TW: this piece contains explicit recounting of sexual assault and many references to rape and sexual assault: though the piece is graphic, it must be - because we face those who would see its perpetrators free to walk the street unpunished, and to beat them we must face up to that fact.
Rape and sexual assault has never been taken seriously enough, and in fact it seems that highlighting its severity to society at large has allowed many people to shed the skin of respectability and openly distain victims of sexual violence. The 'MeToo' movement was a spark to society where a mirror was held up to the world, and in its dark glass we saw far too many people seemingly unaware of the damage done to so many amongst us, and the ugliness of those who actively contributed to it. Now, only 1.3% of rape cases lead to a conviction, and the reasoning behind that clearance is not the innocence of those accused, but the lack of evidence or an unwillingness to 'ruin someone’s life for one mistake'- quite literally taken from the transcript of a rape case.
A system founded on the idea of innocent until proven guilty is commonsensical - but does not go far enough in any aspect to protect the reporting victim of assault. A tiny number of reported rapes are scurrilous and of course these cases are horrifically dangerous and damaging to those who are accused, and those who seek to destroy a person by reporting them are those who strike the hardest blow against actual victims of assault. But using this tiny number of malicious reports as an excuse to further embolden a system which lets down victims and protects offenders is madness and will go nowhere to fix the problem.
I am a man, and a victim of rape.
In this article I shall detail most of it and this is absolutely not for sympathy because I’m as 'moved on' from it all as I can be - it’s to impress on the reader exactly how prevalent this is and can be. It’s happened a disturbing number of times - mostly by one person, who convinced me he was not raping me despite me quite literally telling him to stop, to get off, trying to get away and for the fact that he only ever did it when I was asleep (and was therefore completely unable to consent).The excuses, if I ever dared to raise it with him, were a myriad of: 'I can’t help what I’m doing when I’m asleep', 'If you’d try and have sex with me more I wouldn’t get frustrated enough to do it', 'You didn’t say stop' - I did once get an 'I’m sorry' mostly because I was in quite literal pain the next day and I believed him for too long.
It took for the last time he did it for me to see him for what he was. I threatened him with the police, but for many reasons I never managed to report it, though I did once try reading the accounts of those who have; I feared nothing would have happened and that frankly even to this day I doubt my mental fortitude could last through a process which can now take over 1000 days. Many people don’t report their traumas. Some say embarrassment, some quote shame, others say they just want to move on with their lives. Those who do go to the police are usually in for a shock at how the force handles reports of rape.
I also wrote a letter on reddit to him, he found it and responded. I never read the response because he said 'we all have a narrative' and that line in itself was a gut punch. Being woken up by someone painfully inserting themselves inside you is not a narrative, but it is a deeply traumatising experience - objectively, saying 'please stop' and him responding with 'no' is not a narrative.
When I did step forward to report my experience to the police even the lines of questioning put me off enough to leave without following it up, the policewoman was verging on accusatory as I asked her what would happen if I were to report someone for sexual assault. She borrowed a line from a family member who I confided my sexual assault ‘what if they do it to someone else and you didn’t stop them?’. Blaming a victim for their abuser’s behaviour is appalling but it’s a tactic thoughtlessly tossed out by a system more interested in maintaining its archaic, unhelpful institutions than actually helping victims and seeking redress and justice against the perpetrators.
I was told that if they found enough evidence to take it to court, I’d be forced to sit in the same room as him and have his legal representation question me on it and pick my character apart as though I was on trial, as though there was some mitigating circumstance I was unaware of to allow him to perform the heinous acts he forced on me.
I even spent time questioning if it was rape: sometimes I had moments of enjoyment, sometimes I was just glad we were having sex. But I did not consent to it; those moments were moments I hadn’t asked for, and that I didn’t want. Those nights I woke up with my face being pushed under the covers to pleasure him were not fun, were not something I wanted - they were each and every time a betrayal.
Rape statistics in the UK are at their highest ever
In September 2021 rapes had become more prevalent as some perpetrators took to injecting people via spiking in order to commit rape, which in turn created a national panic in the press.
As rape statistics rise, even with the huge underreporting of the act itself, we find ourselves facing questions about the reasons behind it, and how to move constructively forward. Society should be working on a two pronged approach in that: we should specify at what point the understanding of consent is lost or skewed or simply when and how it must be taught, we should be working to severely punish those who transgress against another’s bodily autonomy so wilfully, along with working to undo whatever is broken within these institutions to prevent recidivism. Those who seek to abolish the traditional crime and punishment model speak often of how to rehabilitate people from their crimes, and whilst we broadly agree that rehabilitation should be a key focus, it’s hard to imagine that someone who commits such disgusting acts should be offered the opportunity to state that they have been “rehabilitated”.
The problem is as aforementioned: society allows the propagation of “anti-consent” in the minds of people as they grow due to insufficient education and policy, and it leads to a disturbing suffusion of those in society who do not understand consent, from the young to the old. A few months after I got away from my assaulter, I went to a friend’s house and ended up telling him what had happened tearfully. That friend then pinned me down by my neck and tried to force me to have sex with him.
But my introduction to this hideous underbelly of human antipathy, and my first experiences with sexual assault, were two much older boys and a girl holding me down and sexually assaulting me because they thought it was funny. I was 11. Weeks before that happened my neighbour, a girl I went to school with, ripped my pants down without my consent because she “wanted to see”. I don't blame her any more, because I’ve realised that she learned that behaviour from somewhere herself and that thought haunts me.
I tell you these things with one key motive; rapists are, at present, horrifically prevalent in society, and we don’t even know it every time.
The people who have done these things to me are, shocking as this may sound - normal. They’re your friendly funny neighbour, your brother-in-law, your building’s security guard, your cousin, the girl you smiled at as you awkwardly tried to pass each other in the street. Rapists and those who sexually assault people don’t walk around with swirling black capes and moustaches, they aren’t easily spotted, and trust me when I say that they convince themselves that they did nothing wrong. They can be charming, witty, smart, kind, they can care about animals and charity, or they can be every pastiche of a creepy pervert you’ve ever seen on the tv.
What is behind this worrying rise in people willing to disregard consent for sexual gratification?
Some blame the months spent in lockdown for desensitising people to committing heinous acts upon each other – despite the need for us to be cloistered apart, many hate crimes like assault, anti LGBTQIA+ hate crimes and rape have risen dramatically. Worryingly, those statistics are underreported; but can one really be shocked by this? When examining the dystopic treatment of those who come forward to report their sexual assault, one quickly begins to grasp that the system in place does not punish the guilty but castigates the innocent. Only one in one hundred rape cases actually goes to trial and the outcomes from there are dismally low. People know not to try, because it’s an exhausting experience where you must relive the events in front of your abuser on the off chance they may face punishment. Even if they do get convicted, look at those who have been accused of heinous crimes before and yet still eke out successful careers in the limelight: R Kelly successfully dodged accountability for his heinous actions for years, Chris Brown is celebrated for his contributions to music despite being an unrepentant domestic abuser, Trey Songs enjoys a career in the limelight despite now facing his fourth accusation of sexual assault. Roman Polanski has been accused of ruining a young girl’s life with his actions and has been defended by Hollywood stars. A huge number of people knew about Weinstein, but said nothing for fear of their own careers or desperation to “make it”. Cosby is now free from prison despite his disgraceful actions: the list goes on, ignored by those who want to believe that people just don’t do these things.
As a society we are behind the curve: the actual cause of rapists is unknown, though some theories do exist pertaining to the why and the how. The problem is wider than the individual.
We don’t look at where in a child’s development, they begin to lose the thread of other peoples' consent - we don’t actively speak enough to children about consent and impress on them its vital nature. Instead, we allow people to grow up in a world suffused with ridiculous tropes, letting them continue to consume movies like the old James Bonds where he kisses a woman over and over until she stops resisting, and let them believe that’s what women want. We idolise music that blithely calls women bitches and sluts and talks about how the men who churn out these misogynistic lyrics are real men because they have a lot of sex. And then we toss people who have these messages impressed on them over and over and over out into a world where they know how low rape statistics are, and how their behaviour isn’t really that bad because *insert whatever justification you can here*.
Rape is a serious crime that fundamentally changes your perception of the world around you.
Everyone becomes a potential threat and with many rapes committed by someone known to you already, you can’t even trust those you love with the information because there is a horrible chance that they can be your abuser.
As long as rapists continue to go unpunished in the UK because people find it impossible to report their crime, as long as rapists go unpunished because the system effectively puts the burden on the accused, as long as rapists walk free from prison sentences because they’re good swimmers, one begins to understand why it’s such a horrific but prevalent crime: because those who are willing to do it do not care about its damage and this is utterly catered to by a society who is more interested in blaming women for daring to exist with breasts, daring to drink, daring to wear what they want, than asking why men are so incapable of control that they see groping a stranger as a funny side story to a night out.
Blame culture is backed fiercely by rape apologists, and it’s well known that some in society will fall back on the tired tropes of what was s/he wearing. Even recently political pundit Julia Hartley-Brewer insinuated that a glamour model was responsible for receiving dick pics on Instagram because of the photographs she posted. The behaviour of the men who send the photos wasn’t even questioned. No, it simply must be the woman’s fault for posting her own image on her own page and not daring to be as chaste as Hartley-Brewer finds acceptable.
We have a mountain to climb when it comes to making sexual assault as minimal as possible – in a society such as ours, I believe it could never be completely forestalled, some people are just bad. But as one of my favourite sayings goes, the best time to plant a tree is ten years ago and the second best time is now: we must immediately begin the deconstruction of a society that enables rapists to feel validated in their actions, we must break down and rebuild a system that protects rapists to the detriment of their victims and we must demystify the bottomless void of those who seek to fulfil themselves sexually whether consent is given or not. All victims must feel comfortable in standing up to point their finger at their accuser without the weight of the world crashing on their shoulders, without the judgement of those around them and with the full support of a world who wants wholeheartedly to crush one of the most heinous crimes you can commit out of its underbelly.
Believe victims - punish aggressors.