If you’d told Madeleine Black 30 years ago she’d be a public speaker and author, she’d never have believed you. Nowadays interviews about her recently published memoir Unbroken have made it almost a routine.
She was violently raped by two young men in 1979 in North London, a crime she would never report to the police out of fear of retribution. The ensuing decades were coloured by trauma and Madeleine’s efforts to free herself from it.
She married, had a family, and moved to Glasgow, where she started working with Women’s Aid and the Rape Crisis Centre. She finally decided helping others would become full-time job and became a counsellor.
In 2014, she went public with her story for the first time, sharing it as part of the Forgiveness Project, a secular organisation that shares real stories of forgiveness to build understanding, encourage reflection and enable people to move forward from the trauma in their own lives. Through it, she discovered that speaking out about negative experiences can have a positive impact, which motivated her to write the memoir.
Madeleine says: “It was somebody else finding their voice that helped me find my voice, and I know from me speaking how it has helped people to find their voice, as well, and to give them hope.”
In the memoir, Madeleine offers a level-headed and straightforward description of the rape and torture, leaving a visceral impact on the reader. She initially shunned the thought of going into so much detail, but it was a friend and editor who encouraged her to do otherwise.
Madeleine says: “He explained to me that as a man he never really thought about rape. He just thought it was about being overpowered, but didn’t really understand all the violence or what can take place. He said it really helped to educate him, and thought it was really important to share it.
“As I was writing, it still brought up some feelings of shame, and it made me think he was right, I need to really share it. If I would just write that I was raped one night, then we don’t really talk about the details or what goes on, it would be me sanitising it. Even though I was sharing my story, without the details I am still silencing myself.”
She adds: “I thought it was important (to include all the details). I know that part is very hard to read because it is quite nasty, but I just thought it was important to put it all in rather than brush it under the carpet, or make it prettier than it really was.”
In the time since she first shared her story publicly, many women have told her they were inspired to reveal they had been raped, after years of silence.
“I think it’s important to speak out, and to speak out for others. People have told me that I’ve helped them to find their voice, and that just motivates me to carry on,” Madeleine says.
Feelings of shame and self-blame lead many victims of sexual violence never to report the crime. A desire to change this played a significant role in Madeleine’s decision to publish the memoir.
“I wanted to break down the stigma, the shame and the silence – the three things that kept me in my own little world, and kept me quiet. With any other crime – your car gets broken into, your house burns down, you get robbed – there’s never the same shame. When it’s sexual assault or violent abuse, there’s so much shame attached, it’s really hard to find your voice. But now that I’ve found it, I (don’t have to be) quiet.
“I can now speak publicly, but I don’t expect everyone to do that, but just to share it with someone, someone that you trust, and to be listened, and to be heard and believed, must be the most important things.”
Madeleine will be promoting Unbroken in Glasgow on Wed April 12 from 7-10pm in Waterstones on Sauchiehall Street.
For more about her work, go here