Bidisha busts a rape myth
As part of the We Believe You campaign, our guest bloggers bust a different rape myth each day. Join journalist and MN blogger Bidisha to find out why this rape myth is ridiculous and how it's holding victims back.
MYTH: If a woman didn't struggle, wasn't injured or didn't report immediately, she wasn't raped.
When it comes to excusing perpetrators and blaming victims, we live in a world of myths and allowances. We search for reasons to make a woman look as though she is lying out of malice, misinterpreting events out of stupidity, exaggerating them out of cunning, falsifying them out of shame to cover her own baseness or inventing them out of sheer irrationality. Anything so as not to blame the perpetrator.
In abusive situations, you freeze, shrink inside your skin then go into survival mode. Your brain may clang in panic, or flatline with shock, or your thoughts might race so fast you can’t think to act. Everything you do and say is ignored, laughed at or used by the perpetrator to perpetrate more abuse: to threaten to kill you, to mock you, to say the most disgusting things, to taunt you, to tell you he will follow you home, watch your house, tell other people that you have not been raped but have done this willingly.
You do – rightly, nobly, heroically – whatever it takes to save your life and make sure that you are not a naked body in a park, a torched body in your bed or a disappeared body on a Wanted poster outside the police station.
Rapists hate women with every fibre of their being, including their minds – or they wouldn’t rape us. When confronted with such hatred, women are not supposed to start ducking and diving, punching, doing kung-fu and running up the walls like a combination of James Bond, Neo, Jason Bourne, the Kick-Ass girl, Charlie’s Angels, Xena Warrior Princess, Buffy, Lara Croft, Trinity, Catwoman and Elektra. In reality it takes one punch to kill a person. In reality it takes a few minutes to beat or strangle a person to death. Some victims fight back, some don’t. Either way, the responsibility for a rape is 100% on the rapist.
If the rape is done to you, you do what is necessary to stay alive. Which can mean not speaking. Instead of over-analysing what victims do, the world must confront its own woman-blaming and face what perpetrators are doing. The perpetrators are not instantly recognisable freaks, they are fathers, friends, uncles, colleagues, family men, popular guys, public figures like Mike Tyson, Dominique Strauss-Khan and Roman Polanski, workers, brothers, lovers, sons, walking the street as normal. They are supported by the whole of society from policemen to judges to newspaper editors and journalists – and men with these jobs may be rapists too. Rape is endemic, globally.
Women do not report rapes in the immediate aftermath of an attack because they assume they will not be believed, that the police will mess them about, that friends and family may disbelieve them, that the perpetrator will meet with support rather than justice, that they themselves will be put on trial. Women do not report rapes because they see, every day, in the media and in common conversation, that raped women are represented as liars, that rape is represented as rare and that society operates on the assumption that rapes are not common but that women are common liars.
Let’s talk about shock. A survivor of rape may not want to leave her house or be spoken to by anyone except her closest friend – let alone become embroiled in a long and harrowing legal process full of strangers, in which her ‘story’ is interrogated and re-lived dozens of times, before she is made to testify (if it ever gets that far) in a system in which only 6% of cases result in a rape conviction.
Waves of blind shock may render her speechless, or may lead to the bubbling-up of seemingly illogical expressions like sudden laughter, talkativeness, superstition or sunny apparent good humour. She may sleep for hours at a time, or not at all; want to go out and party, or stay in a darkened room.
All of these responses are natural. They are symptoms of the deep trauma that follow a serious and deliberate attack which is one step short of murder. Every woman’s response is different and every woman’s response is natural, justified, noble and right.
Then there are the emotional realisations and the devastation which stop a woman from reporting a rape immediately. The overwhelming majority of sexual assaults and rapes are perpetrated by men known to the victims. These men have pretended to be friendly to the women they want to rape; the violent overturning of her trust is part of the rapist’s satisfaction. In the aftermath a woman is also absorbing the horror that a man who pretended to be ‘a nice guy’ has raped her. This has consequences, which reach to the roots of a woman’s life. She must perhaps relinquish, or be exiled from, her place in a family, a company, a town or city, a social circle, a house, or risk seeing the gloating rapist, who may rape her again.
It’s time for us to wake up. It’s time to stop blaming victims and start blaming perpetrators. It’s time for the apologists, deniers, victim-blamers and excuse-makers to wash out their eyes, look at the reality to rape and the banality of rapists. It’s time for a rape revolution.