Seven years ago today a man raped me. Violently, and horribly, and he was someone who used to tell me he loved me. I woke up this morning feeling ill and depressed and with a weird sense of impending doom, wondering what was wrong with me, until I remembered the date. And then it hit me, because trauma never really leaves you. Something else hit me too.
I don’t hate my rapist anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t entirely view him with forgiveness and compassion either; I’m not a saint. But I no longer feel either terrified or furious when I think about it. I just feel sad.
Do you know what does terrify me? What does make me furious?
The way we talk about rape.
It would have been more usual for me to start this post with ‘seven years ago…I was raped’. Putting the onus on me, the raped. On the rape itself. But rape is not a natural disaster, a misfortune, a case of bad luck. Rape is a crime. Someone commits it. Someone – overwhelmingly a man – does the raping.
And more likely than not, he gets away with it. Sometimes after a long legal battle during which the survivor will be questioned as to her (sometimes his, but I’m largely talking about male on female sexual violence here) morals, her background, her sexuality and whether she fought back hard enough. Thus traumatising her even more. ‘Why did you wear that dress?’ ‘Why did you go in his house drunk and alone?’ ‘Why didn’t you scream?’
No-one seems to be asking the man ‘Why did you rape?’ ‘Why didn’t you do the decent thing and NOT take advantage of a drunk girl?’ ‘What the hell does her dress have to do with it?’ If he offers a reason, it will undoubtedly be her fault. Rarely will a rapist honestly say; ‘Because I thought I could get away with it’ ‘Because I get off on abusing people’ or the most worrying one of all ‘Because male culture tells me its okay’.
America just elected a President that brags about sexually assaulting women. Its okay because its ‘locker room talk’. No; its rape culture. Rape carries one of the most lenient sentences of any major crime in the UK. Why? Because its not considered a major crime in the UK. Not really.
We do something similar with domestic violence. We talk about ‘battered women’ rather than ‘men who batter’. See the difference? We take the perpetrator out of the equation.
We won’t stop, or start to understand, rape until we stop talking about rape as an entity all on its own and start talking about rapists and a culture that encourages them and then fails to hold them accountable. And instead of targeting young women with self defence classes and rape alarms and safety concerns, we need to start talking to young men about rape culture and machoism and how their sisters, mothers and girlfriends have a one in four chance of having someone who looks just like them assault them.
So I didn’t start with ‘I was raped’. Because it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t ask for it. I can’t even remember what I was wearing but I do know it would have made no difference whatsoever; he turned up that day with the express intention to rape me. Also because having been raped doesn’t define me.
No, I started with ‘he raped me’. Because it was his crime. And as long as rapists are born and made in a society that does nothing to truly deter them and in fact implicitly encourages them, they will rape again.