The Forgiveness Myth

A common myth leveled at survivors of rape and abuse is that we need to “forgive” our rapists in order to begin to heal ourselves.  Rape is always made about how the victim responds to it.  How we BUILD CHARACTER from trauma.  What we LEARN.

Fuck all that.

It is an act of self-respect and preservation to not forgive.  What happens when a woman decides to forgive her rapist?  She “heals” and is now able to “love” again.
What does it mean to heal and love again?  To be willing to put ourselves into situations with men where we are going to be fucked.  All this methodology is about making it so that women return to relationships with men.  It is a fundamental part of compulsory heterosexuality.  We take what we have learned about the nature of men, what they have done to our bodies and we subvert it.  We tell ourselves that it was an isolated incident.  That it was one bad man.  We ignore the reality of what the class of people known as men are actually doing to women all over the world.  You see, the rape was just an individual hardship to get through.  A curveball life threw our way.  Not the result of a sex class system that designates women as a target.

The mental strife we live with after the fact, the PTSD, flashbacks, inability to cope with certain aspects of life.  The complete shutdown of certain parts of our mind then become OUR problem.  Survivors have to live with these feelings of “If I only did ____” then I would be okay.  When we forgive men who have gone out of their way to hurt us we are betraying ourselves, leaving ourselves to be the ones to blame for what is the natural fall out of exposure to life-altering trauma.  To forgive the perpetrator is to blame the victim.  To forgive the perpetrator is to set up a system in which men who are not sorry are given a free pass to continue their crimes.  It puts the emphasis back on women’s choices.

The only people we need to forgive is ourselves.  Let go of your anger at yourself for having trusted untrustworthy people.  Let go of your anger at yourself for being naive.  Forgive yourself for not knowing what to do in a situation.  Forgive yourself for dissociating. Forgive yourself for not fighting back.  Forgive yourself for not going to the proper authorities.  Forgive yourself for going to the proper authorities.  Forgive yourself for making unwise choices.  Let go of guilt for making choices in extreme situations without all the information in the world available to you.

Because you truly deserve forgiveness in your life and those that hurt you do not.


39 responses to “The Forgiveness Myth

  1. there’s also the stigma against women who don’t forgive as ‘ice queens’ or whatever. of course our empathy is always defined with respect to some entitled man and what he wants from us

  2. Thank you for writing this. And fuck forgiveness. I had a book designed for child survivors that suggested forgiveness-I threw it out the window in rage. They do not deserve my forgiveness, your forgiveness, our forgiveness.

  3. Forgiving males who make the rational choice to subject a woman/female child to sadistic male sexual violence is essential because males must never be held accountable for their actions.

    Why aren’t male perpetrators told ‘you are accountable and you must prove you accept your accountability? Why the focus on female victims not male perpetrators? Answer because ‘males apparently can’t help themselves’ so therefore it is womens’ responsibility to ‘forgive and forget!’

    Denying men sexual access to female bodies must never happen, so instead women are told ‘you must forgive the male perpetrator because if you don’t you aren’t enacting appropriate feminine behaviour.’

    It is essential women must not see that male sexual violence against women is intertwined with pseudo male sex right to female bodies. The difference between male sexual violence against women and children and male sex right to females is minute.

  4. Thank you for writing this. You’ve eloquently stated and explained what I’ve been unable to articulate. I usually just headbutt an asshole that has the gall to tell me to “forgive and forget.” I will continue to do so, but now you’ve given me the words to explain why they deserved a punch from my forehead.

  5. There is nothing to forgive myself for. I didn’t trust the wrong people. I was not confused about what to do. I knew exactly what to do. What I needed to do was to live. And I did.

  6. Yeah, I’ve never really understood forgiveness in any context. I understand accepting that sometimes people hurt other people; I understand that if they are truly sorry and truly intend not to do it again, one can maybe continue the friendship or whatever, but what does it really mean to “forgive”–say it was not really hurtful?

  7. The social expectation that a woman forgive is ABUSE. This social expectation is an extension of the original ABUSE. It’s the bridge we are forced to walk between “incidents.” Burn the f*ing bridge.

  8. Forgive men, the go back to other men. We know that abused women often get into patterns of future abusive situations with men. I am suspicious of all those who tell women to forgive men, just as I get suspicious of people who tell women are manhating because we don’t want to be around potential rapists. Make the perpetrators pay, make them be social outcasts, make them ineligable to live with women ever again, and confiscate all their property to pay the victims. Punishment for men who abuse any women should be severe. Forgiveness? I don’t forgive men, but in time, I do learn new tactics and I don’t make the same mistakes. But I know who my enemies are, I celebrate when they die or are killed, and I don’t waste time hoping men will change. They won’t get over that, and build women’s worlds.

  9. I just went through calling cops last night when I heard my upstairs neighbor being battered YET AGAIN by him. I would put up with it NO LONGER. I hate that ‘you create your own reality and drew the situation to you’ bullshit of so many newager types, including other women, and that it’s essential to ‘forgive’ your perpetrator. I’ve heard it in 12 step meetings, I’ve heard it when women told horrific stories of child sexual abuse and were incest survivors, my own partner is a survivor of violent rape when she was a teen that really fucked her up, and she lives with PTSD lifelong…partly that, and partly the way her own father treated her(not sexual, but physical violence). I don’t forgive men for perpetrating, EVER. They must take responsibility and make amends, or be punished and put away.

    I’m glad I’m a Dyke so men can have no sexual access to me, but they get my labor and I’ve been sexually discriminated against many a time and on occasion sexually harassed. Less so than others because I put out about being a martial artist, I’m an obvious Butch Dyke and I take up my space, but there still are a few times it’s happened. I stood my ground.

    The woman needs to forgive HERSELF. Nobody else, and do what she must to heal. You are actually the FIRST woman to put in print what I have ALWAYS felt about this subject…and found problematic in most women’s spirituality and 12 step circles around this whole ‘forgiveness of the perpetrator’ nonsense. I’m not Christian, I”ve NEVER been Christian, and I don’t come from the ‘turn the other cheek’ religion. In fact mine is much older and from the ‘eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth’ type….and for the last 31 years I’ve worshipped the Sacred Female only, and SHE has many different phases, some of them terrible and vengeful against those who would perpetrate against womankind…..

  10. Thank you for this column. This is the very first time I have read about this perspective on forgiveness. I am sick and tired of hearing about the need to forgive as a necessary part of the healing process. So fucking tired of it. Fuck forgiveness! Not forgiving the rapist or abuser is an act of self-empowerment. To suggest otherwise is an act of repression.

  11. Thank you for this, Terri!

    This is a recent post I did in some Radical Feminist fb groups:

    FORGIVENESS — The New Agers, Therapists, Self Help entrepeneurs, and anti-feminists say it’s good for us — but is it?

    There was a fragment of a KPFA radio interview I heard recently where a doctor/researcher of auto-immune illnesses found that even genetics did not matter as much as attitude when dealing with auto-immune illness, which affects so many women. He said that most have a history of betrayal in girlhood, and serious shaming, but that it also has an effect how they deal with it now.

    One woman mentioned had been sexually assaulted by her father, but still saw him and had “forgiven” him. She regularly visited him in a nursing home and he insisted she say she loved him each time. Her Rheumatoid Arthritis would get much worse after each visit.

    Another woman with the same genetic markers did not forgive her father who had sexually assaulted her. She hated him. And she was doing much better with her health.

    Just something to think about. Only women are ever asked to forgive men who attack us. Who wants us to forgive rapists and other men who hurt women, and why?

    We are not supposed to hate men. What does it mean when women take that step? I say that daring to hate those who hurt you and who are continuing to hurt other females is a courageous, rare step for women. Rather than shutting down the heart, it opens it for those who deserve our love and forgiveness.

  12. How can you forgive a sexual perpetrator with the kind of psychopathy that is devoid of empathy, expects entitlement and will continuously offend? I am a survivor of child sexual/physical abuse, numerous rapes and sex trafficking. I will never ‘forgive’ any of those sub-humans for what they knowingly did to me. ?This includes my own mother, who enabled one of her boyfriends to sexually abuse me for 2 years. I have had no contact with her for 22 years, and never will..and I feel absolutely fine with that! It’s bad enough to suffer victim blaming, without the added insult of expecting forgiveness! Anyway, my mother said that God himself has forgiven her!

  13. Great post! I would replace “forgive” with “understand” in order to heal. I don’t mean “be kind and understanding toward your abuser” but rather, understand the interlocking system of misogyny. Understand that this is not just an individual act. Understand how entitlement functions. Understand how the legal system is constructed for the entitled. Understand the overlap between males and sociopathy. And on and on and on. Understand how safety cannot be found in things like forgiveness. Understand the healing power of women-only spaces. Understand that in the system of psychotherapy, which you may need for healing, even “feminist” psychotherapists usually reinforce the system as it is, rather than challenging the assumptions of patriarchy/misogyny. I’m not saying don’t go to a psychotherapist if you are traumatised, but make sure you find one that is a real feminist. Betty McLellan wrote a book about this called “psychoppression.” The book could be a start to help locate such a therapist, if one exists in your area.

    Another trap is positive thinking, similar to forgiveness. I would like women to think positively about other women, about radical feminists, things like that. Not use it to gloss over a horrendous situation. How it’s usually used. How women are expected to behave.

  14. Forgiveness short circuits our RED FLAGS and leaves us vulnerable to the same shit happening again. I could never see the difference between forgiving and forgetting, i believe they are the same thing. Also if we are angry we are powerful- god forbid!
    If we are powerful then we need to be brought down by violence and rape- and ultimately kept in our place by fear of rape and violence if we choose to be angry and stand up for ourselves. if beating and rape don’t keep us quiet will men start to kill us?…oh wait…that is our reality already.

  15. Thank you for this great piece. And the refreshingly intelligent comments! Where am I?

  16. Thank you for this! 🙂 It has never made sense to me, why “forgiving an abuser for creating abuse” would have any effect on healing. To me, the only thing required in order to heal is that the abuse actually stops. Encouraging the victim to “forgive” regardless how the abuser continues to behave after the rape, is merely excusing abuse so that more abuse can continue.

    If the jerkwad wants *even the possibility* of forgiveness for his actions then he needs to acknowledge the harm his actions caused to others, and provide restitution for the harm his actions caused (which isn’t possible for crimes involving the destruction of trust such as rape), and to ensure that he is no longer contributing to rape culture.

    But really, there’s way too much focus on “forgiveness” and zero focus on holding the perp accountable. The only healing rape victims actually need, is for the perp to get a lifetime jail sentence. THAT is what tells the rape victim that the society in which she is trapped, truly does value her humanity as much as that society values the humanity of rapists.

    Btw, I’m dropping this link here, hope you think it’s as important as I do, delete if you don’t.

  17. Yes!!!!!! Finally someone who agrees with me!!!!!!!!! I believe the notion of forgiving unforgivable acts is the greatest lie of our time.

  18. I think fighting back is better way to get through rape trauma. Witches had been teaching women how to HEX their attackers and the entire Rape culture while you are at it. I have seen women heal faster when the attacker was safely in jail. vengenece has good healing prop[erties if applied with certainty and not out of fear. Fear is a soul cancer.

  19. Forgiveness does not encourage brave acts. Forgiveness is a passive escape. Oh great, i have forgiven him, so he can go on raping some more.
    Not so. In the seventies we picketed his workplace, leafleted his street, and hexed him with ‘By his own fault ,by his own mistakes, and by his own hubris he will bring himself down!” This worked ever
    y time faster then anticipated. These spells are in my books.

  20. This is my second time seeing this blog on Facebook, so I took the time to reread it. I love the comments on this blog. It is awesome to find women who agree with me on this issue! I feel supported in my belief that telling women they should forgive their rapists or abusers is an act of repression. I do not need to forgive in order to heal.

  21. thank you for this i am so tired of hearing how i should forgive someone who has altered my life forever, i mean i know the Christian behavior is to forgive but when the person has not even half ass apologized come on its not like they stepped on your shoe or spilled something on the carpet my life if forever changed!

  22. THANK YOU! Incredibly healing to know that I’m not the only one that rejects this “forgiveness” BULLSHIT.

  23. Thank you for writing this column. And for sharing it with all of us. For the first time, because of what you wrote, I feel like I have permission to not forget. It lessens the burden and helps me to know I’m not alone in feeling this way.

  24. Thank you again! This weekend I took the hexing advice of Zsuzsanna Budapest (copied below but found above); created a ritual with it and feel free, free,free!!!!!!!

    Zsuzsanna Budapest | July 7, 2013 at 7:10 pm | Reply

    Forgiveness does not encourage brave acts. Forgiveness is a passive escape. Oh great, i have forgiven him, so he can go on raping some more.
    Not so. In the seventies we picketed his workplace, leafleted his street, and hexed him with ‘By his own fault ,by his own mistakes, and by his own hubris he will bring himself down!” This worked ever
    y time faster then anticipated. These spells are in my books.

  25. thank you so fucking much for this.

  26. I’m not sure it’s as much about forgiving the person who hurt you as it is about not holding everyone else accountable for one person’s actions. If a man rapes or assaults you, it doesn’t mean all men are evil… it means THAT man is evil.

  27. SeekingEmpowerment

    I never thought to look at forgiveness for a rapist this way. I have never looked for professional help regarding my trauma. From this article, the type of forgiveness that is expected is ridiculous and scary to me. Thank you Terri for this perspective. I won’t forget it.

    Alas, I want to forgive. I want to forgive for MYSELF. Not so that I can love someone that will put me in this situation again- no way! Not so that I dismiss how horrible rape is and how big of a problem it is in this world. The stress of carrying heavy thoughts is bad for health and debilitating for me in my daily life. When I think of what forgiveness is, the type I seek to practice, is described in this short video:

    (it’s buddhist)

    In case you don’t follow the link, it is not specifically about forgiveness for a rapist. I like how the person starts by saying what forgiveness is not!
    “Forgiveness does not mean that we condone what happened in the past. It is not forgive and forget. In fact, might also include (quite understandably) THE RESOLVE TO NEVER LET THIS HAPPEN AGAIN. I will do everything in my power to protect myself and/or protect others to make sure this does not happen again.”

    I don’t want to give my rapist or any asshole that hurts me the power to affect my health and functioning in daily life. Without this plan in mind, I might be opening a bottle of vodka from thinking about this right now. I’m stressed and this comment is too long. Please sincerely wish me luck, or respectfully disagree / give thoughts.

    • Why is it that we view not forgiving someone as being the same as carrying heavy thoughts? I don’t give one ounce of concern or care in any direction to the men who’ve raped me. They don’t dominate my perspective or run my life. Its a myth that you need to forgive someone to heal.

  28. Thank you. If one more person, especially other women, tell me to forgive my rapist I’m going to loss my shit and punch them in the throat. I don’t forgive psychopaths. Should we “forgive” Jeffrey Daumier or George Zimmerman?
    As an earlier poster said: FUCK FORGIVENESS. thank you for giving me the strength and support to tell folks to fuck off. They ask the forgiveness question to make them feel better.

  29. Reblogged this on The Young Always Inherit The Revolution and commented:
    Something to think about. I definitely feel this when I start feeling like it was my fault, I should have fought back blah blah blah. I think forgiveness starts with ourselves.

  30. Reblogged this on FeistyAmazon and commented:
    I so agree with this and the New Ager types and some 12 steppers are the worst of the worst including many heavily Christianized women..and yes I AM in recovery. I agree: FORGIVE YOURSELF…but never forget and stay aware…..

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