Friday, 18 May 2012

Dance and the stigma of rape

Have you ever been the victim of a house burglary? Many victims of burglary don’t need to be subjected to violence or see the burglars to no longer want tolive in their house. They feel “dirty” and that their personal space has been invaded

Friends and neighbours will be curious as to how the burglar got in.  But even if the back window was left open or the door unlocked, the victim is not blamed.  You are the victim and what the thief (or thieves) did by entering your property and stealing or destroying your belongings is unthinkable.  The burglar will forever remain a criminal and you the victim of a horrible crime.

What if I told you that I was raped?  What if I was wearing a short skirt when I was raped?  Would that be the same as an open window?  Would that easier access to my property be a factor that people would hold against me?  In the case of the burglary, the open window is disregarded; the thief should not be entering to begin with.  In the case of rape do you feel the same about what a girl might wear?  Is it her fault or the rapist’s? Would he have left me alone if my skirt had been five inches lower?

When I was raped, I was on my way to buy food, wearing flip flops, shorts and a t-shirt.  I was dragged off of the main street and raped.  Was that my fault?  Was there something about me that led the rapist to think he had access me? 

When I told my friends I had been raped, they were not quite sure what to say.  The questions they asked me seemed to suggest I was on trial as a criminal:  What time of day was it?  What was I wearing?  Was I alone?  Was I drunk?

Shouldn’t they be focussing on the crime he committed? HE was the one who forced the door open, HE was the one who came up the stairs and HE was the one who stole from me. HE had the power and I had none. He stole all my belongings and I was left with the empty house.

Somebody penetrated me sexually using violence.  He held me so hard and covered my mouth so that I couldn’t move or scream. But my experience is that rape victims are held at arms length for mental scrutiny and interrogation.

When I told people I’d been raped, I was faced with reactions of utter discomfort. Some people looked scared of the topic, some people didn’t make eye contact and some people said the necessary things in order to move on and change the conversation. These reactions, although the people were not conscious of how they were making me feel, provoked shame and embarrassment. If someone got struck by lightening would you interrogate them? Where were they were standing? What were they wearing? Were they alone?

Why does society struggle with truly accepting people who have been raped as victims? I think there are many reasons but the main one is certain. People are scared of rape. Scared that it will happen to them and scared to talk about it. Society sees advertisements of rape prevention but very rarely do we see support for victims. They have no voice because society is scared to hear it.

After becoming a victim of rape I feel that I was further victimised by society. It was as if the rape wasn’t a random act but something I had brought on myself.

In a world where sexualisation dominates and even children idolise sexualised figures, why is it we are so uncomfortable with talking about rape?

As a rape survivor I feel it’s my responsibility to speak out and give people the chance to understand the feelings of a victim.

This is why I am looking for rape victims who are willing to take part in dance therapy workshops. These workshops aim to give survivors a different way of experiencing therapy and they will be held in a supportive space with dance therapists and councillors. As a rape victim I know how hard it is to articulate the feelings that stem from rape. I asked myself, ‘we feel in our body so why not communicate through movement?’

I am asking other victims to join my ambition to change public attitudes. Together we can overcome and change the stigma. As Ghandi once said “Be the change you want to see in the world”.

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