Updated: Oct 5, 2022
How are you all?!
I have been umming and ahhing how to write this blog post for months. I haven’t been sure how to express myself writing this. I have written it in so many forms and then torn it up because I wasn’t happy with how I said it, or what I said. And maybe my views have changed with time in the last few months too.
I think one of the hardest but most important acts after an experience of sexual assault is knowing how and when to set your boundaries. But GOD, this is easier said than done. And every scenario is so different - there isn’t one hard and fast rule for how and when to set your boundaries. And it can be really hard to set them - and I say this having written a whole book chapter all about how to set your boundaries. On that note, my book, To Be A Woman, has recently been released - if you like these blog posts - and want to read more of this sort of thing, and my attempts at being wise, please do check it out on the link!
There have been multiple occasions when I haven’t quite known what the obvious path forward was to set boundaries; it’s often hardest when you need to set boundaries with those that mean the most to you or are part of your inner circle, but you don’t agree with everything they say or do.
Sometimes I have found myself in these situations where friends and family have said things and stood for things which I have deeply disagreed with as they seem to be justifying and contributing to a rape culture. The same culture that deems it okay and acceptable what happened to me. And I have then had to navigate the difficult territory of where, how and whether to take the relationship further.
Other times there have been occasions where I have had to figure out where my boundaries are with individuals in my wider circle, who have assaulted me, but I have had to keep them in my life in some form (through no choice of my own).
For me what has been useful is not applying the same rule to each scenario. Where I set my boundaries, the number of conversations I am willing to have, and with whom, is very dependent on who the person in question is, how much they mean to me, and what our relationship is like.
Sometimes I have found it really frustrating that I have had to be the person to figure out where my boundaries are all the time following reprehensible behaviour by other people. It always seems like the messy aftermath is left with the person subjected to assault, which can be exhausting and frustrating and can seem like yet another thing to deal with.
But the more I think about these scenarios, the more it is highlighted to me, again and again, that life isn’t black or white. These scenarios more often than not are not black or white either. (Most) people are not entirely bad or good. But the most important thing is that you protect yourself first and adapt your behaviour accordingly to achieve that.
The question of where and how to set my boundaries becomes ever more complex when individuals have apologised to me for their behaviour. This is where it becomes a question of forgiveness. Forgiveness is something that in a lot of these scenarios I have found really really challenging. On a couple of different occasions, the person in question has apologised whilst I was not ready yet to hear it - when I was still far too angry. It can also seem like another frustrating dilemma that you have to work out because I believe in the concept of forgiveness, but I have often felt resistant to forgiving someone, because I have worried that forgiving someone would mean justifying what they did as okay. Which it wasn’t.
The topic of forgiveness with regards to sexual assault is, like so many aspects to this topic, made even more complex because of the role society plays. Often, and rightly so, individuals who have been accused of sexual assault are banished from society. But I think this creates the narrative, that they can never be forgiven, which I disagree with. It is important to me that these perpetrators are held accountable for their actions but the role an individual plays in your life, or in society for that matter, clearly depends on the case at hand. The role that individual plays in the life of the person who has been subjected to sexual assault is also naturally in their hands. That needs to be their decision and can only be a decision they make. But, in my life for example, there are certain individuals who have assaulted me who I would allow play a role in my life (with the right boundaries in place), and others where I know they will never actively feature in my life again.
When deciding on who to allow to play a role in my life again, this has firstly depended on the nature of the assault/comment made or behaviour they have showcased. For me, and maybe the most important step, has been looking to see if they have made a serious change (and the change needed) in the behaviour as well as deeply reflecting on their actions. And therefore, how being in their presence makes me feel - whether I feel safe or anxious.
So, I have spent time looking and analysing someone’s behaviour after they apologise - to gauge whether they have really made a change. With that information, I can then decide where I want to set my boundaries and how far I let these individuals into my life. On occasions, watching and observing these individuals has highlighted to me, that it was an empty apology and they apologised more to clear their conscience or ‘to attempt to continue what they left off’ - in which case I have kept (or tried to keep) these people at a distance. On other occasions, I have seen that someone has genuinely meant what they have said to me, and whilst my boundaries have changed, and the relationship will never be what it once was, a relationship exists.
So, whilst I am not sure if this is what forgiveness is, and whether I have really deeply forgiven the people who have assaulted me - have truly forgiven anyone who has assaulted me - I can imagine this might take quite some more time, if it does happen - I have learnt how and when to set my boundaries, and that there is no hard and fast rule to where your boundaries are. They can change to some extent depending on who you are dealing with. And maybe one day I will be able to sit here and write a little more about forgiveness, but for now keeping myself safe, and dealing with each case individually is enough for me.
With all my love (and a promise at an attempt not to leave it this long before I write again),
Your GINA sister