no one chooses victimhood

i read this article earlier in the year on how the system fails young rape victims. perhaps, i should say, systems. legal, cultural and social modes of understanding and reacting to violence are all flawed deeply. the article put language to so many truths i’ve had to live and embody, names to narratives that have been forced on me since the age of thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. if you are a young, articulate girl, if you look or talk or think or move in a way that people perceive as ‘beyond your years’, you are an instantaneous target.

there are endless ways that people dismiss, discredit and invalidate survivors of sexual violence. young girls who should be protected by statutory rape laws are told that they were ‘asking for it’, their supposed consent (even when overt, physical force is involved) from being “provocative” in behaviour, or in appearance and manner alone.

and god forbid you manage to look happy at any point in your life, particularly in cases of sustained abuse.

when news broke publicly of amber heard and johnny deep’s divorce, when media caught onto the claims (rather, truths) of abuse around the story, tabloid after tabloid ran photos of amber heard smiling. of amber heard outside with her friends. of amber heard, supposedly, just fine.

what an indictment it is that an image of a woman living is a disappointment to the masses. what an indictment it is that we believe people who experience abuse are only valid in their narratives if they are laden in perpetual suffering.

our capacities to enjoy the world, whether fleeting or constant, are not seen as being in spite of what we have experienced, but as negating it.

beyond this, we also trivialise what it means to experience trauma: there is no single narrative, no clear-cut way through which people process abuse.

sometimes processing takes minutes. sometimes it takes days. sometimes it takes years.

this morning the #maybehedoesn’thityou tag appeared on my twitter feed again. one thread stood out to me unshakably:

the author discusses the diversity of experiences that can constitute ‘domestic violence’, particularly insidious forms of emotional abuse such as gaslighting. partner violence builds up over time. partner violence is easily dismissed.

and scrolling through my feed, i thought of writing out my own.

maybe he doesn’t hit you, but you’re a minor when he first sleeps with you. he calls you “childish” and “immature” when you out him as abusive to your friends, but your supposed “maturity” was what he used to justify fucking you. maybe he doesn’t hit you but looking back now, the age difference between you was 1/3 of your entire time on this planet.

maybe he doesn’t hit you, but after he’s cheated on you he uses your fragile mental health and your clinical anxiety disorders to convince you that you are going insane.

maybe he doesn’t hit you, but the first time you try to break up with him, he tells you he’s cut himself deep enough to bleed to death.

maybe he doesn’t hit you, but he calls you to tell you he’s “ready to die” because you “don’t love him anymore”, starts screaming down the line and audibly hitting a wall.

maybe he doesn’t hit you but one afternoon he pushes you down onto the bed you’re sitting on with his body even though you’ve tried to talk him out of it, maybe he doesn’t hit you but when you confront him about this months afterward he sends you a text saying he’ll hang himself if you tell your friends he raped you.

maybe he doesn’t hit you but every time you try to leave this relationship, he convinces you that his life depends on it. that he would take his life. that his death would be your fault.

you are fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. and in between the panicked calls to his friends begging them to check up on him, to see if he’s still alive after all the manipulation and the gaslighting only to find out that he’s fine, that he’s nowhere near even upset, and after an ectopic pregnancy almost kills your body with the pain alone, and before you realise the extent to which you are being harmed, and in the high school classes you’re trying to scrape by in, pushing back tears from the stress of it all, you lose yourself.

and when you find yourself, find your truth, find the language and the terminology that correctly describes what you went through.

and you ask your friends, in your own private social media spaces, not to support his work.

the messages start pouring in. angry, outraged, mock-hurt. telling you that you’re “ruining careers”. telling you that you have a “vendetta”, that you’re “hurting good people”. somehow with your hurt, somehow with all that you’re carrying and trying to process alone, you are told that you are the villain in the shitshow of this neverending situation.

the harassment doesn’t end, it just evolves. messages to you and your closest friends turn into vicious rumours that feel like high school gossip. your “mental health” is invoked to insinuate that you are literally delusional, lying, or both.

i’ve told these stories a dozen times. but the weight on my back doesn’t get any lighter. there’s no big moment of letting go, no catharsis, no release, no acceptance. every time i tell these stories my heart feels heavier. with guilt. with blame and self-doubt. with anger.

i thought perhaps it was ignorance: that people don’t understand partner violence, because it is so difficult to understand. but then you hear of his bandmate, against whom multiple women have alleged rape. you hear of their manager, and accusations of sexual assault against him from the past. and you read the statistics. one in three women. you go to uni in states of dissociation because you passed a bus stop with his band’s name plastered across a festival poster and you are reminded of the hurt and your body at fifteen and how it has been twisted, mutated into this ugly thing bereft of any innocence. and you sit down in your classes with your head down and think of how you are the one in three. how we all know the stats and we see the campaigns and everyone will sign a fucking internet petition or share an article on facebook but when women speak up, women who you know, women who have been hurt by men who you know, they will be punished for it.

and i am tired of giving answers that people no longer deserve. i hesitated for weeks over the idea of writing this article. of addressing all the misconceptions and rumours about me that have been spread simply for my speaking out.

i’m tired of being asked “my story”. this is not “my story”. this is a story about how the music industry, among broader society, is fucking incapable of holding violent men to account. this is not “my story” just because i had the misfortunate of playing a character in it. if it weren’t me, it would have been another woman. it is another woman. every hour, every day, there is someone else victimised.

none of us choose to be victims. none of us choose the forced resilience of being survivors. there is nothing to gain from speaking out but there’s a whole lot to lose. now, i have nothing left to lose.