Kiran Millwood Hargrave wrote “I want you to know I can wear red lipstick and pencil skirts again. How I love my body. How I have written books and will write more. How I found a life better than anything I hoped for.”
Around 20% of women experience some type of sexual assault after the age of 16, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, yet around five in six victims of all genders don’t report their experiences to the police.
It’s hardly surprising – just a quick glance at recent stories about sexual assault and rape paint a dark picture. There’s the decision to ask rape victims to hand over their phones to police, or risk having investigations into sexual assault dropped. There are the comments made by a UKIP candidate about raping Labour MP Jess Phillips, which are being treated as a “joke”. And even in fiction, there’s the way that Game of Thrones continues to use rape as a tool to make its female characters stronger, as though they couldn’t have succeeded without being attacked first.
But all these things mean it’s all the more powerful when a victim does speak out, as author Kiran Millwood Hargrave has done. In a Twitter post, Millwood Hargrave written a letter to her rapist, 10 years after he attacked her.
“You still come to me, sometimes, in sleep, in my lowest moments,” she writes. “But even that is better, now. You are not a body, a face, hands teeth. I do not walk past piss-smelling alleys and freeze, my husband is allowed to kiss my throat. Instead, you are the shadows in the wardrobe, the monster under the bed. You have become my nightmare, and mostly I can reason you away. Time really does heal. You’re fading.”
Millwood Hargrave, who won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2017 for The Girl of Ink & Stars and whose first adult novel will be released next year, tells her attacker that she is working on pushing him out, “good day by good day, and now there is so much more of me in there, than you”.
Describing her successes, she writes: “A joyous marriage, to a beautiful man I met the same year you raped me. We have a home, a cat. I’ve a career, telling stories to children, and soon to grown ups too. I use my brain, the brain I so often pull back from terror and sadness, to make wonderful things. I have a garden full of wild garlic and rosemary, bluebells in the spring. I have a group of friends I call my lemur ball, my coven. Gorgeous women, broken and whole and strong and so often drunk and laughing, women carrying all manner of pain and love, impossible brilliant women. I have a glorious family.”
Millwood Hargrave admits to fearing and hating her rapist, and briefly pitying him, but continues: “Now, I am ready to be indifferent. I cannot forget, will not forgive. But I no longer keep rage stoked inside me. I do not cry when I remember, or at least, not much. I know you did the same to other women, and hope that they are still here, still able to be happy. You don’t even know our names.”
Telling her attacker that she wants “any power you felt you had to be taken from you” and for him to feel how small he is, Millwood Hargrave writes: “I want you to know I can wear red lipstick and pencil skirts again. How I love my body. How I have written books and will write more. How I found a life better than anything I hoped for.”
She ends by saying that the letter is not for her rapist, but for the “women and men and people like me, who know what it is to feel powerless”.
“Please know you are not,” she says. “Listen: survive this, and life goes on growing. It outgrows any amount of pain. Don’t paper the cracks. Plant seeds in them. Talk them into bloom.”
She continues: “I hope you know how big the life you can live is, how loved you are, how much you can love. I promise the world is all the better for having us in it, sweet. Stay.”
Millwood Hargrave, whose forthcoming novel is a YA retelling of the story of the brides of Dracula, has encouraged people to donate to Rape Crisis England & Wales.