Tuesday, 21 August 2012
Eight years ago today, my whole life changed forever as I was raped for the second time. I can't tell you much about the events as I know little more than I did the next morning. It appears that after dinner and drinks with a close friend, my drink was spiked and I was raped while unaware of what was happening. I don't know where it happened, I don't know who did it or how many people were involved and I have no details. Part of that is down to the fact that my memories of it are completely gone and part is down to the fact that the friend who was with me lied about the whole thing through her teeth and the rest is down to the fact that the police failed in every possible way to investigate it when I reported, preferring instead of go off-road rallying* and generally rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic.
One of the things that changed the most for me when I was attacked the second time was my overnight immersion into the world of rape culture. Even a rape eight months previously hadn't given me such a baptism of fire because that was the kind of rape that people could pooh-pooh and ignore because I was pissed and when I'm pissed people find me flirty. Plus I was alone in a room with him and I sort of knew him and I wasn't a virgin and I'd drunk alcohol before, so it was fine. I was totally asking for it and it was all bullshit anyway. As taster courses of rape culture go, it was up there but I was too busy sobbing all the time and being homeless to see the societal message. And of course, I thought the same as them. It never occurred to me to blame him for being a rapist, only myself for being there. Self blame is very common after sexual violence and when everyone around you seems to share the point of view, you don't think to query it.
But my second rape was different. By society's standards it was a 'proper' rape, real 'rape-rape'. It featured strange men, alleyways and violence. My garments were rended. Other men rushed to my honour at one point. Apart from the distinct lack of smelling salts in Soho, it was textbook and I was (after my initial failure) now the right kind of victim. I took myself to the police and asked for help at the blackest, bleakest time in my life and instead of cradling me protectively against the Big Bad Wolf, they dropped me from the top of the beanstalk. My prior lack of virtue tainted even this 'right rape' and I was of no interest to them. They made this clear to me by focusing hard on other cases of more deserving victims and winning awards for them at the same time they said they couldn't do their job on my case. More than my rapist, they made me feel like damaged goods as I had to literally beg for help, but the more I did the more they realised I wouldn't be as pliant for them as I had for my attacker and they didn't like the challenge.
It shocked me to my core. Until then I had no real idea that women faced these kind of challenges and prejudices when they tried to report a very serious crime. I'd heard a few mutterings, but had naively assumed those women were the minority. The one woman I knew who'd been raped up til that point had had a fantastic experience with the police despite not getting a conviction and her officers remained in touch for years afterwards offering support. In my bubble where I knew bugger all, I thought that was the norm. It was quite the eye opener to discover otherwise. Frustrated by this lack of support, I felt compelled to speak out about being raped as if the more people I spoke to, the more I would realise the naysayers were the minority.
Sadly it took years to find people who were unconditionally supportive and in the meantime I filled my rape bingo card twice over. I heard the myths repeated, my character assassinated and found wanting in a myriad of ways and yet each comment and cutting remark educated me as to what other women were hearing and had been fighting against for years. I got a good education in the culture we have that pays lip service to the idea that rape is a 'very bad thing' but fails to do much about stopping it or punishing it. It's one of the things that's kept me determined to to do something (anything) and one of the most difficult things I've been through, helping as it did, compund the original traumas. It was liked I'd skipped rape culture 101 and gone straight to PhD level.
Unfortunately this week is the perfect introduction to rape culture. We have Julian Assange preening on a balcony and twisting himself in knots as to why he's above going back to Sweden to answer allegations of sexual assault and rape. Tonight one of his supporters named one of the accusers live on Newsnight and then justified it by saying his wife is a rape victim so shrug, he can do whatever he wants. Ignoring the fact that quite a lot of men have wives who are rape victims because they are ones who raped them, this is simply outing two women for the price of one and is a dangerous precedent since many men will know a close relative who has been raped and may think it gives them carte blanche to do whatever they like instead of think about the person involved (see also my old friend Naomi Wolf who reared her head again.)
We also had George Galloway insinuate that Assange was only guilty of 'bad sexual etiquette' and one didn't have ask permission 'prior to each insertion', leading me to think that Galloway is the kind of man who thinks as long you ask if you'd like them to be the cat, they can get away with anything. He's reduced rape to something as minor as keeping your socks on or hogging the duvet. But at least he didn't try and bend scientific fact like Todd Akin who insisted that in 'legitimate rape' a woman's body can do something nifty to prevent a pregnancy. He didn't elaborate if he thought the human cervix was really like a heavy pair of curtains on a stormy night or if rapist's sperm is different and can be turned back at the door like it's got fake ID, but frankly, I don't know how he'd have sounded more stupid. Thank god Obama had something vaguely sensible to say in return and so did the amazing Shauna Prewitt who did get pregnant after a rape.
This rape apologism was all just in the past 24 hours, but we've also had Tony Benn waffling on about non consensual relationships being different to rape, Ken Clarke rating rapes on a handy chart of seriousness, Ched Evans' victim being repeatedly named on Twitter under the justiceforched hashtag and women who opposed this being banned while Ched's crew stay in the game no matter how many rape threats they issue. The Reddit rape thread was ignored as a learning tool and still written off as lies even though it was men doing the describing for once. The big punchline at Edinburgh is rape and violence against women. No wonder rape reporting is down in this climate of intense justification, disbelief and lack of anonymity. We're going backwards.
Part of me wishes I'd had a bit of a background warning of what rape culture would have in store for me when I was reporting, but part of me knows deep down that I was only able to do it because I had no expectations to scare me. It was so hard to do when I thought everyone would believe me. I couldn't have done it if I really thought the authorities would doubt me. I'd have stayed quiet and although ultimately it wouldn't have made any difference to my rapist, it would have eaten away at me. Words are my defence and solace and to be silenced as well would have broken me in a way that everything else hasn't. I worry that the Assange fan boys and ill informed politicians and those who name victims after a conviction are shouting victims down and silencing them where their attackers couldn't. This is the consequence of a culture that only takes rape seriously if it and its victim tick all the boxes. It's imperative that we speak up and that we don't just leave it to the victims to do it. This is the one time when saying 'my best friend is a rape victim' does count if you're offering to be an ally...
*This is not a weird policing euphemism. My investigating officer took six weeks off to go rallying in Australia, leaving my case at the back of a drawer mid investigation. At least when he was on another continent, he wasn't faking the paperwork...