Sunday, 18 March 2018

She said the WORD outloud...

I flinched when she said the word.

It’s not like I hadn’t heard the word before.

It‘s the way I expected the word to be used that was my problem. 

The word is often said in hushed tones, not to be repeated regularly because it's a repugnant word. Thoughts that trigger shame, humiliation and even trauma. We don’t want to pressure the victim into re-living the situation and we don’t want the picture to remain in their mind for too long. Subconsciously we want the word and the incident to remain separate from us and our current reality. 

I flinched  yet this isn't the first time, I heard this particular girl's story. I read the short bio they provided before I came. We chose her specifically for her experience, and to provide her with the opportunity to speak for others that have been unable to do so in the past. We wanted her to speak up so that the right help and support can be provided for all, especially those rendered mute by the  heavy shackles of shame.

I must confess I doubted that she could do it, I have been here before and many girls have bulked at the chance to speak up. And that's okay. They need to make the best decision for themselves, we need  to help them do that and provide a safe space for them to feel in control. Being able to say 'No' is a decision we support too. 

All though we say our opinion as society is changing for many girls there is a wrongly attached stigma to the word which follows the victim and never the perpetrator. In Roxanne's book 'Bad Feminist' she shares her harrowing experience in the thought-provoking essay " What We Hunger For".  Advance Warning! This essay will remain with you long after you have put the book down. But it's a necessary read that encourages deep reflection especially on sexual assault and how we process violence against women.

' The boy I thought was my boyfriend pushed me to the ground. He took my clothes off, and I lay there with no body to speak of, just a flat board of skin and girl bones. I tried to cover myself with my arms but I couldn't, not really. The boys stared at me while they drank beer and laughed and said things I didn't understand because I knew things but I knew nothing about what a group of boys could do to kill a girl. ' ~ Roxanne Gay - Bad Feminist  (p.143)

'I sat perfectly still and tried to concentrate, but all I could hear was the hiss of the word "Slut". That shame was one of the worst things I have ever known. " Slut" was my name for the rest of the school year because those boys went and told a very different story about what happened in the woods."'
~ Roxanne Gay - Bad Feminist  (p.144)

I was heartbroken when I read this essay. I didn't sleep that night, because I vividly saw the younger Roxanne carrying this shame and burden herself. My nocturnal clock was turned upside down, because I know there are many young girls that have this similar experience, and many boys & men who have never paid for their sins. Undeservedly the victim is tied to the baggage of shame and humiliation that in my opinion belongs only to the perpetrator for not respecting the sacredness of another person's body.  It is unfair, but how can we talk about fairness and rape in the same sentence?

So why did I flinch when this girl told her story?

I flinched because the product of the action was sitting in this girl's lap contently breastfeeding and just a few months shy of their* first birthday. I flinched because the word, 'RAPE', rolled of her tongue with such confidence and certainty . She made eye contact with us, she was lucid. The word was clear, it was enunciated and not one person in the room could ever say when recalling this conversation that they did not understand what she had said or what she meant.

That is what was new for me.

The fact that she could assertively call a spade a spade. Usually when I hear their stories, the girls don’t even use the word rape. The councilor or the caregiver will always use the correct term, but it’s been rare for me to come across a girl that comfortably uses the word. They will say ‘he hurt me’ or ‘ he forced me to be with him,’ or even ‘he forced himself upon me’ .  Sometimes they won’t even discuss it, there will just be a big gap in their story, and when you revert back to the part for clarity, they may be unable to articulate it in words. She may simply look down or get lost in thoughts and you are left to imagine the worst based on their facial expressions. That part of the story is usually discussed in lower tones, sometimes in whispers and no eye contact.

This girl-child was different thanks to months of counseling plus family and social  support. This girl didn’t look away from our asking eyes, she didn’t lower her voice and fumble with her words. She clearly announced “I was raped.”  while breastfeeding her baby in her lap.  This healthy baby was born nine months after the incident. 

The fact that this girl could state what happened to her without hesitation is what shocked us. 

She took that negativity and threw it right back
 at that man who totally disregarded her rights as a child. 

She removed the shame & humiliation from herself and her child
and hurled it across borders, right back at this man.

 Experiencing that moment was profound. 

He was a family friend. A grown man who approached this girl-child and she rejected him. When conflict broke out in her country and the whole village fled to the bush for safety.... he took advantage in the chaos and raped her. He may never be prosecuted for this crime. He tried to crush her budding teenage self-esteem. Place cracks in the first foundation stones of her female confidence.

 A grown man could not  take rejection from a child so he raped her.
Think about that for a moment...
A grown man could not take rejection from a child.
Pause for a few seconds before you continue reading.
Take that thought with you.
Because it doesn't matter how many conversations we've had,
We need to keep talking till perpetrators know, they don't have a right to any body's body. 

In the moment that she used the word rape, it sounds cliché, but I understood what they mean when they say 'She took back her power’ .This young girl had dreams for herself and her baby and she told us with drive and conviction in her voice that she believed they could be achieved 

 She called a spade a spade. 

I am also learning to call a spade a spade, thanks to her bravery.

  (btw find me on twitter @mariajulietrose 😀)


  1. Powerful post. I'm so glad this girl had support - many seem to be shunned. She's amazing.

    1. Thanks for reading. There is much work to be done in this area. May we all continue to take steps towards progress for victims