Ever since I read this story (here) about you, a girl that was raped at the age of 12 I have wanted to reach out to you. Of course, I can’t. Because one of the few things our legal system gets right is the anonymity of victims of sexual assault. However, I don’t need to know your name, where you live or what you look like to write this letter.
There are lots of ways I could write to you to let you know that I care.
I could write to you as an academic. In recent years, my career has taken me down the route of research about inter-personal violence. I work in a university. I am a researcher in an internationally known centre on violence and abuse. I have a PhD. I have published in peer-reviewed journals about domestic and sexual abuse. These achievements could confer on me the status of expert. I don’t wear that label well. I have access to theories and statistics. For example, according to the EU (2014) just over one in 10 women have experienced some form of sexual violence by an adult before they were 15 years old. Importantly, I know that rape is rarely reported. I know that the report of a rape of a child often comes up “against a wall of indifference and complicity” (Romito 2008: 3). This means that you were brave to report and write about your experience. It was important for you but it is also important for other girls in a similar situation. It will help to break the silence. Thank you.
I could also write to you as a mother. Let’s be clear, I don’t think that having had a child has given me some kind of special sixth sense or a heightened level of empathy. I have worked in and around social work for many years and I have come across the full gamut of mothering from the heroic battling against systems to the appallingly neglectful. Bearing a child is not an indicator of greatness. However, I do have a daughter the same age as when you were raped. I know that I panic every time I don’t know where she is and that worry for her takes up most of my head space. I know she is funny, imaginative and idiosyncratic. I know she loves to scowl. I know that she is secretive and is embarking on a life in which I will play less and less of a role. I know that despite her protestations, she is still a child who would not be able to fight off a drunk man. I know that if what happened to you happens to her I will still love her. What happened to you does not stop you being loveable, even when you can’t find your easy smile or your confidence.
An Ex 12 Year Old Girl
However, the best way to write to you is as an adult who admits she was also once a 12 year old girl. I couldn’t be the academic or the mother that I am without having first been a 12 year old. When I was 12 I did stupid things. I made mistakes. Growing up in the 1980s, I never admitted to my mum that my first boyfriend was a glue sniffer I met at a local park (and I really hope she doesn’t read this now). I wore make up. I cut my own hair. I pulled up my school uniform skirt. I had a vodka race with my best friend (she won). I tried my first cigarette. I had ridiculous crushes. Nothing I did would have made it alright for a man to have sex with me without consent. You were raped and I believe you. I also believe that one night will not define you or the rest of your life. The system has let you down. I can’t pretend for one moment that is o.k. But I can let you know that you will be. You will bear scars, but like all warriors the scars will make you more interesting, more complex and more you.
The academic, the mother and my 12 year old self is in shock that the judiciary let you down and put the career of a rapist ahead of your life. This is not justice. You are worth more.
It feels trite to give you any advice when adults have betrayed you so badly, but here goes. Don’t rush your healing. Just trust that it will happen. Keep smiling. Even a false smile is an act of resistance. But cry when you need to. Take comfort where you can. Finally, read Maya Angelou’s “I Know why the Caged Bird Sings”.
With deepest respect and care