Letting go of shame

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Victims of sexual assault must break the silence of shame and shove it back to the gutter where it belongs, writes the novelist, trauma survivor and human rights campaigner, JH Morgan.

By JH Morgan

Shame is one of the nastiest emotions a person can feel. It creeps into your very core, spreading outwards until it infects every part of you, leaving your self-esteem and character under constant attack from your own thoughts. 

There are many kinds of shame, and some we’ve earned and have to live with. Shame from our own actions are ours to own. We either try to make amends or we learn to deal with it. But personal shame is a whole different kind of shame and the one that we need to let go of.

With any victim of sexual assault, the one seemingly insurmountable emotion they all share is that of shame. One of the biggest reasons people don’t come forward and report an assault is because of the shame they feel – and society doesn’t help. You so often see on your newsfeed someone being victim-shamed because of what they wore, where they were, what they said, or what they looked like. But none of that shame comes close to the shame we feel in ourselves. It radiates off us with such intensity that people around us are bound to see it and judge us. The shame that we might have done something to deserve what happened to us; the shame that we might have led the incident to happen; the shame that we allowed it to happen and didn’t stop it; and the shame that, after someone else has taken our right to our own bodies, we will never be the same again. 

It’s easy to understand why victims of sexual assault fear intimacy. Many feel ashamed and worried about what their partners might be thinking about the incident and about whether acts of a sexual nature could trigger negative memories or flashbacks.

But personal shame that stems from a sexual assault isn’t ours to bear. It doesn’t belong in our lives. It belongs to the person or people who stole your innocence, took away your faith in humanity, and hurt you. That shame is not your burden to carry. Regardless of what happened, you must always remember: IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT.  The moment your choice was snatched away from you, the blame was taken too.

You are not to blame. You have done nothing wrong. 

And while it’s still such a taboo subject, there is nothing to be ashamed of for surviving and trying to pick up the pieces of your life. Moving on, moving forward and healing are things you absolutely deserve to be proud of. 

I stand with every woman who dares to speak out, raise their hand and say, “That happened to me!” But I also stand with every woman who doesn’t – the victims who wince at the mention of sexual assault, and the women who keep their stories to themselves. If they choose to remain silent and do not carry shame, I support their position entirely.

I cannot say this enough. Let go of the shame! It’s not yours. Send it right back to the gutter where it belongs.

We have to face what we’ve lived through it, and no doubt there will be countless moments and nights where we relive those horrors over and over again. Recovery from a trauma like that is never a linear process – we’re going to fall a few feet behind, or we’re going to fall down completely sometimes and not want to get up. Those are the times that we have to drag ourselves back up to our feet and, if we’re lucky, we’ll have people in our lives that will hold out a hand to steady us while we find our feet again.

Those moments are normal, but we cannot begin to heal if we are still carrying around the shame of being a victim. It’s a horrible, awful, inhumane thing to have happen to us, but it is nothing to be ashamed of. We don’t have to stand on a soap box and announce it to the world, but we also shouldn’t have to hide from it. It’s something that happened to us; it shouldn’t define us or who we are. We also don’t need to make this journey alone. If you really don’t want the people in your life to know, then go to a counsellor, call a hotline, join a support site, but know, deep down, that you are not alone, that there are people who’ve been where you are and felt what you feel now. They’re all around us if you start to really look. Let them be that hand that steadies you. And take that shame and shove it where it belongs.

JH Morgan, a mother-of-three, lives in Swaziland. Her latest novel, The Long Road Home, a work of contemporary women’s fiction, provides an honest and unflinching representation of what being a survivor of trauma really feels like. It draws on her own life experiences, which include a horrific attack when she was just 14. The Long Road Home by JH Morgan is out now on Amazon UK priced £14.16 as a paperback and £4.74 as an eBook. Further information about JH Morgan can be found on her website, here.