Warning: Please note the following post deals with some controversial and difficult subjects, if you are sensitive to the subject of sexual assault or rape please read with some caution. This post is all based on my opinions, I am not an expert and I am aware people’s opinions vary which I respect. I am also writing from a female perspective and on this particular subject only.
I have wanted to write an article on this subject for so long, but one of the first things that struck me whilst putting it together was the wording…It seems to me these days the only acceptable way in which to talk about rape is when making a joke of it. Facebook and twitter status’ regularly refer to someone feeling like they have been ‘raped’ in reference to a hefty hangover but worst than this is the jokes that portray actual rapes as the subject for comedy. Yet when talking about the act itself it almost seems taboo to mention the word. It’s not a serious subject and people don’t want to hear it unless it’s funny…the only problem is, it is never funny but is always serious.
I keep coming across articles in which victims of sexual assault are afraid to come forward through fear of being demonised by the media, if they happened to be under the influence of alcohol at the time or wearing a dress that revealed their legs, it’s assumed they are at fault. This horrific way of thinking stops victims seeking council, reporting incidents and leave a victim feeling guilty and a perpetrator free and most of the time not even deeming what they did as a crime.
What about the 16 year old cheerleader in the US that lost her case after refusing to cheer for basketball player that admitted to assaulting her (independent.co.uk). He was cleared of rape but found guilty of assault so a fine and a few anger management classes later, and he was able to represent his school again as an admired sportsman, whilst the girl is dropped from her squad and made to PAY the school district for her ‘frivolous’ law suit. So let’s get this straight, a girl is assaulted and violated and because the guy is only found guilty of assault (probably downgraded from rape due to the fact how seriously sport is taken in Texas – this is my own assumption) she is then shamed further when she loses her role, has to reimburse the same school district that allowed her attacker to return to his sports team unscathed. How are things like this able to happen? No wonder so many cases go unreported.
How about awareness campaigns…more often than not these campaigns are targeting possible victims, now while it is VERY important to be aware of dangers of intoxication, walking home alone and being aware of your surrounding and letting people know where you are etc. The fact remains it is not down to a victim to stop themselves being attacked. No woman chooses to be raped. They are the victim of someone else’s choice. Alcohol poisoning is a hazard of drinking; being cold is a hazard of wearing a skirt on a night out NOT RAPE.
“Rape is an act of violence…NOT a natural hazard”
Surely the concentration should be at the source. Around 97% of callers to rape crisis lines knew the assailant of their assault suggesting most of the time it doesn’t even occur in circumstances they could have avoided e.g. walking home alone. Maybe it is the potential attackers that should be educated and taught that under no circumstances should they force any kind of sexual act on someone. It is an attitude adjustment in the attackers that is needed not the victims. There should be no excuses and zero tolerance for such violations.
I recently saw a TV show address this subject and I applaud how they handled such a storyline, they didn’t sugar-coat it, it was emotionally raw and painful at times to watch but that is exactly what these assaults are, and more to the point, it is the constant downplaying that makes it almost acceptable for people to take it so lightly and prosecutions to be so frequently dropped before they ever reach court. The amount of strength it takes a person to report such a traumatic experience is phenomenal and the fact it may not be taken seriously is just mind blowing.
My own experience with such events is thankfully quite limited, although not zero and usually I would not share this information in a public forum but for the sake of contributing a personal perspective I will here.
After a night out I was walking home from a club (with a friend) and a guy began pestering us, now we lived down a less then pleasant road to walk down which is why we always went home in pairs. The guy was intimidating and would not leave us, despite us asking him to repeatedly, he proceeded to grab me and begin walking into a darker area with me and forcing his hands up my dress (etc.) I will leave it there but for that split moment before my friend began smacking him and my screaming caused him to drop me and run I was terrified. It didn’t matter to me that someone else was with me because in that moment he had already been able to force his hands on me and I knew if he wanted to he could overpower us both, not to mention the fact I was inches from the stairs to my flat so I was scared to run home as he would know where I lived. Anyway when he ran, we ran indoors and shaken I began messaging our other flatmates to make sure they came home together and was going to leave it at that not even thinking to report it, but there was a knock at the door and two policeman there. A gentleman had seen the incident and called the police. We went to the station to report it as there had been other similar complaints and they had already caught the man. The night was an absolute blur, they asked me repeatedly how much I had drunk (I was unwell at the time so very little) but it clearly made a difference. But the oddest thing was after spending the early hours in a police station reporting someone I went home feeling guilty. I know the impact sexual assault charges could have on him and I was worried that I shouldn’t even be complaining.
The fact is I have worked in bars, I have been a uni student that enjoyed many nights out, and it had become almost the norm for unpleasant drunk men to try and cop a feel or make crude comments (this is by no means a brag- it’s not cause I was special but because they thought it is acceptable) so I did not know if this was just like another one of those situations. But after thinking about the fact a man had seen the event and called the police, knowing other complaints had been made about the perpetrator and the fact he later pleaded guilty, I knew I was right to. If he hadn’t of been locked up for the night another girl may not have been so lucky.
But more to the point it is NEVER okay for a guy (no matter who he is) to touch you in that way without your consent. It isn’t okay for a man to think because you are enjoying a night out in a skirt it means you are ‘asking for it’ or being a tease. A girl should not have to feel intimated walking down her road, or hear disgusting comments while she tries to do her job.
While doing some research for this post I found this campaign mystrength.org and it was so refreshing to see a campaign that actually addressed the possible culprits and not the victims.
Yes a girl should always try to keep herself safe…and not every guy is a sexual predator but I think a generation that blames victims for crimes committed against them is one that is getting it wrong on a daily basis, and one that then proceeds to mock and create humour from such an awful situation is one that it is truly devastating to be a part of.
Stay safe girls but please know, nothing you can do means you deserve to be assaulted or raped, being drunk, in a relationship/married to the man, being dressed up etc. NONE of these things are a crime and NONE of these make it acceptable. It is never okay, it is always a crime and it is never your fault.
Support the victims, not the criminals.
If you should ever need help or counselling on such subjects, there are many charities and organisations to help (see below) and please report any circumstances in which you are a victim of such event. Tell a friend, a relative or the police but do not suffer alone.
You can read more from Natalie Borriello on her blog.
Feature image via.