It didn’t take long. Just hours after Duffy published an Instagram post revealing that she had been drugged, raped and held captive for several days, people were responding with jokes, even using her own song lyrics to make light of what had happened.
One media outlet referred to her post as a ‘tale’, as though she was telling a little story, not revealing huge, personal trauma. Another referred to her ordeal as an ‘alleged’ experience rather than the truth.
It is never, ever funny to joke about rape or sexual violence. It exposes a lack of sympathy and understanding from these – predominantly male – trolls. Instead of treating rape with the gravity it requires, they continue to undermine and belittle it.
Yet, if it was one of their daughters, their mothers, their sisters, their brothers, I’m sure they wouldn’t feel the same way.
I was gang raped when I was 13 years old. My friend and I went out – her mum was away – and we both lied about where we were staying. I tried alcohol for the first and got very drunk as a result.
At some point during the night, two boys took us back to her mum’s empty flat. They both raped me in any way that they could.
It took me about 35 years to speak out about what happened to me. The perpetrators threatened to kill me if I told anyone, and I believed them, but the shame also kept me quiet. I thought that if people knew they would be disgusted or would look at me differently.
That shame never belonged to me, though – it belonged to the boys who raped me. 100 per cent of rapes are caused by rapists, but it took me many years to work these things out.
I first spoke about my rape in 2014. I was having therapy, my eldest daughter turned 13 and towards the end of a session my therapist commented that my attackers hadn’t been born rapists. Those words sent me on a journey of inquiry with a desire to understand.
I’ve been very lucky since – I’ve had amazing support and made amazing connections. People have told me that I am brave, and that what I am doing by talking openly is courageous, but I don’t want it to be brave. I want it to be normal that we can speak out about the difficult things that happen to us without being made fun of or facing backlash.
How does that help any survivor come out if people are ridiculed when they do? Responding with jokes will only protect the perpetrators and silence survivors.
Many survivors are further bound by the fear of not being believed – look at the case concerning Harvey Weinstein. It took numerous women to bring that man down; it should have taken just one. But we so rarely believe individuals when they speak up because of the blaming and shaming rape culture that has been allowed to breed online.
Rape culture permeates everything from the way we portray women to how we sexualise them and young children. It’s present in our music, ‘locker room’ chat and when young boys watch porn on their phones.
All it really amounts to is the degradation of women, and this seeps into our judicial system where convictions for rape and sexual violence are already desperately low.
We can’t be naive enough to think that when a jury sits down they haven’t already judged the woman sitting in front of them: ‘What does she expect, surely it’s her fault.’
So we have to challenge shaming, blaming and flippant language around sexual violence whenever and wherever we see it – like when a rape survivor’s account is described as a ‘tale’ instead of a hugely traumatic event in their life.
We need to start educating our children from a very young age about what respect is, what a healthy relationship is and what consent is – and this extends beyond sexual relationships.
The death of Caroline Flack instigated calls for people to ‘be kind’ and while maybe a small percentage might have changed, some of the responses to Duffy’s post suggests that it takes a lot for some people to break their conditioning.
There is no compassion, no kindness – perhaps because the trolls are unable to see that there is a human being on the other end of what they are doing.
It was the courage of other people speaking out that helped me find my voice and now I try to pay that forward: I go into schools and universities and show people I am not ashamed, this is who I am.
When people see me or any rape survivor speaking, and they see it’s really OK, it gives them hope. If they could share their story, they think, then I can share mine – not necessarily publicly but just with someone else.
I believe that when we as survivors don’t speak out, we hold ourselves back. There is a part of you that’s not alive, not connected into the rest of you.
Finding a way to be believed, to be heard – there’s nothing more powerful than that. Please let us do that.
(The above is an article that I wrote for the Metro UK 27/2/20)