Candice Dinsdale, now 44, was just six when she was first sexually abused by her father Anthony Allen. Now she's gone public. But should that be so unusual?
Dinsale was raped by her father from the ages of 6 to 13, when she ran away from home; after raping her, he would often bribe her with money. Her mother knew about the abuse, and even started sleeping in her daughter's room to protect her. However, the secret was regarded as so shameful that Dinsale didn't come forward until after her mother's death. As she said to Daily Mail, "In the end I felt that the only way I could really move on was to face up to this, and ensure that the person who caused all of my pain would pay. That day has arrived today and now I can look forward to Christmas, and to the future." Dinsale also hoped going public with her identity would encourage other victims of abuse to come forward.
As the Daily Mail's headline attests, this openness - "Abuse victim waives anonymity to reveal her ordeal as tormentor is jailed" - is noteworthy. But why? While one can certainly understand anyone being publicity-shy, there has always been something which Joan Didion, in a 1991 essay on the rape of New York's "Central Park Jogger" called "quite specifically masculine assumptions." Rape is, after all, the only case in which identity is treated so gingerly.While, as she says, the practice "derives from the understandable wish to protect the victim, the rationalization of this-special protection rests on a number of doubtful, even magical, assumptions."
The convention assumes, by providing a protection for victims of rape not afforded victims of other assaults, that rape involves a violation absent from other kinds of assault. The convention assumes that this violation is of a nature best kept secret, that the rape victim feels, and would feel still more strongly were she identified, a shame and self-loathing unique to this form of assault; in other words that she has been in an unspecified way party to her own assault, that a special contract exists between this one kind of victim and her assailant.
Is this practice doing women a disservice, "self-fulfilling, guiding the victim to define her assault as her protectors do" as Didion would have it? Does it stigmatize the victim, tacitly identifying the crime as something to forget quickly, swept under the rug, because of women's fragility? If, after all, Dinsale's openness can serve as a positive example, is not the converse true? That said, wouldn't it be equally fraught to expose their identities at will? It would be disingenuous to suggest that rape is not a fraught and particularly horrible violation. And there is a certain arrogance in suggesting a unilateral commonality of experience: the sad truth is that cultural concerns also make rape a more complicated issue.
When I was in college, a young woman in my dorm from a very conservative religious background was raped near the urban campus. Her family found the incident so shameful that they repudiated her, and not long after, she committed suicide. Such awful things happen, and we can't pretend such a family would have taken kindly to her name being made public, even if they should. Women like Dinsale coming forward is indeed empowering, and it should be applauded. But whatever the legal ramifications, it's an act of courage and should always be treated as such.
Raped by my father: Abuse victim waives anonymity to reveal her ordeal as tormentor is jailed [Daily Mail]
New York: Sentimental Journeys [New York Review of Books]