I caught up with Madeline who is a survivor of a gang rape she experienced in her teens. She talks very candidly about how she found the courage to overcome shame and speak out.
Madeline shares how she overcame her own shame and stigma of being the victim of a gang rape at the age of 13. She is now an activist for speaking out for other victims of rape to challenge how these victims who are most often women are treated by both the system and society. Through her own strength, that took many years to find, she is a storyteller with the Forgiveness Project that works to shares stories of forgiveness in order to build hope, empathy and understanding. Madeline is also a patron of “SAY Women” and “Justice is Now”. At this time of lockdown with COVID-19 we have to recognise the increased level of domestic abuse and be able to actively support those victims to speak out and be heard.
Joanne sat down to talk to Madeline Black who at the age of 13 was a victim of gang rape to discuss the topic ‘finding your courage and voice to speak out’.
Madeline found that for years shame silenced her, she was ashamed of her history and story, but by finding her voice she steps into the shame and stopped worrying about other people’s opinions. Shame took away her ability to speak and kept her quiet for over 30 years. Our fear of being judged by others is huge, but the judgement often comes from ourselves. With cases of sexual violence there is often no support from society and the fear of victim blaming makes it exceedingly difficult for people to come forward. Our rape culture allows the perpetrator to almost disassociate themselves from the crime and seems to place blame on the victim. What the victim was wearing or how they were acting is still called into question and this stops people coming forward, for fear of judgement or disbelief. However, these crimes are all down to the perpetrator – people should be able to wear what they want, act how they want and go wherever they want to without any fear of repercussions. Madeleine says that what we do not speak about will leak out of us in other ways and in order to find her courage she had to first lose her fear – something that took a long time to come to terms with. She says you cannot eradicate shame by hiding in the shadows, you need to be able to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
With the rising popularity of social media online abuse is rife and can have a negative mental health impact on the victims. Women are being targeted, even on supposedly professional platforms by ‘trolls’. Madeline believes it is important to share and call these people out, as so many other people will have experienced the same.
Madeleine feels there is power in finally having alignment – when you are holding a secret you have an internal and external persona and if you are able to reconcile this and be open about it, the effect can be incredibly freeing and allows you to continue your personal growth and development. Despite being a public speaker and discussing her experiences she does not want to be referred to as brave, instead she wants it to be normal that people are able to speak out and be accepted for who they are. She does accept it is a personal journey to reach that point, each person must find acceptance with who they are and what has happened to them. It is a paradox because the event can clearly shape your life, but it is does not have to define you. Both Madeleine and Joanne believe in the power of sharing stories, there are always elements that can resonate and hopefully help others. Madeleine uses her lived experience to help and inspire others. She believes we are all a lot stronger than we give ourselves credit for and, although it may take a long time and lots of support, we can get through anything that happens to us. She also believes courage is contagious, when you see someone speak out it can inspire the same from you. It causes a ripple effect.
For a lot of people home is not a safe place and lockdown has really magnified this. The calls for refuge and support has risen dramatically during this period. It is is also difficult time for people’s mental health as we struggle to deal with the uncertainty. We may have all started to grow and adapt in to this new ‘normal’, but Madeleine believes the impact of this will be felt for years to come.
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The Courage Cultivator