Thank you, Duffy – by sharing your rape experience, you're helping all survivors overcome their shame

For rape survivors, moving on is a drawn-out, often non-linear process. But as Duffy discovered, step one is talking

Lizzy Dening
Monday 06 April 2020 15:17
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Duffy says she was ‘raped, drugged and held captive for days’ in public statement

Over the past few weeks, Duffy has done something that will help survivors of sexual violence across the world: she’s opened up about her experience of being raped and – more importantly – the steps she took to get help, confiding in friends, then a therapist, to start the process of healing. Duffy’s statement suggests she feels something common to many survivors of sexual violence: a deep-rooted sense of shame that can stop them from telling anyone about their experience.

I’ve been interviewing survivors of sexual violence for more than a year for my project Survivor Stories. What interests me most is not the rape itself, but its aftermath (in fact I always offer interviewees the option to not talk about their rape at all). I love to hear the multitude of ways in which people rebuild themselves after trauma, whether through therapy or hobbies, charity work or something else entirely. The reason they speak to me is because they believe that sharing their experience can help both themselves and others. Many of the participants in the project say they’ve previously looked for stories like theirs online, and, not finding them, have felt more alone – which is why they want others to be able to find their accounts in future.

Duffy’s experience involved being drugged in a restaurant. I recently interviewed a high-flying career woman and mother of two who had been drugged on a first date, and repeatedly raped in a hotel room. Many survivors take a while to articulate – to themselves, let alone anyone else – that they’ve been raped. This is even truer when alcohol or drugs are involved (whether taken deliberately or not). The survivor I spoke to spent about a week trying to piece together the night, and why exactly she felt so violated. She’d been spiked, but she’d also enjoyed a couple of beers that evening. Women have long been told that drink and drugs can make you vulnerable, and so she initially struggled not to blame herself for what followed.

Whatever the circumstances of sexual violence, shame is the feeling that binds together most, if not all survivors of it. This shame is a paradox: sharing their story can help survivors release their shame, but it’s that very shame that stops them from sharing the first place. “I thought the public disclosure of my story would utterly destroy my life,” writes Duffy. Yet the more encouragement we get from people like her, the better. Duffy’s disclosure is an important one, as it highlights that sexual violence can befall anyone – no matter how wealthy, successful or famous you are. She didn’t need to share her story, but in doing so she’s made a powerful choice to take ownership over her own story, and not let her experience shame her into silence.

For rape survivors, moving on is a drawn-out, often non-linear process. But as Duffy discovered, step one is talking. “In hiding, in not talking,” Duffy writes in her statement, “ I was allowing the rape to become a companion.” Becoming open about her experience, she concludes, means I can now leave this decade behind, where the past belongs. Hopefully no more ‘what happened to Duffy questions’, now you know … and I am free.”

For support for sexual violence, visit Rape Crisis in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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