Saturday, 26 January 2013

Risk and Rape

I'm not an expert. I'm not a criminologist or a police officer or a barrister. I'm not a philospher or a psychologist. My only qualification for writing about rape is as a survivor. My childhood I have eluded to in this post.

The simple fact is that this wasn't the end. As an adult I have been the victim of rape twice, some six years apart with different offenders.

Today I got involved in some discussion on Twitter following the publication of this article discussing Conservative MP Richard Graham's comments that women are putting themselves at risk by the way they dress, on the back of the awfully misguided comments from Joanna Lumley.

What I find tedious is this:- where is the discussion on men who rape? Where is the discussion on what is appropriate behaviour when they interact with women? Why is the emphasis on women "bringing it on themselves"?Why aren't we talking about what is consent and how we establish  it? Why aren't we asking the hard questions?

When I was 17 I was raped, by a man at university. I was asked to help him with his English which I was more than happy to do and absolutely foolishly agreed to do this in his dormitory room which was near mine. This was stupid. I should have met him at the library, but at 17 I had no experience (apart from my childhood, and had never had any counselling or help with that) had never had a boyfriend, hadn't had my first kiss, I was naive. I still thought rape was something that happened in dark alleys after a drunken night out. Seems some people have not moved on from this naive assumption.

We'd met a few times and everything was fine, he seemed a pleasant chap devoted to learning English and improving his grades, I never had reason to be concerned. Then one day he was different. He was threatening, and he forced me to do things that fall under the definition of rape. I managed to make my escape before it escalated, but under the definition of the legislation, I was raped. But what I didn't do was report it to the police. I did notify the warden of the hall of residence and the tutoring service. Neither of these bodies urged me to go to the police. I didn't understand that rape is rape. I was ashamed and felt that my actions were complicit. I was wrong.  It didn't matter that I was naive and a bit silly.It didn't matter that he was known to me.He took advantage of the situation and he raped me. He shouldn't have done what he did, end of story.

For the record, every time we met I was sober. I didn't wear high heels or short skirts. I wore jumpers and jeans. Even if I'd worn a micro mini with suspenders and high heels and had been drinking copious amounts of white wine, he still would have been in the wrong. Men should not rape women.

Minimising risk is a dangeous conversaton, because it puts the onus back on the woman. The onus of responsibility should be on the man, for that is what the law says. The "Richard Graham rape scenario" is uncommon. Most victims know their attacker. The drunken woman in a short skirt in high heels in a park in the middle of the night isn't when most women will fall foul of a rapist. Discussing what women should wear or drink or how they should behave is a slippery slope.

The law makes it most abundantly clear.

It is not relevant what relationship, if any, a defendant has or had with you. Nor is it relevant if the act complained of occurred within a relationship. If the defendant intentionally penetrates with his penis the vagina, anus or mouth of the complainant without her consent where he does not reasonably believe in her consent the defendant has committed rape.

It also crucially says:

It means that the defendant (A) has the responsibility to ensure that (B) consents to the sexual activity at the time in question. It will be important for the police to ask the offender in interview what steps he took to satisfy him that the complainant consented.
Lets start talking about what rape is and what it isn't, what consent is and what it is not. I don't want to read anything else about high heels, short skirts and behaviour. I think women understand about assessing risk and being careful. What we do need is a discussion about men, about misuse of sexual power and teaching our sons about what is acceptable and not acceptable.

The crime of rape is about the deviant behaviour of the perpetrator, not the victim

1 comment:

  1. A very honest, and brave piece, and I totally agree with you. I've worked in sexual health for many years and I've spent a lot of them educating men and women about the issues surround consent, not just in this area but with things like condom use. It's really important to be responsible for your own actions, I have often been left wondering how many people really understand the implications of their actions - if the blank faces I face are anything to go by! But I believe that education is the key I really do