When rape becomes something that is disputed, how are we supposed to spot a rapist?
We All Know A Brock Turner describes the very real idea that we all know someone who is capable of rape. He’s probably a bit of a lad, likes to push boundaries and drink to excess, a guy who doesn’t quite understand what constitutes consent. He might make rape jokes and be known for his wild, over-the-top personality. I know someone like this, and I know he’s committed rape. But does he know it?
My rapist doesn’t know he’s a rapist. I don’t like to think about the ramifications of this ignorance. The idea that, in the decade since my encounter, he’s pushed more women into sexual acts. Women who doubted themselves, who may not have recognised what happened to them. Who didn’t want to recognise it for what it was*. I almost feel responsible for what I imagine has happened to these women. But I’m not to blame, and neither are they.
Did I consent? Did I want to? Did he pressure me? Maybe I’m to blame. My skirt was really short. I was drunk. We’d done it before. I didn’t say no. I didn’t fight. Is it my fault? Did I lead him on?
Oh, the things that go through your head. I pushed it away for years, telling myself that it wasn’t rape. Rape is where you’re screaming, struggling, putting up a fight. Rape is where a stranger attacks you from the shadows. Rape isn’t lying still, fists clenched, waiting for it to be over. Is it? No means no. You have to say no to mean no. Don’t you?
I’m currently writing a novel called Some Girls Do, which introduces Jess, a fifteen-year-old girl who has such an encounter. She’s been with Chris before, she’s drunk, she’s wearing a short skirt. She goes off with him, aware of what he wants, but when they get to a private space, she doesn’t feel up for it. She’s had a lot to drink, too much. She doesn’t feel good. He ignores her body language, her clear lack of enthusiastic consent, and goes ahead anyway. To add insult to injury, he takes a picture of her afterwards, and uploads it to social media. On top of trying to sort through her emotions pertaining to the assault by Chris, she also has to deal with online bullying. When she tries to speak to her best friend, she’s shunned, accused of trying to ruin Chris’s life simply because she’s ashamed of herself.
This is a conversation I wish we didn’t need to have. Almost a decade has passed since my assault, and my story is still relevant. I’d be willing to bet that almost every woman has an encounter to speak about, which pushed past her boundaries and made her feel uncomfortable. A stolen kiss. A groping hand. A persistent boyfriend. In order to discuss this feeling, we must define it. In The Problem With How Men Perceive Rape, the author states:
Less discussed, but equally important as the debate over whether rape victims should report their assaults to police, is this: Many of the most traumatic and damaging sexual experiences, particularly ones faced by women who have sex with men, don’t even meet the legal definition of rape.
The legal definition of rape can vary from country to country, but in English law, it means unwanted penetration by a penis. Anything else is sexual assault. One of the biggest issues when discussing rape cases is the issue of consent. Did they reasonably believe they had consent? This should be an easy question to answer. I know when my sexual partners aren’t really into it. My current partner knows when I’m not really into it. The only thing to do is to stop, and discuss what’s going on. If someone changes their mind during sex, and their partner continues on regardless, it’s rape. It’s a clear disregard for your partner’s feelings, and a bizarre entitlement to sexual gratification, despite what the other party might think or feel.
In Rape Culture Is Surveillance Culture, the author unapologetically declares that rape isn’t a natural occurrence. Brock Turner has blamed “party culture” for his crime. Men don’t have too much to drink and then, oops, commit rape.
The mistake we make is in thinking rape isn’t premeditated, that it happens by accident somehow, that you’re drunk and you run into a girl who’s also drunk and half-asleep on a bench and you sidle up to her and things get out of hand and before you know it, you’re being accused of something you’d never do. But men who rape are men who watch for the signs of who they feel like they can rape.
In Some Girls Do, Jess meets Chris earlier on in the evening, when she’s having some food with a friend. He appears aloof, disinterested. Then, later, as the fireworks are going off, he finds her in the crowd and leads her away. Did he wait for her to get more drunk? Did he watch her and think, now’s my chance? Possibly. Does Chris consider that that might be unacceptable? That being too drunk to consent means that consent cannot be given? Probably not.
Rape culture is insidious. It tells men that women who are too drunk to say no are fair game. She shouldn’t have been drinking so heavily, should she? Women who wear revealing clothes are asking for it. What did she expect, really? Women have to bear some responsibility for what happens to them! Why didn’t she cover up/say no/fight back/drink less/insert victim-blaming excuse here. She she she. The onus must move from the victim and on to the perpetrator. I’m not the only one outraged at so many men getting away with rape – Brock Turner spent a mere three months in prison for assaulting an unconscious woman. What kind of message is that sending, not only to would-be rapists, but also to our women? It’s telling us that we are not safe, and even if we go all the way to prosecution, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get justice. It’s saying that rape is okay. And it really isn’t.
In order to change things, we have to change our perceptions. When someone speaks up about rape or sexual assault, listen. Don’t judge, don’t assume. Listen. Stop asking women what they were wearing or what they were doing. Stop blaming the victim. Help to end this cycle of rape and abuse, and contribute to creating a consent culture.
If you’ve been affected by rape or sexual assault and you need to talk to someone, Rape Crisis England and Wales can help. If you’d like to share your story or talk about mine, please email email@example.com (if you wish to remain anonymous it will be respected, and nothing will be shared publicly without your permission), or comment below.
I will be looking for beta readers for Some Girls Do once it’s finished. If you think you’d be interested, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Some survivors might not want to classify what happened to them as rape, and I respect that. It’s down to each individual to define what happened to them. I define my experience as rape.