A Call for Survivor Allies
In the fifth in this series, Emily asks you to become a survivor ally.
Welcome to part 5 in my series on ending rape culture. In the first of this series, I shared my dream to end rape culture within a generation, and in the second, I defined what I mean by rape culture. I then took a look at the little things, and invited you to start noticing those little things around you, the ones that help create a culture where women are demeaned, objectified, talked over, used, ignored, minimised and silenced. Last week, I invited you to start with a whisper, and become comfortable with questioning the existence of those little things.
This week I want to share with you how you can support those who have been hurt by rape. Remember those stats I shared before, between 1in3 and 1in6 women (depending on which source you favour) will be raped in their lifetime; and 29% will tell no-one.
Since I started sharing widely with people that I am doing this work, many people have said to me, “I’m so lucky, I don’t know anyone who this has happened to.”
The thing is, they do.
The reason they think they don’t is that the people in their life who have been raped aren’t talking about it.
And there are as many reasons as there are people why that is – we’re all different and we respond to trauma differently.
For some, when they know their attacker, the implications are immense. It could affect their family (it could be someone within their family), it could affect their friendship groups (it could be someone within their friendship groups), it could affect their career (it could be someone at work).
For some, they feel an overwhelming sense of embarrassment (the biggest reason not to tell anyone, at 42%) – and embarrassment is borne of shame. Shame is borne of the fear of what others will think and the reactions they expect to get evidenced by the way societal norms treat rape victims. And those norms shame and blame.
For others, they have shared. And the responses have not been helpful. Some of those responses have shamed them, some of those responses have blamed them, some of those responses have judged them. And through sharing, the survivor learns that their relationships are changed, or even ruined. And so the survivor learns it’s safer not to share.
You see, when those little things are happening, that water cooler gossip for example, and a joke that’s not a joke is made, and no-one pipes up to say it’s not funny, when a survivor is in that audience, feeling like they are the butt of the joke, they see that everyone else who is not saying it’s not funny, is complicit in their pain. They see all those in that group, not just the person who made the not-funny ‘joke’, as untrustworthy.
You might think you don’t know anyone who has been raped. Statistics say you do. Have you proved by your actions to all around you, that you are a safe place to trust that information?
I’d like to think that the world is full of those who would like to be thought of as an ally to those who have been hurt by it. I’d like to think that there is a latent movement of survivor allies just waiting to be told they’re needed. You’re needed.
So, what do I mean by a survivor ally? I’m stealing (with pride, pun intended) the concept from Stonewall and their concept of straight allies. A straight ally in the workplace recognises when something is affecting someone else, and realises the power in saying it’s not affecting me, but it’s an important thing and we need to sort it out. The very fact they’re not personally invested makes the message stronger. Straight allies do for LGBT+ in the workplace what I suggested you do last week: question when you see any of the little things happening.
Stonewall is also behind the #nobystanders hashtag. The pledge reads as follows: “I will never be a bystander to hateful language and abuse. If I hear it, I will call it out and report it, and if I can, I will stop it. By adding my name I promise to stand up for fairness, kindness and never be a bystander.” I would like survivor allies (that means everyone who isn’t a rapist) to recognise that they have this responsibility too to stand up against all the little things that create the rape culture we live in.
As survivors, when we see our friends, family, colleagues, strangers, standing up for us without knowing they are standing up for us, when we see them visibly saying ‘no, not in my name’ to the multitude of cuts we feel from society every day, that’s when we’ll know we can trust you with our truth. That’s when you’ll know that you do know someone, and you know more than just one someone.
As you and the rest of society brings rape culture out of the shadows and shines a light on it, and says this is wrong, then survivors will feel more and more ready to share their stories. And you and the rest of society will realise this is an epidemic. And action will be taken to end it.
Your micro-actions in helping with this are critically important on both a macro scale (contributing to the ending of rape culture) and a micro scale (creating a safe space for those close to you to share). In advance, I want to extend my thanks to you for making these changes.
Next week I’ll share with you how you can be more than an ally, I’ll share with you how you can be the friend your friend needs you to be when they do recognise that you are a safe sanctuary trustworthy of their truth.