‘I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor’ – MP shares personal experience of rape in Commons debate

Michelle Thomson spoke during a debate on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

 

MPs have paid tribute to Michelle Thomson MP, who shared her own experience of rape in the Commons debate marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

‘Today I am going to relay an event that happened to me many years ago,’ the MP for Edinburgh West began. ‘And I wanted to give a very personal perspective to help people in this place and outside understand one element of sexual violence against women.’

She continued:

“When I was fourteen I was raped. As is common, it was by someone who was known to me. He had offered to walk me home from a youth event and in those days everybody walked everywhere, it was quite common to do that. It was early evening, it wasn’t dark, I was wearing — I’m imagining, I’m guessing — jeans and a sweatshirt.

He told me he wanted to show me something in a wooded area and at that point I must admit, I was alarmed. I did have a warning bell. But I overrode that warning bell because I knew him and therefore there was a level of trust in place. And to be honest, looking back at that point, I don’t think I knew what rape was it was not something that was talked about.

I remember first of all feeling surprise, then fear, then horror as I realised I quite simply couldn’t escape. Because obviously he was stronger than me. And there was no sense even initially of any sexual desire from him which, I suppose, looking back again I find odd. My senses were absolutely numbed and thinking about it now 37 years later I cannot remember hearing anything when I replay it in my mind.

Afterwards I walked home alone, I was crying, I was cold and I was shivering and I now realise of course that was the shock response. I didn’t tell my mother, I didn’t tell my father, I didn’t tell my friends and I didn’t tell the police. I bottled it all up inside me. I hoped briefly and appallingly that I might be pregnant, so that that would force a situation to help me control it.

And of course without support the capacity and resources I had within me to process it were very limited. I was very ashamed, I was ashamed that I had allowed this to happen to me.”

After sharing more details about the personal and emotional impact of the event in the years that followed — she first sought professional support in her mid-forties — Thomson acknowledged that she had carefully considered whether to share the story in her speech, but said that she wanted to break ‘the taboo about sharing this kind of information.’

“I still pick up on where the myths of rape are perpetuated, from a male perspective. ‘Surely you could have fought him off, did you scream loudly enough?’ And the idea that some men would suggest that a woman is giving subtle hints or is making it up is outrageous. These assumptions put women at the heart of cause when she should be at the heart of effect…Rapes happen because of the rapist, not because of the victim.

Like many women of my age I have on occasion encountered other aggressive actions towards me both in business and, in fact, in politics. But one thing I realise now is that I’m not scared, and he was. I’m not scared, I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor.”

Speaker John Bercow, who was moved to tears by the speech, thanked Thomson for ‘what she has said and the way she has said it which has left an indelible impression on us all.’

Other MPs have also responded, commending Thomson on her comments.

 

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