Opinion: Outing Rape

WARNING: this articles features explicit discussion of rape and sexual assault

Feature by Miriam Prosser | 17 May 2013
  • Rape of the Sabines

I am scared as I write this, because I know that by telling the stories below, I’m breaking the rules. We are not supposed to talk about rape.

When I get to know a woman to the point where we're telling each other intimate things, I'm actually surprised if she hasn't survived rape, or some form of sexual or psychological abuse. Recent statistics suggest that in Scotland at least three women are being raped per day – a culture of sexual violence surrounds us; we’re all a part of it. From 2011 to 2012 Rape Crisis in Scotland fielded 2566 calls from people who were affected by sexual assault and abuse. The vast majority of calls were from women (91%), men (2.86%) and transgendered people (0.14%) who had been victims of, or suspected they had been victims of, sexual assault and were calling on their own behalf. The rest of the calls were from family members, partners and friends of victims of sexual assault calling for advice. These figures represent only a fraction of the real number of people who are experiencing sexual violence. The difficulties associated with getting accurate data on this subject – shame, denial, under-reporting – make it hard to know the full extent of the sexual crime occurring in Scotland.

This is all true. I'm just writing stuff that people have told me. We, the wealthy and powerful people of Scotland in 2012, live in a country where it is possible for an average 28 year old person to think for a few minutes and then make a list like the one below.

Sarah*, 17, raped in an alley behind a bar.
Suzie, 21, raped in her home by her ex-boyfriend.
Jenna, 18, raped by her father, starting when she was 7.
Jemima, raped at knife point on campus in her final year of uni, and again on a blind date, by a man who was later arrested for causing grievous bodily harm to a local sex worker.
Alice, escaped attempted rape in her first year living in halls (she locked herself in the bathroom until the students who threatened her left).

Hannah was nearly raped by her ex-boyfriend; she hit him and ran away. Laura, ‘date’ raped after her drink was spiked. Sasha, raped by a friend while she was high on acid. Danielle, ‘date’ raped by her uncle. Rebecca, penetrated without a condom against her wishes. Cathie, 14, sexually abused by her 25 year old ‘boyfriend.’ Stephanie, raped by a friend of her parents when she was eight. Julie, sexually abused by her dad until she went to boarding school (he got her pregnant. She miscarried). Rachel never said “no” to sex with her boyfriend because she was terrified of him; he had repeatedly told her if she left him he could have her killed. Bethany submitted to sex with her boyfriend because she knew he would punish her if she didn't, but cried the whole way through. Tori was abducted and raped repeatedly over three days when she went on a blind date.

I’ve been building this list in my head since I was 17. There’s more: Daniel, sexually abused by his mother before he was five. Sid, raped at boarding school. Ali, raped at boarding school. Kurt, gang raped by a group of jocks at uni; Allen, raped by his teenage babysitter when he was eight.

My story is on this page, but I don’t have the courage to put my name to it. Like many survivors of sexual abuse and violence I don’t talk because I’m scared that you will say I deserved it, that it was my fault, that you won’t believe me. I am scared that everything I want to say will be dismissed or ignored because I'm not able to be ‘objective’ or because what happened to me is not the standard idea of rape and therefore somehow doesn't count. I’m scared you will say, as my mum did, “something like this happens to everyone,” or as my friend did “you really need to get over this and move on.” Nobody said that when my laptop was nicked... they encouraged me to go to court. And I did, even though I knew I probably wouldn't win and I didn't. You know what else? Everyone was lovely to me about it. No one subtly suggested it might have been my fault I was burgled.

Denial is built into our society; the way that victims are shamed, the way the media often reports sexual violence in terms of the devastating impact a conviction has on the rapist, the bizarre hype about false rape allegations (statistically no more frequent than other false crime allegations) and our legal system, so flawed in its approach to sexual crime that only 10.1% of reported rapes lead to prosecution, reinforcing the message that the suffering of the victim is not important. (For a more detailed explanation of these statistics visit the Rape Crisis Scotland blog and search for ‘conviction rates’) Our current system protects rapists, while victims stay silent to avoid further humiliation.

Because we don't talk about it, we allow the fantasy to continue that it doesn't happen. There are lots of men who would take rape more seriously if they knew it had happened to their friend, sister or girlfriend, or if they knew they were mates with the rapist. ‘Men’ are not the enemy here. Not only are men often the victims of rape, just like women, but also there are many wonderful men who agitate for change and many more who would if they understood how fucked up this society really is.

But think about this: shame isn't silencing the rapists. Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists, a survey published in 2002 by David Lesak and Paul M. Miller, shows 120 out of 1882 US college students asked admitted to an attempted rape if the question was structured without the word ‘rape.’

The world gives rapists a voice while we keep quiet to avoid rocking the boat. I WILL NOT live in a world where rapists get to speak and I keep quiet to avoid making people uncomfortable. You know what made me uncomfortable? Being abused. The subsequent years of therapy. The fact that over a decade later I still have flashbacks during sex that immobilise me with terror and rage.

Let's drag this thing into the light and show everyone how ugly it is. Whatever your gender, age or story, if you're sick of the silence shame has imposed on you, please find a way to break it even if only with someone you trust. If you want to shout the way that I do, please join me at http://www.outrape.tumblr.com/ and say what really happened. Let's not apologise. No one has to agree, but they will have to acknowledge. Let's shatter this awkward silence.

 

*names have been changed.