On Saturday, Slutwalk happened. I couldn’t be there, and to be honest in some ways I’m not sorry, because the organisers have just come out in support of Assange (and implicitly in disbelief of the women who reported him) – more on that later.
That’s a pity, because the main message of Slutwalk is SO important. Whether you like the name, whether you don’t; whether you like the ethos, whether you don’t: we can all agree that the message that is intended, that rape is never the fault of the attacked and always the fault of the attacker, is one that is important and needs to be said.
So I’m not sorry I missed Slutwalk but I am sorry I missed this speech. Because this is, to me, the essence of what Slutwalk is and should be about. Many thanks to Emily Rose for letting me reproduce this:
Last year we marched because a Toronto policeman said that to avoid being raped, we should avoid dressing like sluts. The anger spread worldwide, and the SlutWalk movement was born. Last year we marched and we sang and we held placards that declared that our skirts don’t rape us, rapists do; drink doesn’t rape us, rapists do. And we have today, too. SlutWalk helped me to accept that the vodka I drank didn’t rape me; the rapist raped me. We have come a long way in rejecting victim blaming and putting the responsibility firmly at the feet of the rapist.
But, too many people still think that rape is something we can avoid if we are sensible, don’t drink, cover ourselves up and behave like ladies. Too many people still think there are different levels of rape: rapey-rapes, legitimate rapes, forcible rapes, stranger rapes, and that these are inherently worse than those that take place between man & wife, friends, or date-rapes. This year, George Galloway explained that to have condom-less sex with a sleeping partner is only ‘bad sexual etiquette’ and something less than rape. If George was the only one then we could make do with ridiculing him. But, he is not. Rape is rape is rape, and it is time everyone knew that.
We need a dialogue, an honest, open, dialogue. Women believe the myths that they can avoid being raped, because otherwise the world is too scary. But rape is happening to us every day. Somewhere between 1 in 3 and 1 in 8 women will experience rape or sexual assault in their lifetime. That is an epidemic.
Men fear being accused of a rape that they didn’t do. The media perpetuates these fears, seemingly reporting every false allegation, whereas actually it’s less common than for other crimes at about 2-4% of accusations. And with a disastrous reported to conviction ratio, all those people who are accused, but never go to court, or to prison, like the man who raped me, can claim they were falsely accused, adding fuel to the fire of the myth that false accusations are something to be feared.
It is easy to not be a rapist. Be certain of consent. Enthusiastic consent. Not coerced consent. Not drunken consent. The rape epidemic suggests that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of consensual sex, and the attempts by politicians, the media, and others to categorise rape differently suggests that many people seriously do believe that the line is somewhere else.
The myths about what constitutes rape prevent justice. The CPS decided not to prosecute the man who raped me. I found out that they decided not to prosecute because I waited to report, and didn’t do so straight away. Most rapes go unreported, and of those that are reported, most are not immediate. The body, and also the mind, needs time to process the trauma of what has happened. They also didn’t prosecute because I had been drinking. A lot. So much that the police said I could not have been able to give consent. But a jury might have thought I was asking for it. The CPS don’t actually care if they think the man is guilty, only if they can get a conviction. They want a good conviction rate. We need to change societal norms so that everyone who is not here today and might be on a jury, knows that rape is rape is rape, and that it doesn’t matter how much someone was drinking, what someone was wearing, or how many other men she’s been happy to have sex with, when consent isn’t there, it’s rape. When juries start to convict, the CPS will start to prosecute.
We must stop the epidemic. Because it is not about one night that went wrong for those of us left behind. I didn’t just have a hangover the next day. Over four years later, I still suffer from symptoms of post traumatic stress, with nightmares, insomnia, anxiety attacks and recurrent deeply depressive episodes. Not a single day has gone by when I have not thought of it, it is with me constantly.
The myth of rape in society silences us, and silences our pain. Because we know, or expect, that others will judge us for being raped, will perhaps tell us we weren’t raped, it was in our heads, we stay silent. Because mental health issues are also taboo, a sign of weakness, we are silenced again. If people know the truth, we believe they will see the words stupid & weak emblazoned on our foreheads.
It’s not about one night. It’s not about a man who makes a bad decision. It’s about the days and the nights we live afterwards. On one night, I was made a victim. In still being here, I have made myself a survivor. But, surviving isn’t living and I long for a future where I am living. I dream of a future where rape is rare, where the raped are supported and where rapists are always punished.
We are many. We are too many to be silenced. Silence hurts us. We must raise our voices. Enough is enough.
It’s so important that we hear this. It’s not the politics of Slutwalk that matter. It’s the message. Thanks and feminist fistbumps to Emily and others who spoke for their bravery and eloquence.