Michelle Thomson’s full speech to Parliament on when she was raped aged 14
Independent MP Michelle Thomson today moved MPs to tears as she recounted being raped at age 14. Read her full speech below.
Today I am going to relay an event that happened to me many years ago. I wanted to give a very personal perspective to help people in this place and outside understand one element of sexual violence against women. When I was 14, I was raped.
As is common, it was by somebody 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. I knew my way around where I lived, I was very comfortable and we did go a slightly different way, but I didn’t think anything of it. He asked me, 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 overruled that warning bell, because I knew him, and therefore there was a level of trust in place. 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. My mother never talked to me about it, I didn’t hear other girls or other women talking about it. It was mercifully quick, and 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. 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. Now, as somebody who’s an ex professional musician, who is very, very auditory, I find that quite telling.
I now understand that your subconscious brain, not your conscious brain, makes a decision on your behalf as to how you should respond, whether you take flight, whether you fight, or whether you freeze. And I froze, I must be honest.
Afterwards I walked home alone. I was crying, I was cold and I was shivering, and I now realise that was of course 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 would force a situation to help me control it. Of course without support, the capacity and resources I had within me to process it were very limited.
I was very ashamed that I had allowed this to happen to me. And I had a whole range of internal conversations about ‘I should have known’, ‘why did I go that way?’, ‘why did I walk home with him?’, ‘why didn’t I understand the danger?’, ‘I deserved it because I was too this, I was too that’. I felt that I was spoiled and impure, and I really felt revulsion towards myself.
I of course then detached from the child I had been, and although in reality at the age of 14 that was the start of my sexual awakening, at that time remembering back sex was something that men did to women, and perhaps this incident reinforced that early belief. I briefly sought favour elsewhere and I now understand that even a brief period of hyper-sexuality is about trying to make sense of an incident, and reframe the most intimate of acts.
My oldest friends with whom I’m still friends must have sensed a change in me. Because I never told them they didn’t know of the cause. I allowed myself to drift away from them for quite a few years, and indeed I found myself taking time off school and staying at home on my own listening to music and reading and so on.
I did have a boyfriend in later years of school and he was very supportive when I told him about it. But I couldn’t make sense of my response and it is my response that gives weight to the event. I carried that guilt, anger, fear, sadness and bitterness for years. When I got married 12 years later I felt I had a duty to tell my husband. I wanted him to understand why there was this… extreme emotion at the very heart of me that I knew he could sense. For many years I simply could not say the words without crying. I could not say the words. It was only in my mid-40s I took some steps to go and get help with it.
It had a huge effect to me and it fundamentally and fatally undermined my self-esteem, my confidence and my sense of self-worth. Despite this I am blessed in my life. I have been happily married for 25 years. But if this was the effect from one small, albeit significant event in my life stage, how must it be for these women who are carrying this on a day-by-day basis?
I thought carefully, should I speak about this today? That almost intake of breath, what you are going to go and talk about this, was exactly the reason that motivated me to do it. There is still a taboo about sharing this kind of information. And certainly for people of my generation, it is truly shocking to be talking in public about this thing.
Rape doesn’t just affect the woman; it affects the family as well. Before my mother died early of cancer, I really wanted to tell her. But I couldn’t bring myself to. I have a daughter, and if something happened to my daughter and she couldn’t share it with me, I would be appalled. So, it was possibly cowardly, but it was an act of love that I protected my mother.
As an adult, of course I now know rape is not about sex at all. It’s all about power and control, and it is a crime of violence. I still pick up on where the myths of rape are perpetuated from a male perspective. 'Surely you could have fought them off? Did you scream loudly enough?' The idea that some men would suggest that a woman giving subtle hints, or is making it up, is outrageous. These assumptions put the woman at the heart of cause, when she should be at the heart of effect.
A rape happens when a man makes a decision to hurt someone he feels he can control. Rapes happen because of the rapist, not because of the victim.
We women, and our society, have to stand up for each other. We have to be courageous. We have to call things out and say where things are wrong. We have to support and nurture our sisters as we do with our sons. 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.