Thursday, May 5, 2011

Victims' Voices

The voices of rape victims are silenced. Mostly by the social stigma of "shame" - which comes from society's prevailing attitude of blaming the victims for their own attacks. So women who have been raped may tell one or two close friends, perhaps a member of their family, or a trusted partner. They may tell the police. Or they may tell no one at all.

Because rape is so often regarded as a "dirty" secret and kept behind this convenient veil of shame, it is all too easy for people who have never been raped or sexually assaulted to assume it is not a widespread problem. And many of the many, many women who have been the victims of sexual violence think they are one of the very few. They are not. The recently published Stern Review (which can be found on the UK Government's Equalities website) is testament to that.

Now a new blog exists where people can anonymously post the stories of their rapes and experiences of sexual violence and coercion.

The accounts are heartbreaking because so many of them are so very ordinary. A party. A night out with a friend. A boyfriend. The simple, social things that so many women enjoy every day.

Another feature the accounts have in common is the effect of these assaults on the women who describe them. Life shattering.

Here are a few short extracts:

"None of my family have any idea of any of it and that’s the way I want it to stay. I’m telling my story here because I want people to read the story and know that rape victims never ask for it or deserve it. I didn’t ask for him to spike my drink. I didn’t ask him to violate me in my sleep. I didn’t ask to become pregnant only to lose the baby later. No one ever does."

"I couldn’t understand why (the police) didn’t believe me, I couldn’t understand why they didn’t help me, I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t let me go home. I was still drunk and I could feel the throbbing pain from the choking and the rape.
I couldn’t go home. I spent the next 4 days in jail, waiting to see a judge about bail. I had to have a public defender because what they’d charged me with meant prison time - and it took time to find an attorney who would represent me.
The day I was released, I attempted to commit suicide."

"I’d been successful, and happy, and remarkable. Now I had nothing. I hated him but I blamed myself. I thought I’d “asked” for it, I thought I’d not made it clear - I let him link my arm, I let him get into my flat, I could have fought harder, I could have said something, I could have called him and told him he was a rapist scumbag, I could have gone to the Police. Everything I did was wrong. I blamed myself for everything."

"We had been together for about two months. We were in bed kissing, and he decided to have sex with me. He was on top of me, and I kept telling him to stop. He didn’t. He forced himself into me, and I felt myself starting to bleed. I pushed him off of me and ran out of the room, crying. I cleaned up in the bathroom, then went outside to have a cigarette. He followed me. Still crying, I said to him, “Are you happy now, you fucking asshole?” He looked at me tenderly, enveloped me in a hug, and said, “I love you, baby.”"

"I remember lying there with his hands all over me. He kept touching me, he wouldn’t stop touching me. I just closed my eyes shut and tried to fade out. I can’t be here right now. He kept apologizing. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
He had to have known what he was doing to me. He had to have known that he was ruining me. With each touch he was breaking me apart. Each breath on me tore apart my old identity."

More common features of the accounts quoted above: in each case the victim knew her assailant. And none of the perpetrators was brought to justice for his crime.

The entirely understandable reluctance of rape victims to tell people about their ordeal means it is chillingly easy for our society to sweep the extent of the abuse under the cultural carpet.

In fact, despite the authorities publicly urging rape victims to seek justice, the social pressure not to be branded as a woman who was - that vile phrase - "asking for it" is often far stronger. Society plays straight into the rapists' hands, so much so, that society could be said to be conniving with the rapists, allowing them to continue raping with impunity.

Because time and time again, that is what is happening. And time and time again, the victims' voices are unheard or ignored or disbelieved.

Society is made up of people. It is you and me. Every time we pass casual judgement on a victim of rape ("What did she expect, dressed like that?"; "She threw herself at him because he was famous"; "She shouldn't have got so drunk"; "She led him on" ) we become an accessory to rape.

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