After recently reporting a historic brutally violent gang-rape, I have listened to the statements given by witnesses and each one points to a consensual act whereupon my character is slated. Soon after the traumatic incident itself I was ridiculed and the subject of vicious gossip and judgement. Again, my character was slated and while I can honestly say I was never ‘a slag’ nor was I even interested in boys at the time or since, I can recognise the railroad of gossip and the harm it does. Yet I compensate for others’ views in understanding that each person’s perception and understanding of events is guided by their experience and/or knowledge of, in this instance, rape and what constitutes the law and the wrongdoing and traumatic long term effects that inevitably results. I am not concerned here primarily with describing the detail or the long term impact on social, emotional/psychological and physical health because of the trauma(s). My concern here is to discuss my thoughts on why society, albeit a small village or a community within a larger town or city, feels compelled to not only blame the victim but to assertively point out it was a consensual act and the ‘victim’ was only too willing.
I had remembered the people present and excused their lack of regard and failure to help me as being a result of their own fear that if they try to help they will in fact be next and their turn will be equally as horrid. I made excuses for them all these years as I was brought up to believe the best in people and seek the good in them. I am slightly disgusted that their recent statements reveal their memories and that they likely perpetuated the rumours and gossip and the subsequent verbal abuse I received in the small mining village as a teenager. The ‘judges’ had reached their verdict- based not only on hearsay but on the word of witnesses, not me. I was shy, quiet and reserved, I could not speak up for myself against the village jungle drums and I gradually withdrew further into myself. To my knowledge no-one questioned why the rapists/perpetrators would engage in such an activity with a quiet 15 year old girl being fully aware I was underage even if I had been willing!
But aside from asking the obvious questions like: Was I conscious? Did I really consent (at the age of 15, did I even know what they were doing)? Did I put up a fight (a fight for my life that I relive in night terrors even 30 years after the incident)? I need also to consider why the girls who were there would just sit by and let this happen (even though they weren’t particularly close friends) without questioning what was happening and why would they feel the compulsion of sharing their version of events so as to add further insult. I query whether they told others not out of bad, maliciousness but in fact to verbalise their trauma at seeing sex, consensual or not, at such a young age. One female has admitted to being shocked as we were only 14/15, another has described how I showed my ‘tits’ afterward and in fact confirms there were marks on my body. Not one of them has seen it from my point of view or considered the harm that spreading rumours has done to my life and trust of others and my family relations with my Mum who I was told was ‘disappointed in me’ by her callous partner at the time.
When I wonder why no-one stood by me or why anyone who heard the rumours didn’t question what really happened or listen to my side of this, I feel utterly desolate. Much time has passed and I have made my best effort to be positive and live a fulfilling life with support from people I met once I left the village (when I was 17 my Mum helped me leave where I would be allowed to study without harassment). I have intermittent breakdowns and relapses of cPTSD symptoms but these become less severe with time. Yet why the need for the more inexperienced and uneducated to blame the victim and defend the character of a rapist they may hardly know this is part of rape culture. The very nature of which we make great efforts to challenge either on a local level or within organisations supporting victims.
This MSN article referring to a Twitter dialogue between a well known pop star and a TV presenter’s view of speaking out about historic rape has reinforced the idea of just keeping quiet and not talking about rape and sexual assault thus rebuking the long term effects of such trauma and questioning the need to speak out long after the trauma occurs. Why does society (and not all) defend a man’s character but look to blame the female (or male victim) and perpetuate the shame and belittling of the victim? Does society believe that a victim’s word is enough to convict a rapist and since the rapist may be someone known or a family member or pillar of the community? Do they still believe that men (some) are unable to control themselves when faced with women/girls? Are they even aware of what rape and sexual assault is and that it is wrong and against the law? How many of them are actually victims themselves and are so fearful of even talking about this that they try to hush and blame the victim. Rape culture is rife and something we all need to challenge in many different ways. It goes on across all social classes and backgrounds, it was rife in small rural areas until only recently and may still go on. It is accepted as the norm and if you are unlucky to get caught out, just don’t talk about it or cause a fuss or it’ll happen again and worse. There is an expectation to ‘just get on with life.’ In my case it did, many times, by different people and my speaking out about it was perceived as boasting – in the other girls’ mind why else tell someone what happened and show them bodily bruising and bite marks!
Do we need to rethink our approach in raising awareness of this horrendous crime? How do we promote the plight of the victim and the ensuing disregard while asserting that the rapists are the ones in the wrong? How do we show the long term effect of trauma especially when silenced while preserving some dignity for victims? How do we reach the smaller communities when few victims speak out usually only once they have left the area and often in a state of shame? Why do we feel sympathy for the perpetrators and their future rather than the long term trauma that the victims will have to live with.
I look forward to the discussion arising from this interview with the sceptical interviewer and the pop star who speaks of the long term impact of rape and sexual assault. Hopefully it is televised and opens up the debate on a serious level in the public sphere, not so we can further add injury with judgement but in an effort to further speak out about these injustices.