I often write on here about things that people have said to me since my attack and the unintended effect their words have had. One phrase has reoccurred more times than I can count: “You’re so brave”. It was said to me in the immediate weeks after the attack, in the months spent rebuilding myself mentally, during and after the trial. It often came with a sympathetic head tilt coupled with a semi-comforting shoulder squeeze.
Most recently, my counsellor said it to me. Not with the commiseration most have shown, but with candour and frankness, as if it were an objective fact. Her icy exterior was maintained – there were no hugs or shoulder squeezes (God forbid!) but she ensured this observation of my courage was instilled in my mind before the session came to a close. So much so, that when I tried to brush the phrase off as hyperbole, she cut me off, returned to the subject and repeated what she had said, asking why I could not bring myself to agree with her statement.
As is often the case with these sessions, it was the first time I’d dared to consider this question in much depth for fear of what conclusion I may reach. Put on the spot, I had no time to think up an eloquent reason to mask the reality of my snubbing of this observation, so I had to share the truth:
“I don’t think I’ve been very brave, because I was never really given a choice but to be.”
This, I still believe to be true. Surely bravery is something you choose to have when you could otherwise run and hide?
Well, I couldn’t run and hide. The rape had happened, the memories were etched on my brain, the physical pain thrummed through my organs to remind me with every breath what had happened. I did not have the option of flight – I had to get on with the my life and commence the reconstruction.
It was not courage that drove my return to work. With no work, there would have been no wages and without wages there would have been no mortgage payments and with no mortgage payments there would have been no home.
It was not courage that kept me from seeking violent revenge. It was my reluctance to be prosecuted for assault while my attacker’s guilt was somehow still being questioned.
It was not courage that facilitated my giving of evidence at court. It was the whirlwind of police interviews, witness statements, viscous rumours, loud whispers, knowing looks and disgusted glares that would have all been for nothing had I dropped the case before justice had been served.
The only occasion where I will accept my supposed bravery is my choice to appear in person to give my evidence in court. Let me clarify immediately that to give evidence via video link or behind a screen is by no means, in any way at all, a gutless option – every victim should choose the way that will best allow them to present their evidence. The immense strength it takes to give evidence is not diminished by the format you choose to do so.
Bearing that vital matter in mind, I knew that to best present my evidence I needed to do so in person. But my God, it was terrifying (I will write about this in more depth soon). Standing in the witness box as the man who attacked me stared ahead lifelessly, twelve pairs of eyes consumed my every word and gesture, and a merciless barrister eradicated every of my dignity – that was courage.
Still, I cannot say I am able to be proud of myself in the way others have urged me to be. Because, really, it was just something else I needed to do. Would I have chosen this path for myself? Absolutely not, and I don’t think there would be any nobility in pretending otherwise. I have come to accept the life I now have and I do what I must to survive – sometimes I even thrive. If others think that is brave, then I can only smile and thank them, but in my heart I am yet to honestly call myself courageous.