Stop talking about rape and start listening
In the past few days I have been watching the explosion on Twitter and Facebook and comment sites about Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s trial and the comments of Kenneth Clarke.
The vast majority of those commenting have been men, some of whom were declaring their disgust and being allies, which I welcome, but some have been men questioning women’s experiences, questioning the seriousness of rape, questioning if what Clarke said was actually ‘that bad’.
For clarity, yes it fucking was. By talking about ‘proper’, ‘serious’, ‘classic rape’, which is apparently men jumping out of bushes, he trivialised non-stranger rape, including rape in relationships, incest, and rape from friends – the vast majority of rapes (91%). He also trivialised the importance of age of consent laws and apparently didn’t even know that they have been changed – having sex with someone between the ages of thirteen and sixteen does not necessarily constitute statutory rape anymore.
Perhaps Clarke is ignorant, but as in the courts, ignorance is no defence. He obliged in a debate about rape, he engaged in it, and showed real arrogance, thinking that because he has met rape victims he somehow understands. Do some reading and now some listening, Mr Clarke.
I am a rape victim, Ken Clarke, and what you said upset me to the point where I was standing outside my university library at 1.30am, shaking, screaming, wailing and crying, because I was so perturbed by your comments and some people’s reactions to them. But then perhaps I am just an emotional woman.
He could never understand the daily experience that a lot of women and people of other genders suffer. Here I am only going to cover what it feels like to be a woman because as a cisgendered woman that is the only experience I have and I will let trans, intersexed, neutrois, androgyne etc people speak for themselves.
Since I was about eleven years old, some boys and men have treated my body as if it is not my own. They have slapped me, grabbed parts of me without invitation or flirtation, catcalled me, made me move so they could get a better view of my body parts, commented on what I’m wearing and my weight and looks. Men who have fancied me have sometimes made me feel guilty for not wanting to kiss or sleep with them, they have made me feel guilty for not dealing with their sexual frustration, they have made me feel like a ‘bitch’ for not fancying them back.
A lot of my previous boyfriends have either made me, or made me feel guilty if I didn’t (which almost amounts to the same thing), have sex with them or give them blowjobs. The persuasion that they engaged in made me feel sick and dirty, used and violated.
I have been what I see as sexually assaulted several times, within the legal definition of sexual assault occurring at least a few times. A man forced me to give him oral sex when I was eighteen. That was the worst. But I have also had men intruding upon my vagina, trying to stimulate me so I would have sex with them when I didn’t want to, and have forced me to give them handjobs.
And I have been raped. By someone I was in a relationship with. It is only recently I realised it was rape, but I didn’t want to have sex, I said I didn’t want to, but then he continued to kiss me and stimulate me and ultimately penetrate me. It has made it hard for me to trust people, it means that my memories are often triggered by debate like that we have seen in the last few days, and it will be with me for the rest of my life.
But adding to the initial trauma is the reaction to rape within society. It tends to be either paternalistic – ‘oh poor you, what a bastard, he should be locked up for life/killed/castrated’… Or blaze – ‘ah it isn’t that bad, you probably wanted it really; women who are drunk/ scantily clad/ slutty bring it on themselves. Both of these are awful and I don’t actually have that much of a problem with Clarke’s proposals. It was his language and comments that were deeply offensive and upsetting. The Daily Mail somehow manages to both maximise and minimise rape with a combination of sensationalist articles and slut-blaming comment pieces, thanks to the likes of Melanie Philips, Liz Jones, Richard Littlejohn, et al. To be clear, I don’t think the man who raped me was evil, he is a man who did something wrong. I don’t want him to be killed, castrated or locked up for life, I just wish I could have made him understand how I feel. For other women this is different and I respect their wishes with regard to legal proceedings – it is a disgrace that only 6% or reported rapes in England and Wales and 4% in Scotland end in conviction. And think about how many people, like me, don’t report it. We are in a rape epidemic. The statistics say 10% of women are or have been raped but I believe it is probably more.
But even those who have never forced themselves upon women like me or sexually assaulted or harassed anyone, they still need to watch themselves.
Every time a man catcalls me, comments on my breasts in a perverted way (clue: I often don’t mind when gay men say I have nice breasts, I mind a lot more when it’s straight men), it brings back the countless horrible memories and experiences I have had. Every time someone makes a joke about rape, whether it’s something as benign as ‘fraping’ or something like making that joke about rape not being rape when you shout ‘surprise!’, I feel physically fucking sick. Every time someone talks about rape casually, as if it is an open topic for everyone to discuss, I feel like punching someone’s lights out. Every time a man ignores me, doesn’t listen to my opinions, belittles me or berates my agency, I feel like an object, I feel undermined, I feel violated.
My experiences are my own, I don’t want people to feel sorry for me, I want you all to be fucking enraged that this is the daily experience of a 22-year-old woman, I want you to be fucking enraged that I have been suffering this kind of shit since I was eleven years old, I want you all to go out and do something about it.
I am somebody you know and possibly love, I am a real person with opinions on a wide range of subjects, not just a passive person you can ignore because you don’t know them. I do not meet the typical ‘victim’ stereotype, I am openly feminist (and have been since I was 11), angry and loud, and yet I suffer this.
Please believe me, respect my experiences, and campaign with me.
I want this to be spread as widely as possible. Please re-post, re-publish, anything. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
P.S. Thank you to the incredible sister-in-solidarity who picked up the pieces last night. You know who you are. I love you.
This post first appeared on Kate’s blog – ‘be young and shut up’