I still wear the dress I was raped in: an interview with Amalie Have.

Millions of women across the globe recently marched for their rights on the streets. Their message was clear, we have rights and we will not back down. Scandinavian activist Amalie Have was one of the women who protested in the Women’s March in Copenhagen, Denmark. Her story begins in 2014 when she was raped, and since that encounter she became an activist, speaking out about her ordeal and making a conscious decision to continue to wear the dress she was raped in and turning it into an empowering story. Why? Because speaking out and wearing the dress became a healing tool.

We chat with Amalie Have about why she wears the dress she was raped in, how Trump will only push women to band together and fight stronger, and how cyberactivism gave her a voice. 

Why do you still wear the dress you were raped in?

I could have tossed it, and made the dress a symbol of the rape: “By tossing the dress, I am tossing the experience.”  But I didn’t. I chose to hold it tighter, to wear it more often, to embrace it even more. I chose to walk, to dance and to drink beers wearing it, just like I had done the night I was raped. The reason why I did this, was for several reasons. 

First of all, it was for own healing process. The dress became a healing tool. The dress is a symbol of me being able to separate the things from one another and not giving into rape myths, victim blaming and stigma. I was not raped because of the way I was dressed, because I was drinking or dancing. It is very simple: I was raped, because of a rapist.  

By putting on the dress and carrying it with pride, I am showing myself,  him and the entire world, that he didn’t get to me. He didn’t get to fuck up the way I’m choosing to dress, to dress down, to post pictures or to present myself and my body to the world. It has been my way of reclaiming my body, and I have even become even more body confident after the rape. I took ownership of the situation.

I am also wearing it to create awareness. To try to fight victim blaming and rape myths. To show other rape survivors that it truly doesn’t matter what you wore or didn’t, it is all about consent. I am trying to educate people through my story, and create a space where we can actually take about rape. 

The interesting thing is, that the reason why people think I am brave and bold, is actually because it is expected of me, that I should feel ashamed. Just a little bit. I was dressed up sexy, showing of my figure, which we have learned automatically means that we give up control and allow men to feel entitled to our bodies. That is the hard truth of why people think I am brave. They might not be able to formulate it themselves. But that is what it is rooted in them. 

It shouldn’t be considered to be a heroic action to still wear a piece of clothing I was raped in. It shouldn’t be a heroic action to speak up about the injustice that happened to me – just like it isn’t a heroic action when you speak openly up about how when somebody stole money from your wallet. But it is, because it is rape, and because we are taught that we as women carry some of the blame. 

What made you speak out about it?

As I learned at my high school, if there is anything in your surroundings you don’t like, you better act and try to change it. I acted. It was very instinct driven.

What advice can you offer other women who have been in the same situation?

That one is tricky, because every rape case is different. It is not an easy, obvious or even a possibility for many rape survivors to turn such a horrible event into an empowering story. 

For many rape survivors, that is simply not an option. For many rape survivors, it is about surviving, one day at a time. For many rape survivors, it is about getting through the day only revisiting the trauma a couple of times. For many rape survivors, it is about being able to fall asleep in the night. Rape is one of the most traumatic events a human being can experience, and I cannot even begin to describe how it changes you. You can only understand it if you have been through it yourself. 

I was “lucky” that my rape was not in the heavy end.  I wasn’t gang-raped, I didn’t get HIV or get pregnant, he didn’t use weapons against me, nor did he try to kill me afterwards. I was lucky. For whatever reason, I have a strong mentality. I was able to report him the morning after, go to court, show video evidence, see him not going to jail, go back to the hostel, pack my stuff, get out of the town, write about the incident, post it online, travel home to Denmark for a month to get help, and then continue my travel after that month. And not saying it was easy. It wasn’t, but I managed.  I was lucky. 

Few girls and women are this lucky. So if I suggested rape survivors to transform their rape story  into an activism cause, that would be extremely insensitive and arrogant. No, I would advise girls and women to seek help, and to get someone they are close with to help them with seeking the right help. The last thing you need, is to go alone to the police and not be taken seriously. Surround yourself with people who believes you. 

One other thing I found useful, was to write the incident down. You don’t have to write it all down at once. There is psychological reasons for this. In order to begin your healing process, you must realize and acknowledge what has happened to you. I know it can sound weird and fuzzy, but many survivors can actually start doubting themselves and be confused if they were raped or not. This is a natural response. The brain is trying to close down for the incident. This can even be triggered if you are in surroundings where you are not getting the needed help or if people or the system are not believing you. Instead of fighting, you give in and try to rewrite a story, where it didn’t happen.  But if you are not facing it, it will pop up anytime. You need to process and heal.  The first step to begin the healing process is to write the whole thing down. One of the girls I have been in contact with, actually decided to send her rapist a ten page long handwritten letter, describing how the rape still affects her. I think that is amazing and beautiful. 

Tell us about how you started becoming an activist

I have always been interested in politics, since I was a teenager I was part of political engaged environment. When I chose a high school, I chose a very politically engaged one. In English it’s called “The high school of Freedom.” The school practices directly democracy, which means that everybody has a vote, everybody has a voice – no matter if you are the principal or a freshman, you have access to the same amount of impact. 

We had so much influence and were all creators of our school. And we took our job seriously. We learnt to take responsibility for our surroundings. We learnt, to first say “f**k the system” and then take actions in order to change it. And they believed we could. 

In that sense, activism have always been something I’ve been practicing and something that is  very close to my heart.

Regarding the cyber activism, I got a bit late on Instagram, but when I got, it made sense to use my voice here as well and fight for injustice and social change. After I was raped in December of 2014,  my voice got stronger. 

Why do you think there is a stigma of shame about rape? 

For many reasons and the answer would be different depending on where in the world we turn our heads to. In a number of countries,  women get out shamed and get totally excluded from the society, even from their own families. There are even countries where the survivors get punished for getting raped. This is a very extreme stigma of rape and should and cannot be ignored. 

If we look at what can lead to stigma regarding rape in the Western world, one of the answers could be the way the media portraits rape. I am from Denmark, as late as earlier this week, I saw a headline on an online newspaper saying: “This is what you as a girl and woman must NEVER do: Brutal rape of young woman at train station.” This pretty much sums the whole thing up: We are teaching girls and women not to get raped, instead of teaching boys and men not to.  We are basically telling girls that is their own responsibility not to get raped,  hence,  if we do, it is their own fault. 

Another reason could be that only a few rapes that are reported, are handled. If the system took rape seriously and we could actually see our rapists go to jail, more women would probably report rape. The problem with coming forward and file the report is that this is a long hard process, where as it stands now 97%  (statistics from US) of the perpetrators will go free anyway. This gives absolutely no urge to report rape. We are basically living in countries where the governments are able to decide if we were raped not. And in most cases, we get the answer that we were not. 

With Trump now in power, do you think this will be the time where women around the world will join forces?

Yes, I believe we already are just look at the Women’s March. I believe we can turn in into something positive: But we are facing hard times, where the most marginalized groups of women are going to be affected the most. 

We are trying to join forces and a lot of interesting tensions are appearing. If we talk feminism, there is a lot of realizations out in the corners. White privilege is put on the table. It is time for the white feminism to step back and listen. It is time for the white feminism to take responsibility for our history and for not being inclusive. Because facts are facts: Over 50% of white women voted for Trump, where 94% of black women voted for Hillary. 

We will join forces. We are working on it. The next president will be female, and more countries will follow. But only if we act.

Follow Amalie on Instagram@scandinaviandreamgurl