FOR SHAME - By Ciara Charteris

What the last few months or so have taught me, is that despite doing interviews and speaking to the press, sharing my story proudly, whilst being privileged enough to have mental health support through it, I still find the context and details of the night I was raped extremely difficult to talk about.

The act of rape itself is pretty simple to understand. Its criminal severity is easy to recognise when it is so universally regarded as a violent act. It is an act that we perceive, judge and uphold by law as a black and white crime, however, 90% of all rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, acquaintance rape, the so called ‘grey area’. An almost non-existent sex and consent education, along with inherently anti-feminist societal perceptions, and ‘complex’ personal circumstances, has allowed rape in its most common form to become some what of a free for all. Perpetrators hide in plain site, their behaviour protected by a deeply bias system that finds these ‘complexities’ too uncomfortable to talk about and too difficult to change, leaving a huge grey safety net for the ‘nice guys’ (or the 90% , depending on how you choose to look at it) to fall into, every time.

The first thing I was told when I walked into the Police station was,

“Do you understand you are accusing someone of a crime that is one below murder?”

Leaving aside my initial feelings of fear, guilt, and subsequent rage, I have never stopped wondering, that if this is the case, if this is the severity of the crime, no matter what the circumstances surrounding it are, why are the statistics of conviction so catastrophically low?

Why down the line, after questioning a DC on the reasoning behind the CPS’s decision to drop my case, was I met with the answer,

“...this is where we get stumped”.

How had I, the victim, stumped the trained detective?

Can you imagine if the majority of murderers had such a free legal playground.

Why are there complications that law enforcement can’t seem to overcome, but we are expected too?

It is for all these reasons that I still carry feelings of anger that I didn’t do more to protect myself in the moment. I have replayed that night over in my head every day since it happened, yet the question I still struggle to answer most is: what actually happened that night?

The fact that I was raped is not enough, and despite all my hard work, the question always opens me up to my own irrational feelings of judgement and shame.

The fact is, that without sharing the context of my rape, I can not begin to fight the stigma it is shrouded in, and so evoke change.

So, in answer to your questions:

Yes - I was drunk.

Yes - I was wearing what some would perceive as a ‘sexy/asking for it sheer black top and tight jeans’

Yes - I wanted to go home and I didn’t.

Yes - I was warned by a friend that my perpetrator was not to be trusted.

Yes - It was not the first time he had tried to take advantage of me when I had been drinking. .

No - I did not scream or try to run away.

No - I did not go to the police immediately.

No - I did not challenge him after.

I want to make it clear, none of these things are ever a reason or excuse for rape.

There are none.

It was not my fault.

And for fellow survivors out there - it was not your fault.

It never was and it never will be.

Our failing system and society’s judgement is not an accurate reflection of our worth. It was never built to protect or respect women. So we have to educate and fight for it. Through therapy, I have had to learn my own worth, the ability to know it, trust it and stand up for it.

Yes - There were so many red flags.

Yes - There might be a world that exists in which I did not allow this to happen.

But then I wouldn’t be me.

I’m proud to be someone who sees the good in people.

I’m proud to be someone who trusts those closest to me.

I’m proud to be someone who gives people second chances.

I’m proud to be someone who always puts others above herself.

I should be able to have male friends and not be raped.

I should be able to wear whatever I want and not be raped.

I should be able to get drunk and not be raped.

I should be able to stay at a friends house, with a friend, and not be raped.

Those are the only answers anyone needs.

My relationship with shame is one I am still working on. The difficulty is to decipher what shame is mine and what is not. I can hear my therapist’s voice in my head, “stop taking on other people’s shame”. Perhaps, without shame, I would have gone to the police day one and not year four, but then, once again, I wouldn’t be me.

What has revealed itself to me, is that shame is as dangerous to those who are overwhelmed by it, as it is to those who do not feel it at all.

The reality is that most survivors will be people susceptible to shame, whereas perpetrators are more than often shameless; leaving us to carry their shame in a desperate pursuit of understanding, acknowledgment and compensation.

I have witnessed shamelessness to be a precarious characteristic, leading to extreme narcissism, shallow relationships and a distorted loneliness. However, when profound shame is acknowledged and managed, it can be an avenue to perspective, growth, compassion and love.

So I am grateful for my shame, it keeps me on my toes.

But let’s share it, let’s talk about it and let’s fight it.

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