading this still on the fringes of anxiety, scared to talk or share. I can tell you from experience that talking is the key. The counseling she’s having (and I by proxy am also receiving) and the discussions we’re having are making things easier. And if you’re wondering whether it will mean things will get worse for you in the long run, I can only speak from my experience to say that they don’t. In fact, from our discussions, one of the positives that we have taken from this is that we feel we are closer than we were before and that we are stronger and more in love with each other as a result. It’s case of you don’t know what your relationship can endure until you actually endure it.

She will heal. We will heal. We will have an amazing life together and not be consumed by it.

And I will listen to her. And I will believe her. And I will love her. Always. As I will to all the stories I read from now on. I wish you all nothing but the best.

— Survivor, age 34

2 comments

  • Alexis
  • sharon

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