Photo by Betty Clicker Photography
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
I had to think very carefully when I RSVP'd to my friend's wedding. On the one hand, I would get to see someone I love declare her love for someone she loved; I would get to support her and be happy for her. On the other hand, I would have to do so alongside someone who sexually assaulted me.
I imagine that my friend and her fiancée did not think that they had a rapist on their guest list. It took me years to realize that if someone takes you up to their room when you are blind drunk, verging on unconscious, and then they proceed to fuck you against a wall, and they conveniently don't notice that you are crying, they are raping you. It took me years to understand that perhaps this incident, largely dismissed as slutty behavior by my friends and enemies alike, contributed to my deteriorating mental health and a subsequent suicide attempt.
It's common for rape to be ignored or minimized in this way. It's common for survivors to be shut down or disbelieved when they speak out. It's also common for perpetrators to know their victim — an acquaintance or a family member — and this makes weddings one example of many where survivors may be expected to face their attackers. Perpetrators and survivors may not be easily identifiable on your guest list, but this shouldn’t stop you from thinking long and hard about who you are inviting to your big day. And if a friend has shared an experience with sexual violence with you, show them you believe them and don't invite their attacker.
Because saying you believe a survivor is only ever the beginning. You need to believe with your actions, too. Maybe "not taking sides" appears to be the best, easiest, or fairest option; maybe you don't want to have to choose between two friends, or your daughter and your son. But know this: your hesitation hurts because it suggests that you do not believe the violence happened or that you have not taken the experience and its sometimes deadly impacts seriously. So-called neutrality masks oppression and inequality, and in doing so it only ever favors perpetrators. It reduces experiences of violence into an inconvenience that you might try and fail to solve with a clever seating chart. This is dangerous; it communicates that perpetrators do not need to change their behavior or that they perhaps never did anything wrong. It is a free pass that will enable them to repeat their violent actions.
So maybe it will be awkward, or uncomfortable, or difficult to explain when you edit your guest list in this way. Maybe you will hurt someone's feelings. But there should be consequences for raping people, and this small insult pales in comparison to the trauma the perpetrator may have caused. More importantly, by choosing your guests in this way, you will also validate someone's experience and make your wedding a safe space for all your guests. And in any case, would you want a rapist watching you exchange your vows?
Nicci Shall is a feminist who likes jumping in puddles.