TRIGGER WARNING: Violence against women.

The Pretenders’ front woman Chrissie Hynde has come under fire recently for a series of comments blaming herself for her own sexual assault.

In an interview with The Sunday Times Magazine Hynde recounted details of her assault at the hands of a bikie gang, who promised to take her to a party and then forced her to perform sexual acts under the threat of violence.

She dismissed the assault as being her own fault. “You can’t paint yourself into a corner and then say whose brush is this? You have to take responsibility. I mean, I was naive.”

When asked if her vulnerability was perhaps taken advantage of, she replied: “If you play with fire you get burnt. It’s not any secret, is it?”

The reaction has been almost universally, one of shock and horror.

I wanted to take a moment to pen an open letter to Chrissie:

Dear Chrissie,

I read your interview recently. I have mostly abandoned feelings of disappointment in famous people I like, however something about your comments really stung.

Your words hurt me. They brought up feelings and questions I have worked very hard not to let rule my life. Suddenly, a few sentences in and every “what if” and “maybe” was flooding through me, setting my skin on fire. Every nerve ending was singing with a thousand possibilities the way they do on my bad days.

I was twenty. One year younger than you were. There were no bikies; I was with friends. But I was drinking. I put my drink down for a moment to take a call. I went home with a man. I blacked out.

The next 8 hours are patchy. I remember the word “no” but my tongue felt heavy,  like it had stopped working. I remember trying to move but my muscles were stuck, useless. None of these memories have a visual associated with them.

My drink was spiked. What was not wiped clean from my brain is suppressed under a fog of trauma that I can rarely touch. I have mostly learned to let whatever sleeping dog is there alone. Mostly.

There are thousands of ways this scenario could have played out. I know, because I have been over all of them. What if I hadn’t spent my last ten dollars on club entry? What if I hadn’t let my twenty year old tits bounce around braless under a lace shirt? What if I hadn’t smiled at that man because he was so tall? What if I hadn’t stepped out to take that phone call?

They expand into broader questions – what if I had been nicer to my mother? what if I was a better person? would this happen then? – and then they retract again. A never-ending tide of possible universes washing up, and then pulling away.

So when I read your interview, with its suggestion of dressing modestly and not “playing with fire”, I was angry. “How dare you?” I thought. “When I have been trying so hard, how dare you?”

But the more I thought about it, the sadder I became. You have been carrying this weight for years. Much longer than I have. I won’t pretend to know how you feel. The beauty and tragedy of these stories is that they are never unified. We cope. Or we don’t. All in different ways.

My feelings aren’t your feelings, but I have something I want to say to you:

It’s not your fault. I’m sorry if no one ever told you that and I’m sorry if you don’t believe me when I say it. But it’s not your fault. It’s not. It’s not. It’s not.

And it’s not mine either. We are not responsible for these acts of sexual violence that have affected us so profoundly. We did not invite them; we did not burn ourselves touching some fire as though it were inevitable. This should not be an inevitability and it is not our fault.

I’m not here to change your mind, Chrissie. I doubt anyone could. Or maybe I’m just not a good enough writer. We all process things differently. I’ve been where you are, complete with regrettable sentiments. Maybe one day you’ll change your mind too.

But in the meantime, I did want to take the opportunity to say to every other girl or boy who may have read your interview, and who may be standing at the edge of an ocean of “what ifs” waiting to drown, that it isn’t their fault. It never will be.

My saying this doesn’t have the incredible reach that your book or press junket will, but if one person who needs it sees it, then that’s enough I guess.

Sincerely,

Alex

For information and support go to Canberra Rape Crisis Centre (ACT), NSW Rape Crisis (NSW), Ruby Gaea (NT), Sexual Assault Helpline (QLD), Domestic Violence Crisis Service (SA), Safe at Home (TAS), Sexual Assault Crisis Line (VIC) and Women’s Domestic Violence Helpline (WA).