Trigger warning: rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse, violence
Whenever I feel overwhelmed – by a feeling, a situation, an issue – I turn to the pages of books. The stories in the pages aren’t always comforting, but understanding something in greater depth always lessens the fear; having an author guide me through a dark topic makes me believe that light exists. Sohaila Abdulali’s book ‘What We Talk About When We Talk about RAPE’ did just this. Rape is a challenging and confronting topic of conversation yet so important to discuss. Here are eight of the most important learnings I took away from this insightful, provocative read by a rape survivor, counsellor and activist.
1. The #MeToo movement is an important movement but neither the first of its kind nor the last. For example, in 2016, two writers began a movement called the Violet Spring (Primavera Violeta) in Mexico where thousands of women shared stories, marched in protest, and brought gender-based violence into the national consciousness.
2. The Abdulali guidelines for saving a rape survivor’s life. If you only read one chapter of this book, read chapter nine. It’s all the advice I wish I had had when my friends and patients disclosed their experiences of rape to me for the first time.
3. To prevent rape we need to understand it, and we need to address that power imbalances have profound implications for rape and the aftermath. “Power plays into rape in ways that transcend opportunity and motive,” Abdulali writes. “Power further corrupts everything that is already corrupt about rape: who is believed, who is accountable, who is punished, and why.”
4. It is okay to be angry. “Life would be healthier all around if women spent less time being frightened and more being righteously indignant. Why are we so afraid of “angry women”? I think we owe it to our daughters to teach them that some things are really worth getting angry about.”
5. Rape always comes at an immense cost for both the victim and society. In this book, Abdulali outlines all the ways that potential of victims is wasted due to rape: “Imagine what would be unleashed if so many people didn’t have to waste so much time dealing with flashbacks, secret-keeping, suicidal thoughts, low self-esteem, crippling fear of… everything, and on down the dreary list,” she writes. “Imagine the fantastic, the amazing, the mind-boggling things so many rape survivors could do, say, create or be if they didn’t have to waste time traumatized and stymied and made small.”
6. Privilege has impacts on survivors’ recovery. “Nobody is immune from rape. But everybody has different tools in his/her/their bag to either cope with it, or to make coping that bit harder. Stones in your pocket make it easier to drown.”
7. Rapists are humans, too. No matter the scale of the harm they cause, they don’t deserve to be treated with equivalent amounts of violence. And they too are capable of change and growth.
8. Every conversation about rape matters. Raising your voice, and the voices of those who have experienced rape, will “... help to end some of the silence, illuminate some of the shadows”. So let’s keep talking.Support Villainesse