Let me set the scene. I’m reading through my discharge summary from the Eating Disorder Day Care Unit I had been attending for the past sixth months or so, and reach the part that my key therapist (B) has written. B sums up my physical condition first, then comments on how actively I engaged in the various therapy groups I was attended, and, right near the end of the paragraph, they touch on the sensitive subject of the attempted rape I experienced several years prior to accessing this treatment. B and I hadn’t gone into masses of detail during our time together regarding the incident that occurred. I still maintain that although it has had some impact in my life and it wasn’t a pleasant experience, I do not feel I have been traumatised by it. However, the topic had certainly come up in our 1:1 sessions, so naturally they would include this in the summary.
It wasn’t what B said that grated on me; they were accurate in what they had written, and this was only a very brief mention of the topic. No, it was how they had said it that left me feeling indignant and somewhat defensive. I didn’t get choked up at all; I wasn’t really offended or hurt. And as I read through it now I don’t feel any anger towards B, but I do feel it’s worth sharing, as it subtly highlights just how pervasive victim blaming can be in our society.
Or maybe it was just a grammatical slip-up. Maybe I’m reading far too much into this. But in my eyes, the absence of quote marks, on this occasion, is about more than just their grasp on the English language. It speaks volumes about what they have been conditioned to believe. About how inclined we all are to apportion responsibility for sexual assault with the one who has been assaulted, rather than point the finger at the perpetrator – the one who is in fact guilty.
Certainly, it has been my belief that what happened was brought on by my actions, that had I not acted in the way I did, I wouldn’t have ended up in the position I found myself in. And I did communicate this to B during our sessions together. “I should have stopped drinking earlier in the night. I shouldn’t have let him walk me back to my friend’s house, alone. I shouldn’t have waited alone with him in her room for her to get back. I shouldn’t have led him on…” and so on and so forth. Maybe that is all that B is saying here – that what was “reported” was this: my belief in my own “lapse of judgement”, in how I should have made “sensible choices” for myself. But that’s not clear, I don’t think.
What it sounds like is B imposing their own belief. Their belief that it was foolish, or unwise, or irresponsible, or even wrong of me to do the things I did. Namely, to let myself get drunk (or rather, sufficiently woozy that I declined further alcohol in favour of water). To let myself get “carried away” when I noticed the attention I was getting (relishing in the novelty of it all). To let myself be taken advantage of, in my state of tiredness and confusion; to not protest louder and more forcefully, perhaps, when things started to go too far… Maybe that would have been a more “sensible choice” on my part.
But I’m genuinely curious to know what B’s take on the situation, particularly my behaviour, would have been, had the attempt never happened? Or, had everything happened with my consent? Though whether someone is capable of consenting whilst in a state of inebriation is debatable in itself and merits a whole separate discussion. Would that have been more morally sound? Would my drunkenness and friendly flirtation have been more acceptable because I had not led myself to becoming this victim of unwanted sexual advances? What’s interesting is that in both scenarios my behaviour is more or less constant. Both in the one with the attempted rape, and the one in which I return home unscathed (still drunk and giddy, but having dealt “more sensibly” with the attention I had received, perhaps). The variable is him and how he acted. So is there a correlation there? Yes. I think there is.
And as to whether I do hold the blame, or any blame, for what happened, that’s something I have to work out myself, despite what I know to be true on a rational level. But what I am sure of is that it’s hardly constructive for any outsider looking in on the situation, and especially one who is a trained therapist, to imply that my lack of discretion put me at fault, that it caused the assault. Whether that’s their personal stance or not, to share this with the person who was assaulted was not the “sensible choice” to make; indeed, it appears thoughtless and could certainly be deemed to have a detrimental effect on the way in which they process what happened to them.
So, to any professional or non-professional supporting someone who has experienced sexual assault, I advise choose your punctuation wisely. And if doubt, brushing up on your grammar wouldn’t go amiss.
Written by Brittany Roberts