Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Last week's decision not to bring the case for attempted rape and sexual assault against Dominique Strauss Kahn was hardly a shock. The whole case was a clusterfuck of supreme proportions. The prosecution went overboard trying to make Nafitassou Diallo out to a be a room cleaning representation of perfect womanhood, setting her up to fall very hard and fast if anything proved otherwise. The defence played a clever game in saying the prosecution ws biased against DSK because of who he was and hoist them with their own petard as Cyrus Vance Jr and his team did the defence's dirty work for them by digging very deep on Diallo to try and show just how unbiased they were. Diallo turned out to be a flawed victim (but then aren't we all according to the very high standards set?) and her lie on her asylum application about a gang rape in Guinea did make a fair trial tricky to ensure.
But I'm not here to re-hash the DSK case. I really don't think much else can be said about it now. What has piqued my interest is the unbelievable amount of victim blaming, rape apologism and attempts to belittle sexual assault that have floated to the surface around it. Some of it is overt and palpable, some of it is so insidious and internalised that it blows my mind and some of it is borne of ignorance, the peddling of rape myths and the perceptions that our imbalance justice system creates. But despite the different paths, it all leads to one result. Women who report rape aren't believed and their trauma and fear is minimised at every step of the way.
If we weren't talking about something so serious, I'd laugh at the increasingly desperate almost hysterical levels of denial that rape and sexual assault even exist. In a blog conversation with the fantastic Sian at crooked rib, a charmer by the name of Iain dismissed forensic evidence in the DSK case with "that it's [semen] on a wall or clothes seems totally irrelevant. I'm surprised that anyone (even those who'd never had sex with a man) would be unaware that semen ends up in all sorts of places. It shoots out, quite a long way if allowed to." So apparently in an encounter where the accused denies being in the same room or touching the victim until his bodily fliuds are found present, this can be written off further by trying to tell us that penises are a bit like a shower head dropped in the bath and make a terrible mess if not watched closely at all times.
Another peach (now deleted) on the comments below this Hadley Freeman piece on the Guardian asked how oral sex could ever be forced? I like to think this is because it's honestly never occurred to him that a rapist will threaten to kill or injure a victim (or someone close to her) unless she does his bidding or that it isn't especially difficult to overpower a smaller person who may actually be on her knees or physical prevented from getting up. But since his username was 2Sceptic, I don't think he was having a gosh-golly learning experience about the shittiness of human nature.
Also on CiF, a serial rape denier by the username of FelixKrull declared with a Poirot-esque flourish that because she went back and cleaned the room where the assault had taken place magically erased the fact she had been attacked and thus rendered her a liar, rather than a frightened confused woman simultaneously trying to come to terms with being raped (forced oral sex is rape in the UK, hence my use of the term) and worried about losing her job for not cleaning the room, let alone utterly humiliated by the fact she had someone's semen on her (at work for extra mortification) and not necessarily wanting to advertise her shame to everyone in the hotel.
Nothing, not even calm measured explanation of how trauma works and the kind of reasoning shame and degradation affects people would change their minds and those who flocked to agree with them. Rape myths got a fresh airing with people queuing up to state that if she'd been raped, she'd have been cleaning herself instead of the room. They were unable to see the close link (admittedly it did take me several years to realise why I repainted our kitchen three times in the month afterwards, but then again I was having a nervous breakdown and no one was helpfully writing internet comments explaining the link for me). I wrote a few comments trying to explain why these people are both wrong and being massively unhelpful and then went off and banged my head against a wall instead for more effect. But then again, all the rape apologists had got nicely warmed up earlier in the year trotting out the short skirt and tight tops argument over the Slutwalks, so I should have known I was on the back foot.
Two other things came to my attention in the midst of this orgy of fingerpointing. Firstly this horrifying Mumsnet survey about rape and sexual assault (which needs a trigger warning) and secondly this amazing piece about Schrodingers' Rapist which seeks to explain just how prevalent the fear of rape and the spectre of blame for such a thing is for so many women. It makes chilling reading. I mean, you've read this blog, you know how scared I am of everything? That post still shook me up when I realised some of the things that we women are just expected to give up or go out of our way to do or if we get raped it'll all be our fault. And if it can shock someone like me who is hypervigilant, hasn't worn a skirt above the knee for seven years, refuses to match her underwear and checks the locks five times everytime she goes near the door all because of being both raped and being blamed for it, then it's rocket fuel for someone who has never had to consider it. And yet it wasn't wholeheartedly followed by a lot of people saying ' wow. That's shitty. What can we all do to change this and make everyone feel safer?'
No, it was followed by a whole load of people who have obviously mistaken the rape apology bingo card for the EuroMillions on a ten week rollover and can't wait to get every square in record time by spewing bullshit and looking butt-hurt that not all single women react to them to the street like a Babycham fuelled housewife at a Tom Jones concert. But then why would they take an (albeit) brilliant blogpost so seriously when the big boys in the police and judiciary don't have to play by the same rules? Because if you want to see victim blaming taken up a notch, this is where the gloves come off and you have to glue your eyes into the sockets to prevent an injury from rolling them.
The police suggested to me with utter seriousness that the roughly 100 injuries (that took almost 2 hours to photograph in detail) on my body could have been caused by either my friend and I giving each other hickeys in the pub for fun, arm wrestling, tripping over my flip flop and long skirt more than once in the evening and landing on the backs of my hands and the tops of my feet each time or (and this is my favourite) crouching down to pee in the park and catching myself on a twig or a combination of all the above. Not being drugged, forcibly held down and raped by at least one person. No, for one night only I became an arm wrestling, body contortionist with a hitherto unknown before or since penchant for pissing in parks with 8 foot high railings and didn't remember one nanosecond of it. I was too busy crying inside to hear how they explained away my bag ending up in the street in a mile away minus only a spare pair of knickers, a library book on Ted Bundy and my debit card while my mobile phone was sold by a bloke to a man in a shebeen in Tottenham Court Road and used to call India for next few hours. No doubt, they thought I was trying to renact a entire gap year without leaving W1.
Unsurprisingly this culture of sticking their fingers in their ears and going la-la-la got in the way of them investigating my rape (or the other four ultimately believed to be connected to the same bar) and no one was ever identified, let alone questioned. Weirdly despite trotting out every excuse and myth possible they did actually seem to believe a rape had taken place and said so when I claimed compensation several years later (even if it was grudgingly and with a sting in the tail). Recent missives from the frontline of the Sapphire units don't sadly seem to show any great enlightenment amongst the Met and the sound of clutching at straws still whistles on the wind as women seek justice.
This is why the Dominique Strauss Kahn case is important. It allowed rape myths to be seen as gospel and weak excuses to be commonplace like gossip. It also showed the uphill battle to raise rape conviction rates while such attitudes are so rife. The Stern Review touched on this handicap but sorely underestimated its insidious impact on the police and jury members alike which unless tackled counteracts every other proposal to raise rape conviction rates. The DSK case shows the media is a reluctant ally, so looks like we've got to speak up for ourselves. Challenge a preconception where you can. Poke holes in people's ignorant arguments. Educate without preaching*. But speak up all the same!
*Doing this in internet comments is optional for your mental health.