We Are Not Mute: The silencing and repression of women in light of rape and sexual assault

By Emily Fuller

Rape and sexual assault is a concept that is complex and tricky quite often at the best of times, and can typically make people want to bury their head in the sand regarding such matters. Devastatingly, this leaves victims of this abuse isolated – a prisoner to society’s ignorance and lack of empathy for the trauma that follows an incident of rape.

The notion of silence is something that infiltrates and dominates most aspects of a sexual assault experience. From the neglect and silencing of your non-consent during the very act of sex, through to the naïve yet insensitive comments from people around you who believe that “maybe you should not tell anyone about this”. Silence is a dominant and menacing entity, looming over a victim and suffocating their every thought and their very voice. Silence coerces victims into feelings of shame and blame. It takes on the role of a puppeteer, carefully orchestrating a victim’s experience of grief and trauma. It mocks you, belittles you, making you feel minuscule and uncertain about your very being in a world where men can rape women and intimidate them into submission.

That is precisely how I felt after my experience of sexual assault. My voice and right to be heard was destabilised by someone who selfishly and ignorantly prioritised their desires and sense of satisfaction. Initially, I made so many justifications for why it happened, that maybe I deserved it and it wasn’t actually ‘rape’. But the truth is, power is the central essence that encompasses the act of rape, and a victim’s sense of power and trust is completely and inhumanely stripped from them by their rapist. Horrifyingly, the perpetrator maintains a sense of power over their victim that is imperceptible and overarching. This only became evident to me quite recently, when my perpetrator asked if I would be so kind as to not discuss the sexual assault with mutual friends and to not portray him in a negative light. I was dumbfounded, livid that someone could assert their power and intimidate me into silence, in what was clearly a desperate attempt to compensate for their insecurities and guilt by salvaging whatever reputation they had.

This provoked me to think about how women’s silence is inextricably linked to the nurturing of men’s emotions and wellbeing. We as women are so utterly conditioned to ensure the preservation of a man’s feelings, particularly relating to sex. Many victims find themselves responding to rape in a manner that minimises embarrassment for the man – as much as I hate to admit it, I know that I was unconsciously driven by such underlying motives. Often a victim’s silence and self-doubt is governed purely on this premise – we make excuses for their crime by justifying that we may have misinterpreted his intent for harm. I do not think that many people acknowledge the overwhelming amount of sexual abuse that occurs, is because women are trained to always be considerate of men. That our silence is prevalent out of respect for the man.

What’s more appalling is the fact that perpetrators utilise this dominance to further manipulate victims who are already vulnerable and frightened as a result of their circumstances. This form of silencing carries through to the debate of reporting a sexual assault to the police, as so many women do not feel like they are in a position to speak out against the crime they have fallen victim to. People may overwhelm you with the pressure of making a statement and voicing your case, others may try to influence you against speaking out – which is quite frankly another toxic form of silencing and control. However, the most imperative thing to realise is that it is your decision and your decision wholeheartedly – this is something that no one should be able to rob from a victim of sexual assault and abuse. Whilst deciding to speak out to authorities is often celebrated and endorsed, it’s just as essential to support a victim’s choice to not report their rape. Choosing to not report the crime does not mean the woman is weak, or scared, or any less of a feminist. Rather, it needs to be celebrated as symbolising a woman’s power and strength to make a decision that is right for them and their process of healing.

To finish off, I would just like to acknowledge the women who have not only been a victim of sexual abuse, but who have felt that they have been robbed of their voice and their fundamental right to be listened to. May you find peace in vocalising your story, or in seeking out other means in order to heal – you’re brave and courageous all the same.

Words by Emily Fuller.

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