TW: discussion of externalisation therapy, discussion of and description of treatment of personal/sexual violence victims, rape and rape aftermath, references to paedophilia
I think someone was trying to be helpful when they said that all my entries are about how other people did things to me and I should accept responsibility for it instead.
Accepting responsibility for things is how I got here. Half the point of this is to recognise when things come from other people, and that I am not responsible for that. Sure, I notice more of the people who behave that way, but it’s not like I make them that way, right? I don’t, so I won’t take responsibility for it.
Like, say, the psychiatrist is completely off down a track which is not right for me, which comes right after he says “people with your condition instinctively know what they need” and then refuses to listen to what I want, because he has decided that this other thing being fixed will make everything else all go away. I have another appointment with him, because the power went out halfway through and it was faster to make a new one and get out than try to explain that he wasn’t hearing me (reading me? understanding?). That’s not my fault for not being able to make him understand – that’s his fault for not listening, for making up diagnoses and holding information back from me (like, you know, test results), for dismissing me when I tried to ask him for help.
Same way it’s not my fault if people can’t be bothered to stand where I can see them if they want to talk to me. My little fan heater is dying, and the blackout didn’t help, and I went to a store to get a new one. They didn’t have any. I was near the door and I heard something, not words, just that someone might have been talking. Next thing I know, someone had grabbed me from behind, and was yelling in my ear. That’s not my fault for having my headphones in because ambient noise hurts and I need to control my soundscape to stop that. That’s their fault for not being clear that they were addressing me by being, you know, in a place where I could see them and read their lips and sign back to them. I kept walking, because it’s, you know, the law that they can’t touch you, make you submit to a bag check, or prevent you leaving unless they have actual solid evidence that you have taken something, and I had a big long receipt in my hand for what I did purchase (the new Epica album? Better than eating!). By touching me, that person overstepped their role, acted illegally, and made me uncomfortable. I washed my jacket when I got home and had a shower (which hurt, but). It’s normally a store I don’t go to, but getting a fan heater in spring, even in this weather, is not easy. (For the record, the store has a terrible track record with loss prevention staff generally, including a very highly publicised incident with a person with Down Syndrome. You can see why I don’t like going in.)
There are so many things that are not my fault and not my responsibility. The thing I need to work on is being able to say ‘this is not my responsibility’ and stepping back. Society likes to put responsibility for things on people whose responsibility it is not, which is pretty much how we got rape culture and the patriarchy and everything else. Responsibility is often a tool used to guilt and burden minorities so that they don’t have time to say ‘no, this is your responsibility’. No, it is your responsibility not to rape, rather than my responsibility to say no (my saying no does not actually prevent you from doing a thing which is defined exactly by ignoring that ‘no’). No, it is not a Black person’s responsibility to act White in order to take part in society. No, it is not my responsibility to talk so that it’s easier for you to understand me. No, it is not the responsibility of a junior staff member to take on work that senior staff can’t or won’t do.
Similarly, and partly brought on by watching Blue Bloods this past weekend… it is not anyone’s responsibility if, after choosing not to pursue criminal charges or even report a crime, someone reoffends. “But you can stop him! If you don’t, it’s your fault when he does it again!” is one of the major tools people generally employ to “encourage” personal violence victims to report.
It isn’t. This is not an ideal world. I reported the first time I was raped. I spent six hours in an interview room making the report. Fifteen hours in another station giving a statement, with only a can of Coke from the vending machine. A few weeks later, I was sat down in a dark interrogation room – the only lights were the ones on the recording equipment – and I was told over and over not to press charges, until I agreed just so that I could leave, because at the time I lived in a dormitory, and I had missed breakfast hours and wouldn’t be able to eat until the next day due to how the meal plan was set up, and I was doing my best to stay in class even as my entire world and support system crashed around me as a result. The next day, his friends were contacting me to laugh at me, because he’d told them I’d admitted to lying.
Those same friends were very apologetic after another victim came forward. Even if I had not been seventeen, alone and afraid, stuck in a dark underground room with two men with guns who were both taller and stronger than me, and I had finished my law degree and been able to better understand the thoughts in my head to relay to them and what they were trying to do, the only thing that I had done for her was make her life miserable, because while I was sixteen when he started with me, she had been ten. All my report did for her at the time was draw attention to her, when she was just trying to get through high school.
I was introduced to her over IM, when her story came out, and we talked, a bit. Between us, he had already developed his signature. I asked her flat out if she had said no. She yelled at me, because it didn’t matter. I apologised, but then I felt I couldn’t share my experience with her, because his hallmark is rooted in finding the one thing someone will say yes to, and then using it as a gateway task. For me, it was when I was just trying to understand why I liked kink and not sex. When he turned up at my dorm, where my name was helpfully stuck on the door “so everyone can find their friends”, he offered one thing, and did another. I wanted to know if he’d done that with her, if she’d been able to say no, or if she’d been like me – hadn’t been asked, hadn’t said yes, was afraid to fight because he’d threatened violence. I wanted to prepare her for what I’d been through, when I’d been told that not saying ‘no’ and whacking him over the head with a purse like in the movies meant that it would be hard, and the police were doing me a favour by even taking the report, that not being able to move, dissociating, not being able to talk, meant that they would have a hard time referring it to the DPP (that’s right, they didn’t even try to refer it). I wanted to be sure she would understand if I told her what he did to me, because so many people hadn’t. I had to protect myself, first, because I wasn’t equipped to be the one supporting each victim as they came out, not after being pressured to drop the charges, not after being isolated and laughed at and abused for “lying”, and not while dealing with total strangers apologising to me for not believing me when they realised that I was telling the truth, and that it was the police who’d fallen down, not me.
Despite the fact that he came on a blanket I still have, packed in plastic and kept where I can’t see it, a graduation/moving away gift from my mother, despite the fact that he travelled on public transport, every vehicle of which has multiple cameras, and did even then, and that there were cameras in the building, that people saw him dragging me along the corridor – people I knew but who didn’t ask if I was okay wandering around with a person who was clearly too old to belong in a university dorm – they said there was no proof. I did tell them he got a bus, which bus, what time, what stop. I told them the names of the people who saw him there. I told them I had the blanket.
“She’s already had a shower, obviously,” they’d said, outside the interview room the first time. Because one of the first things a lot of people want to do is wash it away, to feel clean, to feel themselves again.
Because the way we deal with trauma and such an invasion of our space is not compatible with the way the system wants people to be.
It wasn’t my responsibility to report him in order to save someone else. Reporting him made things worse for me and for the other people he’d already attacked. Reporting him destabilised an entire community, a group of over 2000 people. He’s still out there.
In a perfect society, they said on the show, people would report crimes and the police would put them away. In this society, reporting crimes is a gateway for humiliation, retraumatisation, ostracisation… in this society, the police either cannot or will not put people away, or take action to make it easier in the event of a future occurrence. However the police fail to make that step from investigation to referral to the DPP, that is not my responsibility. It is not my responsibility to ensure they have an airtight case. It is not my responsibility to present in a way that matches their ideal victim, or my responsibility to prevent someone else doing something wrong. These are all things that are under someone else’s control – the government, who need to create a workable system that compensates for trauma reactions; the police, who need to investigate and find evidence and not bully, harass, traumatise, assault, or insult victims (all of which has happened to me, I might add); the DPP and the courts, to prepare cases and ensure they are run with a mind to fairness and safety; but most of all, responsibility for the independent actions of the nominal offender does not pass to their victim. The victim’s first responsibility is to themselves. Putting that responsibility there implies that the offender isn’t actually responsible for their actions. It says that the justice system always works and is never flawed or wrong, and absolves the people in that system from responsibility.
By placing the responsibility where it goes, it’s easier to say ‘no’ to things that are not good for me to do, because I know that I am not obligated by a responsibility to comply with people’s expectations, to please them, to do as I’m told. By saying ‘this person behaved in a manner that made me feel unsafe, because he came up behind me and then lunged at me to try to take a thing which could be used as a weapon against me because he refused to communicate with me in a manner which allowed me to communicate back‘, I am putting responsibility for his actions on him. I said I did not need help and he threatened me instead of accepting that he couldn’t save the princess. He did not bother to approach me from a place where I could see him. He just yelled at me for signing because he didn’t understand. (Still don’t know how shaking one’s head, here, where shaking one’s head = no even for speaking people, isn’t understood.) He came back with someone else and cornered me against my car and started trying to mansplain the problem, ignoring my shaking my head.
Those were his actions. I was not obliged, responsible, beholden or required to accept his help, or be grateful that A Man Wanted To Fix The Car (because, you know, I was wearing a dress, so obviously I wasn’t able to do it myself, even though I was actually, you know, doing so before he, or any of the other people, turned up), or allow a stranger to touch my stuff.
Recognising that allows me, now that I’m not in that IUD-infused haze of extreme, not-normal-for-me, anxiety, with my body being even less mine, to say ‘that man exacerbated the situation because he was an older man who was probably taught to always help girls and is a product of a society which taught him to expect gratitude for interfering’ and to say ‘he disrespected my refusal and made me uncomfortable and upset, which triggered the panic attack’. It allows me to say that the family friend who was pressuring me to accept her help over SMS overstepped by calling my mum to tell her I had crashed the car.
By defining what I am responsible for by what I am not responsible for, it allows me to say ‘this is what I can control and this is what I cannot control’ and to control what I can in order to assess what I cannot.
It’s the evolution of ‘externalisation’, a therapy tool which puts inner statements in the purview of a third party to enable a person to assess them objectively, and therefore learn what is helpful, what isn’t, what can be controlled, and what cannot.
If I cannot control the outcome, it isn’t my responsibility. If other people need to act a certain way to get that outcome, it isn’t my responsibility. If the entire outcome is based around someone being a decent and mildly considerate non-assaulting-others human being, it is definitely not my responsibility.
And there you have it. It isn’t my responsibility to change how I am to stop people behaving weirdly around me. It’s on them to not be weird. I can choose not to be around them, if I know they’ll cross a boundary, like I won’t go to that shop again, and I won’t make a police report unless it’s unavoidable. I won’t change how I dress, or that I don’t talk, or what I write, because the problem isn’t me – it’s people reacting to me, and I can’t control that. I can’t influence that.
But, for the record, when the same guy contacted me again, a few years later, and I recognised his signature, the way he spoke, the words he used, his profile… the person who served the subpoena on me was the same one who’d had me in that room.
“Nice to see you again,” I said.
“I didn’t recognise your name,” he said. But he remembered me, as I stood there, dressed in a gender conforming monkey suit, made up and neat and projecting ‘I got here despite what you did to me’.
The day before the trial, I received a phone call from the charging officer. Rather than face me, he’d changed his plea. There would be no trial.
The fact that I’d agreed to testify, in the end, that I’d been strong enough to go through with it, even though it didn’t happen (which I didn’t tell anyone at work, because I took the days off anyway for self-care, because well, it was old work), was then used against me when I applied for workers comp. It wasn’t her, she said. I had been raped. I had to testify. It was very stressful, and she said she hated dealing with me because I was unstable.
She only knew because I’d said ‘I’m taking time off’ and she wouldn’t let me leave her office until I told her why, and since I’d been served at work, there wasn’t any point hiding it. She made the rape part up, not knowing it was true, because all I said was ‘I have to testify against a paedophile’, and it sounded better to say he hurt me.
That she didn’t tell the truth to the investigators was her responsibility. What she did to me was her responsibility. Hiding it is no longer my responsibility. The fact that choosing to testify had consequences for my work should also not be my responsibility, because that shouldn’t have happened in the first place. But it did, and it happens for other people too. As long as it continues to happen, then a victim’s responsibility to themselves will outweigh whatever responsibility society puts on them and displaces from the person who harmed them.
Taking on responsibility that isn’t mine isn’t going to do anything but reinforce a bad dynamic, one which continues victimisation and abuse and allows the system to repeatedly fail.