Thursday, 6 January 2011

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN...



Occasionally you read or hear something so egregiously awful and wilfully ignorant it makes your mouth drop open and your rage glands fully engage. Normally it goes away when you stop reading the Daily Mail, but this time this result came from reading an article in the Guardian by Naomi Wolf where she suggested that the women who alleged Julian Assange raped them should have their anonymity recinded as should all other rape victims who report.

Bearing in mind Naomi Wolf has long since been seen as an Alpha female in the world of feminism, this is quite a statement to make. I'm used to right wingers like Melanie Philips or Men's Rights Advocates spouting this kind of stuff, but I am surprised to hear it from the woman who wrote the seminal The Beauty Myth.

Ms Wolf thinks that anonymity for rape victims (or as she incorrectly calls them, women) is a Victorian hangover that is completely unnecessary in this more enlighted era where being a rape victim is so much easier and without stigma, and that this level of protection is actually a big pile of paternalistic nonsense that is making it harder for people to report rape. There are so many glaring holes in her reasoning you could use the article as a doily...



Let me state, I am wholeheartedly in favour of anonymity for those making reports of sexual crimes, even though there is a small, but vociferous group (of mainly men) who insist that anonymity allows (mainly) women to make unfounded allegations of rape and destroy men's lives (mainly) for shits and giggles. To them, I suggest they stop taking Dr. Eugene J. Kanin's highly discredited 1994 report as gospel and realise that his 41% statistic has been disproved time and time again by the FBI, the Metropolitan police and the Home Office who insist the false reporting rate to be between 2 and 8% of all allegations. I am much more inclined to trust the word of organisations for whom a high false reporting rate would be useful (since it would make them look less incompetent), but consistently find the rate to be lower than suggested. By concentrating on the maximum 8% of false allegations when only an estimated 5% of all rapes in England in 2007 were reported to the police focuses the debate on a miniscule number of cases and people while derailing it from the wider issues faced by those who try and seek justice after being attacked.


As I've mentioned before, I think re-introducing anonymity for those accused of rape has many merits. I feel it would shut the chorus of 'all women are liars about rape and just out to ruin men's reputations' down incredibly quickly as it balances things up and takes away one of the major rape myths that affects both the police investigation and the jury, especially if the accused is famous, powerful or prone to embarrassing the hell out of major world powers in his day job. I was always baffled as to why so many vocal feminists opposed the idea when it was mooted again last year (aside from it being a Tory idea.)

Enraged by Naomi Wolf's dangerous views which appear to be based on ideas of unicorns and puppies rather than the realities faced by the many victims of rape in this country, I left a long comment on my personal experiences of rape, explaining the massive stigma I have faced from being both raped and 'uppity' enough to report it and how important my anonymity was in allowing me to report, campaign and complain about the way my cases were handled. Unlike most of the comments (and the piece itself) it was based on experience and genuine knowledge of the subject and was therefore, of course, deleted.

However a few people did get to read it before the mods exercised their trigger finger and Naomi Wolf herself replied to it, more or less telling me I was wrong. It wasn't the social stigma of being raped twice or the police being incompetent and uncaring or people accusing me of being a liar that prevented me from ever seeing either rapist banged up for what happened, it was my own anonymity...

Despite the fact that I was not anonymous to the police who investigated the crimes, the flatmates who threw me out for reporting, the friends who shunned me, the people who saw me as damaged goods or the witnesses who refused to come forward, Naomi Wolf thinks that it was only the fact that the papers couldn't publish my name that was the issue and has chosen to concentrate on this straw man than address the fact that the there is still enormous social stigma in being the victim of sexual crime, a high rate of attrition at police level and a very low conviction rate. I have no idea why she might have gone for this route, although I suspect that she is blinded by her current Assange obsession, but I feel she's doing rape victims and feminism a diservice. I also think she's flat out wrong if she doesn't think anonymity is crucial right now for rape victims.

Since my first rape would have been of interest to the press, there is no way I would have reported if my anonymity wasn't assured. Being the only person on the electoral register with my name makes me easy to spot and I had to think about the other people in my life, my friends, family and flatmates. They hadn't been raped, they weren't victims, most of them weren't even witnesses. Why the hell should they risk having their privacy invaded when it was discovered they shared my name, my house or my bed? I had a responsibility to them and I took it seriously. At times when my second case was in the press, I considered dropping my anonymity to see if it would more impact, but I knew my family would prefer it if I didn't, so I remained the elusive Helen instead.

I also discovered that remaining anonymous actually seemed to have more effect in getting people to listen. Instead of being able to look at a image of me and decide I wear too much make up, sound common or am too bolshy for my own good, people had to focus on the words I was saying and the injustices I was telling them about. Yes, it would be just peachy to live in a society where women aren't judged on their looks, opinions and supposed morals, but it isn't happening and I think it's better to find a way round that than remain silent and unopinionated.

Remaining anonymous meant that although I have given interviews to the Guardian, Mirror, Independent, The Scottish Herald, Scotland on Sunday, Grazia, Now!, Channel 4 News, Panorama, ITN News, the Hindustan Times, The Washington Post and the BBC about my second rape case and subsequent compensation case, only one person who I hadn't told about these inteviews ever guessed it was me. This meant I could home and switch off from a day's campaigning before I totally lost the plot and more importantly, it meant that prospective employers (and all those housing officers tec I had to deal with) wouldn't see my name and associate me with being a troublemaker either. (One woman's campaigner is another person's shit-stirrer after all...)

It also allowed me, in as much you can when dealing with bureaucracy, to take it at my own pace and take back some of the control rape robbed me of. If my name had been all over the press with the first rape, how could I have decided to withdraw the complaint as I did choose to do? I would have had pressure from all sides and strangers and I cannot imagine that the Daily Mail would have hestitated to brand me a liar and the allegation false, thus helping make it harder for all the other brave women (men never get accused of lying about this) after me.

This may come as a shock to some people, particularly a certain breed of feminist who trumpets the sisterhood, but I don't have a responsibility to anyone I don't know just because someone chose to rape me. I don't have to report because 'he might do it to someone else and it'll be your fault' and I shouldn't have to feel that my choices and actions in my own case have a bearing on other women and I would have had that if Naomi Wolf had her way. That's a terrible pressure to put on someone trying to rebuild their life and it also conveniently takes the blame off the perpetrator in a way that doesn't happen with other crimes, thus giving rape culture another shot in the arm.

But perhaps most importantly, I feel remaining anonymous kept me safe. Having my name and face and details that might identify where I live and socialise makes me vulnerable. Who better to attack or rape in the future than the girl who's already been raped twice and criticised the police so much? Who the hell would believe her a third time and what are the chances of her reporting it? (The answer you are looking for is slim to absolutely none.) Maybe you think I'm being melodramatic, but having had my safety compromised so much on several occasions I am understandably paranoid about this. It's bad enough that I probably have a massive black mark against my name at the Met meaning I'll definitely get a hostile response if I ever report a burglary or mugging. You don't criticise an entire force on the front page of the Guardian and get 16 officers disciplined at work without pissing a lot of people off. I'm just grateful anonymity means their disgruntled friends and families can't find me and make my life miserable in other ways.

I know I shouldn't let people like Naomi Wolf who pull the 'but I speak to rape victims all the time' card get to me, but I do get infuriated by people who speak to, but don't listen to rape victims and then spout feminism 101 style theories about the subject that while boosting their desire to be heard, actually live those living with the consequences of rape to pick up the pieces that make life more difficult. I feel I have to take the opportunity to speak out from experience and try to show a more facted, less myth ridden view of the subject, hopefully without roobing everyone else who has suffered sexual violence of a voice. Ironically I think my anonymity here helps too. After all as Gherkinette, I have no money to make, no persona to build and no need to shout louder than anyone else to get another article or book commissioned. I just have a story to tell and experiences to share and a hope that those things will make the whole debate more balanced and nuanced than people like Naomi Wolf are doing...



6 comments:

  1. Brilliant. You should get this published in the Guardian as a rebuttal to her piece of dreck.

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  2. I've just heard you being eloquent and excellent on the World Service talking about this. Naomi Wolf comes across as a patronising, false, arrogant hypocritical idiot. "Oh your experience is so important and thank you for sharing (but I'm going to deny that you could have any theoretical or academic backing for what you're saying because you're speaking for experience and what you say doesn't match my viewpoint)."

    It's very telling that she talks about 'choice' whilst saying that if you want a prosecution i.e. to make sure that it doesn't happen to anyone else, you don't get any choice. That levels of choice don't exist for her; you either prosecute and lose anonymity or don't and let the man get away with it entirely. That she has exercised her choice within a framework that alloowed anonymity and still took the option not to prosecute and let her attempted rapists get away whilst denying that choice to anyone else and that she doesn't seem to acknowledge that talking about your experience of being a victim of sex crimes publicly while not naming the perpetrator is a very different deal from naming them.

    It's easy to have sympathy with a victim of attempted rape while the perp is some dirty old prof or nasty entitled frat boy or whatever stereotype we want to put onto the people she talks about in this interview. If she named those men they would have faces and be seen as people (a luxury not afforded to rape victims), and not fit a stereotype any more and suddenly they wouldn't be rapists they would be men accused of rape. What a horrible thing to accusation top make against a man you can ruin his life that way you troublemaking feminist!

    Our society has just as strict criteria for 'convictable rapists' as it does for 'believeable victims' if not more so. It is really hard for a man to be a convictable rapist.

    If Naomi believes what she's saying she has to name the men who attacked her and let her reputation stand against theirs and see where it leaves her.

    Let her go first.

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  3. I heard on the Twitter that you talked to Naomi Wolf on the BBC. I'd like to hear/watch/read that conversation, but I'm not finding a link. Could you provide one?

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  4. Firstly, thank you everyone for your input.

    Anonymous, your point about the social narrative about the rapist is something I hadn't considered (and will be stealing to make me look smarter)

    I agree that Naomi Wolf is spectacularly un-self aware, lacks empathy and thinks the world revolves round her, but I'll be writing a proper post on that later today.

    The link to World Have Your Say for Friday 7th and the full programme is http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00ctvtd#synopsis

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  5. Steal away. I guess it's just the corollary of Schrodinger's Rapist. It was certainly the realisation that hit me the strongest when listening to you speak. I don't think it's new though, just under-recognised and under-analysed as a phenomenon.

    BTW Here is Schrodinger's Rapist for anyone who hasn't heard of him or can't quite remember him. http://kateharding.net/2009/10/08/guest-blogger-starling-schrodinger%E2%80%99s-rapist-or-a-guy%E2%80%99s-guide-to-approaching-strange-women-without-being-maced/

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