11 Jan 2013

To all rape-deniers and victim-blamers....

...you're probably thinking 'I need read no further, that title surely doesn't apply to me!'. You're probably thinking 'I know rape is a serious and heinous crime, and the rapist is always the one to blame for it!'. You're probably thinking that I'm only talking to obvious misogynists, ones who walk around with a bell around their necks and a T-shirt saying 'Bitch asked for it' to warn right-thinking men and women away from their vileness. But have a gander at this morning's Independent, and then consider your reactions.

If your only thought is 'This is fucking SHAMEFUL evidence of how our society doesn't take sexual violence seriously, and needs to be rectified', then yep, you can stop reading now.
But if you had any of the following thoughts, then stay with me - I need to talk to you.
1) The conviction rate can't be that low for no reason. Some of those women must be lying.
2) If they didn't report it, then how can we know it really happened?
3) False rape reporting ruins so many men's lives, why aren't we talking about that?
4) Men get raped too, why aren't we talking about that?
5)Rape is awful and all, but the rate would be lower if women stopped dressing provocatively/drinking so much/walking alone late at night.
6) A lot of so-called 'rapes' are just a case of women regretting sex the next day. 
7)I'm not a rapist/most guys aren't rapists/it's unfair to men to focus on an evil minority who rape women.

And I know you folks, who think these things, are out there. Because you tweet at me every time I express despair over another police victim-blaming campaign, protesting that telling women not to drink/walk alone is surely 'just sensible advice'. You post comments on my piece about a judge telling a rape victim she 'let herself down badly', suggesting that it's fair to focus on rape victim's behaviour because we would do the same to someone who had their laptop stolen. You are the people who cannot let any discussion of rape go by without feeling the need to blame victims, shift the blame away from perpetrators, and derail discussions with your determination not to focus on the terrible crime that men commit against women all over the world, every day.

And maybe you do it because you flat-out hate women, in which case there's probably nothing I can do for you. If you believe women are evil, lying bitches who get what they deserve, that feminism and protesting against rape is some massive conspiracy to harm men and tip society in women's favour, then please jog on. Nothing for you here.

But I'm willing to believe that not everyone who parrots rape myths is an out-and-out misogynist. I think some are probably woefully uninformed, which is not a difficult thing to be considering how sexist swathes of our media are. Many people are unaware that only 9% of rapes are committed by strangers, and 54% by boyfriends, partners or husbands. Many people are unaware that it's the rapist who is more likely to have consumed alcohol than the victim. Many people are unaware that rape has no higher 'false reporting' rate than any other crime - or that there have been multiple cases of women jailed for false reports only to be later cleared as it was discovered they were telling the truth. Many people are unaware that the reasons many cases don't get to court are not because they are not strong cases, but rather due to police mishandling evidence, failing to properly investigatetreating victims with hostility/disbelief and pressuring victims to drop cases. I hold on to some hope, however insanely optimistic, that with some education, some confronting of real facts accompanied by a willingness to listen to real women's stories, some of the people who make excuses for rapists might actually start to wake up.

And I can understand why people don't want to confront the reality of rape, because it's bloody upsetting. It's easier to imagine that not walking down a dark alley is all a woman has to do to protect herself from rape, when the truth is that the only way women could truly 'avoid rape' is to sever all relationships with men and move to an uninhabited island. It's easier to blame rape on clothes and alcohol than it is to accept that it's much more commonly committed by husbands, boyfriends, ex-partners, friends and acquaintances than it is by strangers. And I'm by no means suggesting it's only men who persist in dodging the issue - I see women doing it all the time too. And I think I know why - because to acknowledge that simply being female is the only 'contributing factor' to rape would be to acknowledge our huge vulnerability as women. Statistically, the loved men in our lives are the ones most likely to turn on us and rape us. We are far less likely at risk from the stranger in the nightclub or the weird-looking guy we pass on the pavement. And it makes us feel like shit to have to acknowledge that, so instead we blame other women for their actions, imply that 'it wasn't really rape' and in so doing try to fool ourselves that 'It couldn't happen to me, because I would have done X Y and Z'.

But we've all got to acknowledge it - men and women - if we're ever going to change anything. Otherwise the vicious cycle will continue. Society, the judiciary and police will continue to be hostile towards rape victims, they will hide in silence and shame, and our conviction rate will remain shamefully low.

So do me a favour, all those who've ever made an excuse for rapists, who've ever said 'Rape is obviously terrible BUT...', who've ever met statistics about rape with hostility, scepticism or disbelief. Try and educate yourself. Do some reading. Think long and hard. Think about the women in your life you care about. Consider how comfortable they'd feel confessing to you that they'd been raped if they knew your first question was going to be 'Are you sure it was rape?' or 'How much had you been drinking?'. Consider how, if they're already aware of your attitude, there may well be women in your life who've long been hiding the fact they've been raped from you.
And take a long hard look at yourself, then make a change.

Recommended reading

The Stern Review - Baroness Stern
Common Myths About Rape - Rape Crisis
Statistics on Rape Reporting/Conviction Rates and Common Rape Myths - Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit
Shocking Low Conviction Rates Revealed - Independent
40 Years of Rape Crisis - Guardian
Women Are Not Wallets - Sian Norris
'Don't Be That Guy' Campaign Sees Rape Reports Fall by 10% - The Globe and Mail

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