Dear Nadine Dorries,
I had an epiphany last year. After fifteen years of self-hate, guilt and shame, something in my brain finally switched and I realised that I was not to blame for what was done to me by an uncle when I was a teenager. Imagine for a moment fifteen years of living with the thought that something you did or didn’t do caused the horrific abuse you had to endure. Did you dress wrong? Did you say something wrong? Should you have said “no” more forcefully, perhaps slapped him or kicked him? What should you have done differently so that this person whom you had trusted almost like a parent for all your life up to that point didn’t commit this horrendous crime against you? You’ve read all the literature, you’ve been told to just say no, you were old enough to look after yourself, so why didn’t you?
Fifteen years. For the first five I didn’t tell anyone. When I eventually did speak up, the only expectation I had of people around me was to ask me why I had let it happen; to challenge me and tell me that clearly I didn’t find the right way of saying no, or else it wouldn’t have happened; to tell me I must have wanted it in some way, brought it on myself. Mercifully, my friends are better people than you.
To this day, the abuse I suffered is affecting my relationships – with my family, with my partner, with others. It left me damaged, with a view of human relationships and intimacy that is warped, unhealthy, hurtful to me and those around me. I still get flashbacks. Pianos, random gestures, words, the way someone approaches me – all of these can trigger them. Even last year, when I first considered telling my parents about this, I had to sit down and mentally go through all the possible ways in which they could react – and make my peace with the possibility that they might not believe me, might blame me. Mercifully, my parents are better people than you.
One in every six children is sexually abused. My heart aches for every single one of them – boy or girl – and for every woman or man who has been through this horror, and who had to read or hear your comments.
If young girls were taught abstinence, there would be less sex abuse.
Ultimately, even if we’ve been fortunate enough to have epiphanies, most of us still walk around with a tiny bit of our brain constantly telling us that it was all our fault. We have good days and bad days. Some of the worst are the days when our elected representatives stand up, point the finger and say, in as many words, “It was all your fault”; or, for the boys and men who have survived abuse, when said elected representatives refuse to even acknowledge your experience.
There is enough victim-blaming going on in our society, without prominent politicians such as yourself having to reinforce it. Victims of sexual violence and rape who speak out – from those who accuse people like Dominique Strauss-Kahn or Julian Assange, to those who speak out against abuses they suffered at the hands of Catholic priests, and those abused by family members, friends or strangers – are constantly questioned, smeared, intimidated. Most do not come forward, precisely because they fear this kind of treatment. You have just given your stamp of approval to this attitude.
Not only will your proposed abstinence education for girls not decrease child sexual abuse; your victim-blaming comments are likely to lead to less abuse being reported and stopped. More children will suffer in silence, wondering what they are doing wrong. More survivors will be traumatised by having that nagging suspicion that they are to blame confirmed by people in power who are supposed to act as role models and opinion leaders. Boys and adult male survivors in particular will continue to suffer because their experiences are not addressed, not even acknowledged.
You have done a lot of damage, Ms. Dorries. And yet it is not too late to remedy at least some of it. You should stand up and apologise for your comments, publicly, sincerely. You should make it clear that you do not believe that children are to blame for being abused, that you do not believe it is children’s responsibility to prevent or stop sexual abuse. You should make it clear that you believe that the only person at fault in a sexual attack – regardless of whether it’s against a child, an adult, a man or a woman – is the attacker, and that any measures to prevent or stop such attacks should be focused on perpetrators, not victims.
Only if our political and cultural elites – which you belong to, Ms. Dorries – present a united front against child sexual abuse will we have the slightest hope of tackling the issue. Your victim blaming is not helping, and those of us who have been victims, as well as those of us who care about the welfare of our children will thank you for not causing any further damage on this front.
You can contact Nadine Dorries at
Nadine Dorries MP
House of Commons