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BEYOND WORDS

A Scottish politician’s incredibly articulate speech about being raped as a teen

  • Cassie Werber
By Cassie Werber

Reporter

This article is more than 2 years old.

A Scottish member of the UK parliament this afternoon gave an extraordinarily clear-eyed and articulate account of her experience being raped as a teenager.

She spoke of the immediate aftermath been raped—including self-blame, the desperation for secrecy, and even the awful hope of being pregnant so that what happened would be forced into the open. She also described the long-term effects of her rape—including a withdrawal from academic and social activities, a lack of self-worth, and her emotional struggles.

Michelle Thomson, who represents Edinburgh West, told the UK House of Commons that she was raped as a 14-year-old, and didn’t tell anyone for years. She explained that she was speaking out now precisely because the act of talking about her own rape in public still felt shocking.

“I thought carefully, should I speak about this today? And 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. Because there is still a taboo about sharing this kind of information,” she said.

Fellow MPs and the speaker of the house were moved to tears.

Thomson said that her attacker was known to her, and had offered to walk her home from a youth event, in daylight. When he led her into a wooded area near her home she said “a warning bell” went off in her mind, but that she overrode it because the man she was with was someone she knew.

At the time, Thomson said, she told no one. “Afterwards I walked home alone. I was crying, I was cold, and I was shivering…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.”

She said she was ashamed, blaming herself for not seeing the danger. She said she felt “spoiled,” and revolted by herself, detaching her identity from the child she had been.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s leader—who earlier this year went public about her experience of having a miscarriage, another “taboo” for women—tweeted her support:

Thomson went on to say that the victim-blaming continues, and must stop.

“As an adult, of course, I now know rape’s not about sex at all,” she said. “It’s all about power and control, and it is a crime of violence. And I still pick up on where the myths of rape are perpetuated…surely you could have fought him off, didn’t you scream loudly enough?”

From her adult perspective, she said, she now knows: “Rapes happen because of the rapist, not because of the victim.”

“Hear, hear,” several of her colleagues responded.

For years, she said, she also couldn’t find a way to tell her husband. “I wanted him to understand why there was this swaddled kernel of extreme emotion at the very heart of me that I knew he could sense. But for many years, I simply couldn’t say the words without crying,” she explained. She finally got help to heal from her experience in her 40s, she said.

Thompson told her story on UN International Day For The Elimination Of Violence Against Women, and urged action to prevent such crimes and to support and believe victims of sexual violence. If her experience could have such a deep effect on her, undermining her self esteem and confidence for years, Thompson pointed out, it’s worth thinking about those “who are carrying this on a day-by-day basis.”

She ended he speech on a defiant note. “I’m not scared,” she said. “I’m not a victim. I’m a survivor.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Thompson as a member of Scottish Parliament.

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