Some of you may have read my article on The Epinal where I spoke about rape culture. I wrote the article after I shared a link on Facebook to a blog called Project Unbreakable which has pictures of rape victims holding up signs with what their attackers said to them written on it.
I shared Project Unbreakable because as harrowing as it is, it is one of the most powerful things I’ve seen in a while. I shared it because we live in a society where rape culture seems to becoming more and more ingrained in our society, and I think allowing victims of sexual assault and rape to have a voice is much more effective than banning a song by a man, who I genuinely don’t think even considered that his song could be read in a predatory or rapey way. What I was not expecting was a message from a girl I used to go to school with, thanking me for sharing the link and went on to tell me that she was raped last year.
We spoke a bit more and she agreed to answer some questions for me for an article on rape culture. I emailed her some questions which she answered and I used some of them in my Epinal article. Unfortunately, I had to heavily condense her answers due to word count limits, so I decided to post it all on my blog (with her permission) for people to read.
I found reading the answers and the process of writing the article very difficult and upsetting. However, I’m incredibly honoured that she chose to message me and share her story with me, and allowed me to share it with other people. People talk of rape culture, but the thing is the world has a rape culture, and in many countries victims are actively discouraged from prosecuting their attacker because it will bring shame upon their families. I’m not naive enough to believe that rapists will cease to exist, but I live in hope that incidents like the one in India, and Nigeria which are reduced to the absolute minimum.
If this post, on a relatively obscure blog in the grand scheme of things, makes even the slightest difference to one person’s life or changes just one person’s attitude then that will be enough for me.
1) Could you just give a brief outline of the attack, in terms of when it was and if you ever reported it.
It happened last year around the end of October, on a very busy Saturday night a couple of weeks before Halloween. I went with a group of friends on a night out in the Student Union. This wasn’t my usual group of friends, I only really knew one of them very well, the rest were his housemates.
Everything was going fine until I got separated from my friend (as any student knows, this is easily done when it’s a busy night). I’d come back from the toilets and I couldn’t find them again. Needless to say, after some searching, I just couldn’t see them in the crowd and as I turned to go home, I recognised someone from my course at the bar. I’d spoken to him a few times, and he seemed okay, and sure enough he offered to buy me a drink. Thinking one more wouldn’t hurt (I’d not had loads to drink anyway, getting served at the bar had been practically impossible. Like something off of Total Wipeout), I accepted.
I don’t remember loads immediately after that. I do remember having the drink and feeling suddenly very drunk and dizzy. I said something like “I need to go home,”, or something to that effect, and he offered to put me in a taxi, which again I accepted. I don’t remember anything about the taxi journey, or being outside, or even leaving the venue.
The next thing I remember is being inside a flat that definitely wasn’t mine. He was with me, and I felt really confused at that point. I think I asked him where I was, and why he was there, and he started coming onto me. I was standing in the kitchen, with my back against the counter and he was directly in front of me, meaning I couldn’t get away.
At first, I told him no, and tried to push him away, but he simply became more forceful. I became more adamant, and asked him to stop, when he suddenly grabbed the back of my hair and yanked my head backwards so that I was staring him in the face. Whatever he’d given me made me feel really sickly, and my vision was literally swimming.
He’d grabbed a kitchen knife from the block on the counter and had it pressed up to my neck. By this point, I panicked and started screaming, to which he replied: “shut the fuck up, or else I’ll slit your fucking throat,”. I begged him not to, and told him I’d be quiet. After that, I must have just shut down, because I was completely unable to fight back. I felt like a rag doll, and even though I let him rape me, the pain was unbelievable. It felt like he was ripping me apart from the inside out, to the point where I just cried and cried, but daren’t make a sound in case he followed through with the promise.
After what felt like hours and hours, he finally finished and simply rolled off of me and disappeared, I imagine to the bathroom. To this day, I have no idea where the sudden burst of energy came from, but I just knew that this was my chance to get out. I dragged on whatever clothes of mine I could find (I lost my favourite belt, and my tights were in tatters from where he had ripped them off) and just ran. My legs felt like jelly (that’s a cliche, I know), and I think at some point, I threw up into a bush, but I eventually found a taxi parked up and jumped in. They must have just dropped someone off home, and the driver seemed a bit startled that this wild girl with no tights and make up all over the place suddenly pounced into his cab from nowhere, but he didn’t ask questions and my mind was on autopilot as I gave him my address.
As for reporting it, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I never did. Unfortunately, as a law student, I know only too well the dismal outcomes of the vast majority of rape cases. I’m only all-too-familiar with the culture of victim-blaming and the horrific techniques defence lawyers use to try and disprove victims and witnesses of rape.
Not only that, the minute I got in, still drunk/drugged up to my eyeballs, I fell pretty much straight into the shower. I felt dirty, and I could smell his sweat on my skin and on my clothes, which made me heave. Over the next few days, I became obsessed with washing my hair, my clothes, scrubbing my skin until it was red raw. I even put make up on the bruises on my body, so that I didn’t have to look at them when I saw myself in the mirror (the very few times that I could bring myself to look).
So unfortunately, any crucial DNA evidence that was clinging to me that night was gone. That is definitely something I regret the most. It’s something that I beat myself up every day about; but with the support of the few people I’ve told, plus professional counselling, I’ve come to accept that my mind was on autopilot, that I wasn’t thinking straight at all, and I was simply acting on instinct to get any traces of him off of me.
2.) What did your attacker say to you after?
Immediately after, he didn’t say a word. Not that I can remember anyway. He may well have done, but I simply can’t recall it. I saw him a few weeks after it happened, and he had the guts to talk to me, which terrified the living daylights out of me. He acted very casual about the whole affair, and even thanked me for “not making a big deal out of it” or telling anyone. I didn’t say anything back to him, just nodded. I couldn’t even look him in the eye. It felt like this was all my fault. Like I deserved it. I tormented myself for months and months afterwards, blaming myself, thinking I’d done something to make him do it. Perhaps it was the way I’d dressed, something I’d said, because I’d accepted the drink.
3.) Have you told anybody about what happened? Friends or family?
I’ve told a few close friends. Unfortunately, this whole thing has left with me with some serious trust issues. My housemates eventually found out, which actually made it more comfortable for me being in my accommodation. Knowing that they knew, and that they were supportive was a huge help, and took the weight off of my shoulders.
It took a long time for me to tell anyone. I know now that was because I was going through one of the stages of “Rape Trauma Syndrome” (Wikipedia makes an interesting read on that). I pretended for a long time that nothing had happened, and seemingly carried on as normal. That only works for a while before the proverbial “shit-hits-the-fan” stage, let me tell you!
None of my family members know. It’s been easier to keep it from them simply because I’m not living at home whilst being at uni. If they noticed a change in me, no one said anything; perhaps they thought my behaviour was part and parcel of the whole “growing up and finding yourself” stigma that comes with going away to university.
4) How do rape jokes make you feel?
It’s really quite difficult to explain this, really. Obviously, any joke about rape or sexual assault just isn’t funny to me. I never found the subject of rape in particular funny at all, but before, I just used to almost accept that it was a fact of life, if that makes sense? I mean, it just didn’t affect me, or provoke a reaction, really. After that night, that changed completely. Now, the mere mention of the word gets my hackles up, and rape jokes in particular make me feel sick.
I can’t understand how anyone can find something like that funny. Would they find the endless nightmares, the pain, the feelings of guilt, disgust and embarrassment, not to mention downright shame funny? It also amazes me how jokes like that are weaved into the media, and accepted wholeheartedly by society.
To put it into perspective, I was watching the film “Horrible Bosses” last month. I’d seen it before I’d been raped, and I’d found it hilarious, but this was the first time I’d watched it again after the incident. The film itself, for those who haven’t seen it, is about a group of friends who all have outrageous bosses (no way?!). One particular character, Dale, is a dentist’s assistant, whose boss, Julia, is described as a “complete nymphomaniac”, and constantly tries to have sex with him whilst they’re both at work, despite the character repeatedly refusing.
In one scene, Julia admits to drugging Dale and having sex with him whilst he was unconscious and took photos of the incident in an attempt to blackmail him. When he finds out about this, he screams “Rape. Rape. That’s a rape! This is what raping is! You…you’re a raper! You raped me! That’s a rape! Rape!” to which Julia cooly replies “Just relax there, Jodie Foster, your dick wasn’t even hard,”
The first time I watched that, I obviously would have laughed. I mean, it’s not rape if you don’t realise what’s happening, right? Just like it’s not rape if you say yes at first, then ask them to stop. It’s not rape if you’re wearing a belt instead of a skirt. It’s not rape if you’re drunk, and all the other stigmas that get attached to it.
Now, rape jokes make me stop dead in my tracks. They make me unbelievably angry that someone can make something so serious, so incredibly terrifying sound so lighthearted and jovial.
The joke that really gets my teeth grinding is: “it’s not rape if you enjoy it,”. My attacker told me I was “fucking enjoying this, aren’t you?” as he raped me. Every time I hear that “joke”, and I have heard it in passing a few times, all I can think about is him saying that to me.
5) What advice would you give to anybody who has been what you have been through?
My first piece of advice would be to not do what I did and remain silent about it. That sounds extremely hypocritical of me, and it is. You might never go to the police about it, I won’t lie, the chances of rapists being caught and consequently convicted is devastatingly slim. The way our legal system works at the moment in terms of handling rape cases is quite simply disgusting. You wouldn’t ask a victim of burglary to prove they had been burgled, tormenting them with claims that they made it up, or it didn’t happen in exactly the way they described. You certainly wouldn’t accuse them of consenting to it. So why do all these things happen to a rape victim?
Anyway, I digress. Even if you decide not to push forward for prosecution, tell someone. I can’t stress how important this is. Tell someone who you know you can trust, be it a family member, a friend, or even a lecturer or teacher. Their support makes it easier to help yourself come to terms with what has happened. I’m not saying these people can wave a magic wand and it will all be okay.
Getting over a rape takes time, patience, and a lot of trial and error in regards to what works for you. I had to be coaxed HEAVILY into getting professional counselling, something which most, if not all, universities provide free of charge. I was dead sceptical about it at first, I saw it as simply having to relive that night over and over again. I didn’t see how it would ever help me, but I eventually went. It was tough at first, but she helped me realise that things weren’t my fault, that I was a strong person, and I could work through this.
That would be my next piece of advice to someone that has gone through a rape or an assault. It is never your fault. You never ask to be raped. You never ask to be sexually assaulted. No matter how you dress, how you act, how drunk you are, whether you were up for it and changed your mind. If they carry on, it is still wrong. Just like you can’t consent to having the living shit beaten out of you, or your stuff taken in a burglary, you can’t consent to having sex against your will, no matter what anyone says to you.
A third piece of advice would be that if you seek help, make sure that it’s the right kind of help. For the few months after I was raped, I took to drinking a ridiculous amount of alcohol in order to cope, in order to forget. Let me tell you now, that is absolutely the worst idea. The alcohol, the drugs (thankfully, I never resorted to these), they might make you forget for a short time, but you can only suppress those feelings for so long.
The longer you suppress them, the bigger the explosion. Do not think that you can run away from them. It might take a little while for you to find the courage to tell someone, you might have to take time to get things straight in your head at first. You might be upset, angry, confused, scared. You might be the at the opposite end of the spectrum and feel nothing at all. You might feel ashamed, like it was your fault, like you’re dirty, like you want to change everything about yourself. These are normal feelings, I have felt every single one of them at some point. You’re not alone.
What do you think is the best way to tackle rape culture?
Tackling rape culture is never going to be an easy thing to do. In my honest opinion, I just don’t think the subject of rape and sexual assault is taken seriously enough, neither by the criminal justice system nor the media, both of which tend to manipulate a lot of what is and isn’t acceptable within society. If rape is portrayed in a lighthearted, sometimes humorous manner, then how can you expect the general public to take it seriously?
A very recent example is the controversy surrounding Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines”. It has been argued that the lyrics trivialise sexual assault, and I must admit I have to agree. The scary thing about this is that I didn’t even pick up on it until someone pointed it out. It was only when I truly listened to and took the lyrics in that I realised how terrible the lyrics are.
Let’s face it, how many songs do you mindlessly sing along to but barely take in the meaning? Loads, probably. No one knows the words to the Macarena, but you can bet your student loan that most know the tune. So, did Thicke mean to advocate sexual assault by singing lines like “I know you want it,” and “Just let me liberate you”? Probably not. Did he imply, albeit inadvertently, that choosing whether or not someone else “wants it” is okay? Absolutely. I’m not saying that we need to panic and start screening what can be and what can’t be allowed in the charts/cinemas/on the TV. There is such thing as freedom of the press, and I’m all for that. We aren’t a facist nation, after all. However, I do believe that people with such a high influence should be more careful as to what they’re implying is acceptable.
Similarly, aside from the media, the courts need to start taking rape and sexual assault cases much more seriously. At the moment, the criminal justice system as a whole has a huge problem with the concept of victim-blaming. Rape trials are notorious for being emotionally demanding on the victim, with many defence lawyers attempting to make the victim take partial, even full responsibility for the assault.
In a recent court case involving a 41-year-old man admitting to engaging in sexual activity with a 13-year-old girl, the defendant was sentenced to a mere 8 month suspended sentence, with the judge and prosecution describing the girl as sexually “predatory”. Yes, you read that right. Now, I’m fully aware that young women and girls are constantly pushing the boundaries with exploring the concept of sex, but a 41 year old man can and should be able to control himself around a child.
To describe a child as a sexual predator is no less short of downright stupid. If this is the standard set by those who supposed to be prosecuting these monsters, then how can we expect the general public to act or think any differently? Moreover, how can victims of rape such as myself be expected to report these assaults and subsequently risk being ridiculed, branded a liar and tormented in the very place they are supposed to be getting justice?
Nevertheless, I’m not saying that we should defer responsibility away from the very monsters that carry out these vile acts. The only people that make these people commit rape and sexual assault are themselves. There are never excuses. No means no, and if a woman or a man doesn’t have the capability to refuse sex, then it should be assumed in the negative.