When I was raped at 15 my clothes were taken as evidence. I wore a gypsy top (off the shoulder) with some black leggings. When the police said that my clothes would be used as evidence I presumed in my naivety, that it would be in case of DNA samples, which of course was part of it. However, I in no way knew until told that they would be used by the defence – against me. This archaic procedure affected me greatly, I internalised the blame and shame that was being thrown at me, believing that the responsibility was mine, that I had invited this. That women and girls are responsible for not getting themselves raped. I didn’t challenge this until much older, when I was able to see this entire situation from an adults perspective.
If I had been naked would it have been OK to be violently raped and forced to perform sexual acts, leaving me bruised and bleeding, needing surgery? The answer is NO!
If it is my fault for “dressing provocatively” then this must mean that women in modest attire or religious clothing such as the hijab or nikab, don’t get raped? Which is NOT true.
All survivors of sexual violence, assault and abuse, whether they are women, men, non binary or trans – were not violated because of their clothes or lack of. Otherwise we could assume that there is a standard “rape outfit”, a pattern in certain clothing items which were worn by victims. But there is NOT!
For example, “What were you wearing?” the exhibit at the Centre Communautaire Maritime in Brussels features replicated clothing items to those worn by victims of sexual assault. The exhibit states that it wishes to: “create a tangible response to one of our most pervasive rape culture myths” because “The belief that clothing or what someone what wearing ’causes’ rape is extremely damaging for survivors.” Please take a look at the link below.
If you have ever thought along these lines, please think again, logically break it down and you will soon see that this is a patriarchal rhetoric which only lends itself to rape culture, WE NEED CONSENT CULTURE!
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As a survivor of child sexual abuse, rape and sexual assault there is never a day that these things are not brought up by the world around me. From rape jokes, depictions in literature and on screen, news stories about sex offenders and those who perpetuate and uphold rape culture. On top of this there are flashbacks, nightmares, and suffering from post traumatic stress disorder to contend with. This is torture, however it is the reality of victims who have survived.
Recently an old campaign was brought back to life after the revelations from the victims of Harvey Weinstein and his continued sexual offences were brought to light. The movement is called Me Too (#MeToo) and was started 10 years ago by Tarana Burke – to unify those who’ve been victimised by sexual assault.
As a survivor who survives by using my trauma to educate people about sexual offences and offenders and who shares to help other survivors feel less alone through my art and writing, it was only natural for me to support the movement and join in. It felt odd as there was a sense of relief that I was not alone and that others were speaking out – however there was also the realisation of just how many #MeToo statuses I was seeing in my news feeds across social media platforms; not being surprised by these revelations as I am very familiar with the truth of how prevalent these crimes are.
Then the usual erasure started. Victim blaming was loud and clear, with those who have never experienced these crimes and trauma chiming in with their privilege – mainly white able “feminists”, such as The Big Bang Theory star Mayim Bialik. Mayim arrogantly used her platform to victim blame and projected her own opinions on those (who are in fact survivors) to suggest modesty protects against sexual offences, that not being “conventionally attractive” could also protect you.
In response many survivors took to twitter to criticise this blatant ill informed and damaging piece.
As well as this many of us (the survivors) were subjected to people criticising those of us who had used the ME TOO hashtag, saying it was attention seeking, a “trend” and even people making comments such as:
“I hate people jumping on the bandwagon, with their #MeToo victim mantra”
or trivialising the movement by suggesting that women only feel harassed when they don’t fancy the man harassing them.
Fashion Designer Donna Karan was quick to blame women for their assaults and harassment by stating:
“How do we present ourselves as women?” Karan was reported as saying at an awards ceremony Sunday evening in response to a question about the accusations against Weinstein. “What are we asking? Are we asking for it? By presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality? What are we throwing out to our children today? About how to dance, how to perform and what to wear? How much should they show?”
“It’s not Harvey Weinstein, you look at everything all over the world today, you know, and how women are dressing and what they’re asking by just presenting themselves the way they do. What are they asking for? Trouble.”
Far-right hate preachers such as Katie Hopkins used survivors (as she often does) in order to further her prejudice campaign against Muslims, as she “believes” that rape and child molestation are crimes perpetrated by Muslims and mainly against white girls.
As well as this (which is her usual rhetoric) she went on further to suggest the women who have come forward, have exchanged sex rather than being subjected to rape, assault and harassment. Clearly stating she herself is NOT a victim of sexual violence – begging the question, why comment? Well it is a simple ugly truth, Katie Hopkins uses suffering to gain financially and has no remorse for who she affects as she is blameless with her arrogant (teenager) style inability to be held accountable, shrugging her actions off, suggesting always that it is the “other” who is wrong or to blame. Many on the far-right of the political spectrum use survivors (especially children) in order to scaremonger and portray the white supremacist ideas that people of colour are feral and are more likely to rape, steal and murder. Katie’s agenda is to ban Islam, stop refugees from seeking asylum in the UK and to flip the reality of white privilege and suggest that “white genocide” is on the cards. This is why she uses the fear of sexual violence and child molestation as pertaining to certain ethnic groups over others in order to divide – but mostly for fame and capital gain.
The movement was also evolving and most of the community were quick to offer support to one another, as well as addressing the issues such as the inclusivity of men, trans and non binary people, remembering that often these are the most unlikely to come forward or have the platform to express their trauma. We addressed the issue that the movement was misquoted as being started by ALYSSA MILANO when in fact it was started by Tarana Burke as stated at the beginning of this piece, which left many rightly angry that the voices of black women and women of colour were being pushed further down and not being given the credit when it was due. Reminding us all further that #BlackLivesMatter is still a very necessary movement. We also made sure to include those who are unable to voice their #MeToo and I reminded people that there are also the children (like I was) who aren’t even aware that they too are victims, unaware that they have been abused, still being abused and who remain voiceless.
Another side emerged due to the movement – where certain survivors were criticising other survivors for taking part. My heart felt heavy reading the statuses and comments projecting their pain and anger toward those of us who have been speaking out and those who (for many it was the first time) shared their story, only to be met with one-upmanship making those who shared retreat into the shame that we are all to accustomed to. When these games are played within the survivor community they can be misunderstood and met with understandable hostility.
To the survivors who were doing this:
No one is denying that what happened to you was terrible. You have been through hell and back and probably find yourself in a purgatory like state often. However you must try not to allow yourself to be goaded in to proving your trauma. You don’t have to justify your story with evidence or ask for others to do so either. We are all hurting and the invalidation that we have endured is infuriating and the feeling of being disbelieved and unheard can send us into a panic, triggering the emotions felt at the time we experienced the trauma. This I believe can be a feeling of such isolation and desperation that jealousy can rear its ugly head, when hearing of others and their stories – especially if it is perceived the other individuals are being heard and validated, isolating you further, making the bait of competition or minimising the other very tempting. This is understandable and I admit that in my twenties feeling jealous of the survivors receiving more support from crisis and health services, those who had families who were comforted, protected and those who were not left disabled from their experience, made me feel jealous and angry. This was misdirected anger on my part, not yet strong enough to realise that I was in fact a victim; my ability to protect my abusers in my mind and see myself as the problem was only dismantled in my early thirties. I finally saw my sexual abuse, rape and sexual assaults from the eyes of an adult, not the child who had no idea what consent was and just wanted to be loved. Allowing myself to finally direct my anger to my predators and the rape culture in which we live in, through my art and writing aiding in my continuous recovery, giving me purpose in order to live each day. This is my process.
The #MeToo movement is a way for us to feel less alone, it is for us (the survivors), it is not for anyone else. People will always chime in as social media allows us all to voice every thought that rattles around in our heads. The victim blaming, erasure and triggering through abuse is a serious risk to those suffering from trauma. Your safety is important! Please do not share if you do not feel strong enough. Even though people assume I am very strong due to the fact I am open about my story. What isn’t often understood or known about me is that it took me 15 years to accept what had happened. The fact that my trauma started in childhood means it has been something I have always known, my abuse started at the age of 4 – a life without abuse is not something that exists for me. There are times when protecting myself and stepping back from my activism, art and writing is all that can be done in order to stay safe. Especially when trolled on social media by people who wish to abuse me further by using my experiences against me and to even threaten me at times.
We know better than most what abuse is and the fact that when we speak out – we are abused further, is the reality of the world we currently live in. The hope is that through education in schools on consent, that addressing patriarchal systems and toxic masculinity, allowing survivors the space to tell their stories safely, that mental health services will do better, that justice systems do not use character assassinations and arbitrary details of the victims life as the key defence, that less stigma is given to those suffering, that the rhetoric of disproportionate “false rape” claims does not over shadow the prevalence of survivors, that we support the marginalised within survivors – people of colour, mentally ill people, people with disabilities, religious minorities, trans people, non-binary people, men and children; if we are able to start with these things then progress will come. However the need for allies who are from the most privileged groups in our societies and who have the biggest platforms is needed and their silence or silencing of others is telling.
We don’t owe the world our stories, our lives are not “inspiration porn” and our suffering is not a currency to be used to further hate and this is only when we are believed. When we have to prove our trauma because YOU choose to believe the abusers or victim blame us – you become part of the problem, you facilitate the rapist, the child molester, the sex offender. You give them the signal that this is still acceptable and that their accountability is not an issue. Society tells YOU that the risk of a false accusations of rape is more harmful and a higher risk than actual rape, that clothes determine whether or not “they asked for it”, that men and boys can’t be raped or sexually abused, that to be a sex offender you have to appear to be a monstrous being – when the proof is all around us with well loved “nice guys” being exposed as some of the most harmful predators; such as Bill Cosby, Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris. Or people excuse behaviour due to “genius” with men such as Woody Allen or Roman Polanski. The world is full of examples of how rape culture prevails and how survivors are pushed down – making us some of the most vulnerable people in society.
Next time a movement starts or reemerges don’t trivialise it because it doesn’t mean anything to you – either step back and listen or help. Next time someone is accused of a sexual offence – don’t be so quick to react in their defence, always take time to remember the facts, remember that there is nothing to be gained by accusing anyone of a sexual offence – so why would someone do this. If you begin to victim blame – challenge yourself! If you avoid helping a loved one who is a survivor for fear of saying the wrong thing or feeling uncomfortable – push past this! If you feel the need to ask survivors for more information on what rape culture is, don’t – we do not have to hold your hand, do your own research, we are never rewarded for our emotional labour. Don’t fall for the rhetoric that rape is more prominent in certain races and religions. All I ask from you all is to do better! Unfortunately you never know if you will fall victim next or if someone you love will – in this chaos all that is left is to be kind.
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Living in this world as a victim who survived sexual violence, assault and child molestation I have had to learn from an early age that the systems of power and society are against me due to my gender and mental illness. People speak of you with either a perception of doubt and contempt, a whispered shamefulness – or deem you as a broken shell of a human, with no use; it makes people uncomfortable. These people are the ones that if they read or see a depiction on film/TV similar to your situation, will dissect and find a way to blame the victim, even when it is a child, they do this in front of you – holding on tightly to the idea of the “Rape Myth“.
Perceptions of rape and any form of sexual assault or abuse are somewhat still judged by our prehistoric natures, along with murder – this need to defile and desecrate another human is sadly a behaviour which seems to be harder to evolve past. However even though there are sociobiological theories of rape which have been heavily criticised for assuming that only young attractive women are raped or that rape is motivated by desires and sexual needs only; is why this research needs to be considered but not seen as a completed study. We can not argue that rape has been used as a tool by our species. With high status and powerful males enslaving women as their playthings throughout history, with rape being used as a weapon of war to ethnically cleanse or to humiliate the opposing combatants. However the question which seems too complex to answer is whether this is something our species has innately, or is a behavioural component, which due to our long history of patriarchal power has never been challenged – until very recently, as more and more women are emancipated from their male family members.
So why is the “rape myth” still so prevalent today?
This month has been very triggering for most survivors, with Donald Trump admitting he has sexually assaulted women, with Brock Turner being released from his pitifully short sentence and with Ched Evans being acquitted after his family paid £50,000 for information from past lovers of the victim and then brought forward two ex partners and using the victims previous sexual behaviour against her in the case. These three high profile examples of how our world is determined to reinforce rape culture, show that power, privilege and using a woman’s sexuality to discredit her, are all achievable ways that men and boys who have never challenged these archaic ideas can “get away with it”. That they can be given the impression, it is their right, that their future is more important than a girl or woman’s or that women can’t be trusted especially if sexually active.
When I was raped at 15 by a boy in my school, many things were used against me – this was back in 1999 in England and even though I had a lot of evidence against him, still it was much more “prove she is not credible” rather than “prove he is guilty”. The fact I had fancied the boy was a big thing used against me, which as a child myself became confusing – when people repeated this to me again and again;
“but you fancied him, you wanted him to fancy you”?
These things were true but did not cancel out the fact he violently raped me. It was 1999 and it was as if people had not ever challenged the idea that:
1) rape has nothing to do with being attracted to someone
2) you can’t be raped by someone you fancy, which as an adult, now – I have no problem understanding. I blamed myself for years, thinking
“it was my fault, I fancied him, so he had the right”.
However the most disturbing of “victim blaming” I experienced was that of my mental illness and disability being used against me – to discredit me by suggesting my ability to understand what happened to me was impaired or that I had done this to myself. Having been severally sexually traumatised vaginally and anally which meant I had to have internal and external surgery on my genital areas, it was clear to the physicians and police examiners that this was from forced aggressive penetration. However this was not what my rapists Mother said – who spread the false information that I had in fact self harmed my genitals to frame and blame him. This spread like wild fire amongst the students at my school, teachers and parents and due to my unstable mental health displayed in school previously – many just assumed this must be true about “that crazy girl”.
There are still people from my school year who are addiment I lied and that I did it out of some sort of “crazy” spite or something to that effect. But one thing has always bothered me about these people, they seem to accept that he was convicted for grievous bodily harm – that he beat me and cut me open with his force and violence, however this to them is not rape or sexual assault, this is fine, because I was asking for it.
My rapist was not convicted of rape, the police told me that this was due to his age – as he was also 15 and the fact that they could not determine and prove a lack of consent (like with so many cases). So he was convicted of GBH and Unlawful Sex – he was put on the sex offenders register and was on a tag for 12 months, but this was still not enough regardless of the outcome for some. It did not matter that I was bruised, bleeding and emotionally broken ready to take my own life, to them I was a whore and an opportunist.
It took so long for me to accept my rape as rape – this was due to our culture, my upbringing and my age. Once able to detach the 15 year old girl from being the primary source of all my information on what happened to me, I was able to look at it with adult eyes, eyes which have now survived and lived.
It was only 2 years ago – having turned 30 and reaching the point that I had lived 15 years on from my assault, whilst doing intense reliving therapy for my CPTSD, that revisiting my memories voluntarily was possible – apposed to flash backs and intrusive thoughts. Through this new lens of awareness I saw 15 year old me held down (face down) crying into the sheets as the boy raped me or of myself choking from forced oral penetration, it was then and only then that all the other details fell away – what I was wearing, that I fancied him, that I had gone into the room voluntarily and that straight after it had happened I had told my friends we had just had sex, to fit in, as I did not understand what had happened to me. These details were not what happened to me, these details were from society’s ideas of girls and women – from a rhetoric that found me (the victim) more guilty than the perpetrator.
The facts are – I did not give consent and could not stop what happened to me due to fear and force. That until you are in a situation like this, a rape – that did not happen in a dark alley by a scary man, but one that happened by someone you knew, liked or loved, it is then you realise how we do ourselves as a species an injustice. We do not prepare girls and boys for the real dangers – we are not taught about consent and of how important this is. Instead as a girl you are taught you must prevent yourself from being raped or targeted by men, that you are the only one in control of this. Or that you must defend yourself by carrying a weapon or whistle, your told “scream out”, or you are told “cover up” don’t give men ideas or an invitation. Boys are then treated as if they are less responsible when it comes to sexual behaviour, that promiscuity is acceptable and even encouraged in an environment of toxic masculinity, with the idea a girl or woman needs to be “ruined” or “broken in”, a sense of entitlement is continued and facilitated. All the while placing all people who identify as male in one patriarchal predatory box , a box – which if male and you are the victim of rape, then this is not taken seriously, and is ridiculed or deemed to be a weakness, clamming “real men can’t be raped”.
Despite considerable research and publications in professional and popular journals concerning rape, such myths continue to persist in the minds of the masses.
We need to stop:
assuming that women and girls are more likely to lie about being raped than being raped. Of course false rape allegations exist, I have even witnessed one myself – however our culture reflects a problematic discourse when addressing this issue. Whichever stance is taken the girl or woman is either a liar, a slut or crazy. Here is a great article on this: He Said, She Said: The Mythical History of the False Rape Allegation
thinking women are “ASKING FOR IT”! This idea is ridiculously flawed and contradictory. If in fact “we” are asking for it, then this would mean we were asking for consensual sex or we invited a person to comment on how we look or behave. There is no clothing, age, background, ethnicity, disability or behaviour which lends to the idea “we” are “ASKING FOR IT”.
allowing predators to suggest that by having none consensual sex with an individual is doing them a favour as they are deemed not aesthetically conventional in their appearance or are disabled. Beauty and rape have no ties and cause this false idea that you can be too ugly to be raped. I was told this once by a horrible misogynist, who suggested I was too fat and ugly for rape victim. Disabled people are more likely to be taken advantage of as again I know too well. The same can be said about claiming that “you brought them into adulthood”, which is often used as a defence when women rape minors, especially if adolescent. Reinforced by a culture that will pat the boy on the back, for being taken advantage of by an older woman – but one that would react very differently to a girl who is under age, with an older man.
Thinking rape is about sex and sex alone. Rape is taking control of someone’s body and autonomy by force. It is not simply a person gets so overwhelmed by desire and can’t control themselves, it is so much more complicated and is never simply explained.
Promoting the “scorned woman” narrative, that women and girls get so enraged about being rejected by a man that their little minds overheat and conjure up allegations of rape and abuse for shits and giggles. This is a stereotype of women which has been depicted through history in all manner of literature and now film and TV. The fact that it is so widely believed is proof when you hear women accusing one another of such things. When research shows men are more likely to commit a violent crime after rejection in an intimate relationship. Please read this article: These 14 Women Were Brutally Attacked for Rejecting Men — Why Aren’t We Talking About It?
We need to look at rape as… well just that – RAPE!
People need to understand the fundamental differences between rape and sex and the need for children to be taught about consent couldn’t be more evident, along with the rest of sex education needing to be taught younger and more liberally. But how can you make a difference, simple check your attitudes and beliefs about what you have read and ask yourself:
Have you ever reinforced the rape myth?
If you are a victim who survived sexual violence, rape assault or abuse and wish to get more advice or support here are some helpful links: