As we approach the end of the year, most of us tend to reflect on how it has gone and it’s no secret that 2016 has been full of surprises – and not good surprises. So many surprises, that now, many of us are no longer surprised by the injustices that we have seen. We have finger print access and codes, electronic cars and taxics that drive themselves so in many ways, we have moved forward massively. But 2016 has shown me that we still have a very long way to go until half of the world realise that a woman isn’t to blame if a man forces his way onto, or into her. Yup. It doesn’t sound nice, does it? That’s because it isn’t nice, yet for some reason, society still says that if the perpetrator is rich, successful, studying at a top university, a promising athlete, a famous athlete, is white… Or is in fact, a male, they are not responsible for the crime they have committed against a woman – whether that be rape, or any other form of sexual assault.
That’s right ladies, you should have tried a bit harder to keep your legs shut. You shouldn’t have worn that dress, or shown any skin at all. You shouldn’t have smiled at him because it’s not his fault if he misinterpreted that as an invitation into your knickers – you weren’t clear enough in what you were suggesting. You shouldn’t have responded to his text or agreed to go on a date. You shouldn’t have let him pay, because of course, he was only entitled to something in return. And God forbid you kissed him; no, no, no – girl, you shouldn’t have done that, because that means you wanted him to grope you or worse. Oh, and it’s best to stay away from alcohol – it seems some men mistake your cocktail consumption for you preparing your body to be completely submissive (lifeless) so they can do as they please to you (even if you’re unconscious or vomiting your way through it). This is just a basic check list of what not to do if you want to avoid unwanted advances or rape because you know, saying “no” just doesn’t seem to be enough. Saying “stop” doesn’t mean they will stop.
Okay, now say you have abided by the above points and you have still managed to find yourself a victim of sexual assault (silly you). You are considering reporting it to the police, there are a few things that you should think about beforehand as it might still be your fault. Do you have a boyfriend? If the answer is yes, who are you trying to fool? You weren’t raped, your guilty, cheating conscience is looking for a scapegoat – don’t play the rape card slut. If you like expensive things and there’s any proof of it – pictures of your new car or designer clothes on Facebook, forget reporting it, you’re just a gold digger. If you have posted any holiday snaps on the beach in a bikini or showing off your tan – you’re ‘sexual by nature’ so of course, it wasn’t rape (yes, this is a legitimate line that was used in court). Have you had sexual relationships in the past? Or in fact, have had any consensual sex? Yeah, unless you’re willing to have all the dirt dragged up – favourite positions or have done anything remotely unconventional that you may have done (which under a new law for pornography regulations, includes female ejaculation, so who knows under what other legislation else this may become illegal because let’s face it, we have seen more unlikely things happen) – this will all be used against you in court to describe how you are a sex-mad whore who loved every moment of her abuse and is now simply crying wolf.
We have seen Brock Turner, a swimmer at the prestigious Stanford university released after serving only half of a 6 month sentence – a sentence that alone, was already unjustly lenient. This release was based on good behaviour, the initial lenient sentence was based on the fact the judge still believed the defendant was innocent despite the jury finding him guilty, and despite all the evidence and claiming he had already suffered enough from the media attention in the lead up to the trial. We have seen ‘Last Tango in Paris’ director Bernardo Bertolucci (finally) admit to orchestrating a sexual assault on actress Maria Schneider, then 19 – his excuse: he “wanted to see a real reaction, one of ‘a girl, not an actress’.”
We saw footballer Chad Evans walk away a free man after engaging in a threesome with a girl so intoxicated it would have been impossible to give full consent because details of sexual encounters with previous partners were exposed in course. Then there was a case in the US recently which was very reminiscent of the Evans’ case, where we saw a woman’s private life shared for the world to see and character ripped to pieces in a case against NBA player Derreck Rose. It’s rather the treatment of the woman in the lead up to it, where we saw irrelevant parts of her personal life surfaced during the court proceedings and used as ‘evidence’. All of which was no excuse for rape and shouldn’t have played any role in a jury’s judgement of whether the defendant was guilty of a crime completely unrelated to decisions she had made prior to that night. And then there’s the thing that has made me really believe the last trump is fast approaching us – seeing a misogynistic, sexual predator win what was a messy presidential campaign despite various accounts of sexual assault and upcoming rape trial.
Is it really any wonder that #WhyWomenDontReport was a recent trend on Twitter? A recent report showed that 80% of women don’t report rape or sexual abuse and we need to address why that percentage is so high and work to change it. Society seems to have adopting this culture of victim blaming and slut shaming – and it needs to come to a stop in order to create a world where women feel safe to report these hideous, invasive, completely inexcusable and traumatising crimes. In a world where rapists are becoming presidents and have celebrity status, the message that is being sent out to young women is that sexual assault and rape is ok. That it is forgivable. That is doesn’t matter what is done to a woman, because if they are a man, and especially if they are one in a position of power or with a certain status, they will get away it. By doing so little, we are telling men they can do what they please and it’s likely they will get away with it which means we will continue to see an increase in these attacks. Society is so quick to assume, blame and attack the victim, to penalise by being allowed to use whatever they wish against her. This has led to many women simply feeling like the stress and trauma of a court case, and what it will dig up, simply means it is easier to not report the attack, with her attacker left to not only get away with it, but go on to do it to other women.
What is so worrying is that through our lack of conversation about what constitutes rape and how to differentiate between that, and consensual sex, many men don’t even seem to grasp what rape is or seem to think that there are occasions where it is excused, justified, ‘her fault’ or ‘not that bad’. And let’s be real, a large reason some men think like this is because of how rape is handled in the court room and reported on our media outlets. So let’s discuss some myths, clear up some things that I have genuinely heard and help you with some responses if you hear something similar – because I mean, they are so shocking they will leave you speechless, completely baffled, wondering where the camera crews are and presenter telling you that you have been ‘punked’. Many times I was so blown away I was simply unable to formulate a sentence that could articulate my point clearly because I couldn’t believe my ears so brace yourself for the ignorance.
“She knew how much she was drinking, she obviously wanted to pull – I mean, look what she was wearing.” No, there’s is a big difference between being tipsy and still in control, and completely paralytic, unresponsive and unable to make a conscious decision. If a woman has passed out, she has not consented to sex with you, she is not physically able to consent to sex with you. This is rape. And her outfit choice is completely irrelevant – stop thinking everything is about pulling, it’s not.
“But I brought her a drink/took her on a date/spent money on her.”
If you were giving to receive, you really shouldn’t have bothered – that’s just a general life rule. But if you spent money on her with the intention of sleeping with her and she is not aware of this little clause, or she at some point decides she doesn’t want to participate with your conditions but you believe you are entitled because you have spent money on her and proceed with your initial intentions – this is rape my friend and you are a sicko.
“It’s ok because it’s for the art. It’s all about being authentic on camera/in film/in our writing.”
No, art is about representing/portraying/discussing real life, not reliving it and making it a part of the artist’s reality.
“But she’s a young, unknown actress/musician/lawyer/artist/banker/’insert any relevant job role’, and I gave her an opportunity, I put her on the map.”
So. What? She does not owe you anything and definitely not sex.
“She has slept with ‘x’ amount of men, why would a man need to rape her?” Or “She gives it out freely, it wasn’t rape.”
Now let’s make this loud and clear – scream it from the roof tops if we need to. Pictures that a woman chooses to post, clothes she may decide to wear, and more importantly, consensual sexual activity she has engaged in with previous partners has no place in a court case about rape. It doesn’t matter how many people a woman has chosen to be intimate with, or how she has chosen to portray herself – because do you hear the key word in those sentences? Chosen. They were her CHOICES. Rape, is NOT a choice. And just because a woman has made choices at other points in her life to do certain things, it does not mean she will always make those choices and it certainly does not mean she wants to be penetrated by every man that throws an advance in her direction. It doesn’t matter how many people a woman has slept with or if she’s a virgin or even a nun, she is no more deserving of rape and nor should these facts play any role in whether we believe her claims or not.
“But she went to his house, she knew what she was getting herself into.”
No, she could be lying there naked – if at any point she says no, that she doesn’t want to do it, if she asks you to stop or if she is unable to consent – if you do not stop, it is rape and the only person accountable is yourself.
“Have you seen what she was wearing?” This one is so ludacris and still amazes me. The suggestion that a woman’s choice of clothing is an invitation for sexual advances is just incredibly deluded and arrogant on the man’s behalf. The suggestion that a man will not be able to control his sexual urges, and his penis has control over his decision making is insulting to men – it implies they are animalistic, cave men with no moral understanding or judgement and are unable to make sensible, honest decisions which is so very far from the truth.
“Have you seen how she sexualises herself on social media? Can you blame a man for thinking she wanted it?”
The opinions we form of people are personal and will differ from person to person – but they are just opinions, they’re not facts and they’re certainly not invitations to be acted upon. It is a free world where we should be allowed to speak, act and dress how we like without the fear of being assaulted or blamed for an assault. Whilst it is naïve to think the world will ever be exempt of such attacks, I think it is not naïve to hope the world can become a place that enables this safety and condemns such attacks, imposing stricter sentencing rather than victim blaming when they do take place.
We obviously still have a long way to go in regards to womens rights and the future is looking bleak at this moment but we must keep fighting to protect women from these attacks and eliminate both the rape, and blame cultures our society has adjusted to. Through constant discussion and education we can take progressive steps forward but this needs to be something consistent, not only provoked by outrage felt at a controversial news story. 2016 has been a dark year for the world but it seems to have really screwed (a cleaner word for the alternative that originally came to mind) us women – let’s hope for a brighter, consensual 2017.
Words : Jess Espin-Thurgur