Sat. Sep 18th, 2021


There’s a cape that survivors of trauma carry with them, like a shadow whispering against their necks.

You never know when you’ll be forced to wear it.

It engulfs you so suddenly it’s wrapped around before you recognise its weight, thrown on by Proustian madeleines better left in the dark.

Smells which transport you back to dark, confused spaces, phrases which send you reeling to another time, another you.

Noises. Photos. Seeing the date. Casual remarks or unexpected touches. Everyday, harmless actions which catapult you from the now to the moment you became someone else.

Your body always remembers. It starts in the stomach, in that deep, dark place you keep unwanted feelings and spreads. Clutches your heart. Captures your breath. Clouds your brain.

You can tell yourself you’re safe, but your body remembers when you weren’t and the cape wraps around you tighter, dragging you back. Nowhere is safe. Not home, not work, not bathrooms, not schools, not streets, not your own bed.

Back to the bitter shock of the moment you realised you had no power. That your wishes, your wants, your agency as a person no longer counted. The terror of wondering if these would be your last moments, the helplessness of your life no longer being yours to control, the sickening realisation your body no longer belongs to you and part of it never will again.

Survivors carry those feelings with them, always and forever, like stones you can’t remove from your shoe.

And when you hear someone else’s story, you’re ripped back into yours. You are them, and they are you, and you pick up their stones and carry them with you, add their story to the tapestry of your cape.

Those who speak their own stories will inevitably hear from others, desperate for an anchor amid their own churning emotions.

As a woman who has spoken about her sexual assaults, including rape, my messages are filled with strangers and friends wearing their own capes, who recognise themselves in the despair and rage within others.

Women who are not sure if their assault was rape because the perpetrator was a friend or loved one. Women who realised their first sexual experience was an assault. Men who had no idea they knew a sexually assaulted woman (statistically, they know more than one). Men who want to assure you they’re different. Women who share a load they have carried silently for decades.

And those who want you to know they can’t imagine what it’s like, because “I just think, what if it were my daughter?”

The second time I was attacked, I was pulled down on to the ground by a stranger who saw me walking home from work and followed me, having taken a liking to my hair, and decided to see what else of mine he liked, pulling, and ripping, and punching to get at what he wanted.

I was saved by a couple, who had seen the attack occurring, but at first, drove on, turning around only when one asked the other, “What if it were our daughter?”

I will be forever grateful to them for stopping. But my value as a human that night should not have been determined by someone else’s daughter’s worth.

The image of a woman, pinned down beside a road, in obvious distress and screaming, was not enough. When she wore another woman’s face, she was saved.

Did those people who continued driving past me that night only know men?

A woman’s value should not depend on the worth placed on someone else’s daughter. A woman should not need to wear another daughter’s face to be heard.

Men, and it is an attitude so often shared by men, should not need to think of the women in their life suffering to feel empathy and demand change for a stranger who is crying for help, for action.

Trauma doesn’t have a gender. Neither does empathy. But when the trauma belongs to a woman, too many men need a woman they love to think about how it would feel and what should be done.

And those women hear their worth reduced to someone else’s, told their story is valuable because it could belong to someone else, and feel that cape wrap tighter and tighter.

Because not only did someone take your agency.

Now someone else is determining how they listen to you, based on women unrelated to you, or your experience.

And you have to be grateful.

Because the flipside – what if they had sons – is too devastating to contemplate.

By admin

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