Today, I’m angry about rape culture. Having to explain to someone near and dear to me, yet again, that rape ‘jokes’ are not funny puts me in foul mood. So I’m going to lay it out for you. If you’re the sort of person who can tell a joke about rape (unless you’re a survivor), then perhaps you’ve not ever had reason to consider how fucked up our culture is about women and sexual assault. I’m here to tell you it is, and here’s why. (*)
As a woman, a corner of my brain is always assessing whether the men around me are about to do something that will put me in danger of sexual assault.
If I should be assaulted, I will be asked to explain my choice to be at the location of the assault, especially if I am alone. Unless a secondary charge of break and enter applies – a separate crime that will be treated differently and without bias – my assailant will not.
If I should be assaulted, I will be asked to explain my clothing choices. My assailant’s clothing will be considered irrelevant.
If I should know my assailant by name, I will be asked to detail all previous interactions with him. I will be asked to prove that no previous interaction could be held up as “leading him on”. If my previous interactions appear to do this, my assailant will be seen as less responsible for his assault on me. My assailant’s previous actions will count against him only if I have demonstrably never interacted with him – that is, only if he has engaged in provable stalking.
If I should be assaulted whilst alone with a man I have chosen to accompany, whether it be to a car for a lift, on a first date, or a quiet corner at a party or nightclub, I will be asked to explain why I chose to be alone with him. My assailant will not be asked to explain what intentions he communicated to me when I made my decision.
If I should be assaulted whilst intoxicated, mildly or otherwise, I will be asked to explain why I chose to become intoxicated. My assailant’s actions will be judged less harshly if I am intoxicated. My assailant will not be asked to justify his intoxication, and his actions will be judged still less harshly should he be so.
If I should be assaulted after I have engaged in consensual romantic contact with my assailant, such as kissing or touching, I will be asked to explain why I chose to do so. I will be asked to explain why I chose to stop. My assailant will not be asked why he chose to continue.
If I should be assaulted under any circumstances, I will be asked to prove that I clearly, loudly and verbally said the word, “No,” or the word, “Stop.” I will be asked to prove that my assailant heard and understood me. If I indicated my lack of consent in any other way, such as screaming, running, crying, freezing, scratching, kicking, hitting, speaking words other than “no” or “stop”, or if I said the words “don’t” and “stop” close to one other, or if I was not loud enough when I spoke them, my assailant will be judged less harshly. This is especially so if I have given consent to a certain act, but not to another. My assailant will not be asked to prove that I clearly, loudly and verbally said the word, “Yes.”
If I should be assaulted, but not physically injured or not visibly physically injured, I will be asked to explain why I consider my assailant’s act to be assault. My assailant will be treated less harshly if I am not visibly injured.
If I should be assaulted, various people will attempt to convince me that my experience does not count as assault, or that my experience is not serious enough to pursue criminally, legally or otherwise officially. These people may be my family, my friends, law enforcement personnel, medical personnel, legal practitioners, employers, media, members of the public, and my assailant himself. The same people may try to convince my assailant that what he did was not assault.
Should my assault take the form of rape, and should the media report on it, it is likely that the word ‘rape’ will not be used in reporting. Instead, articles will state that I ‘had sex with’ my rapist. It is likely that articles will focus on me and my actions, not that of my rapist. In some articles, if it is acknowledged that I was raped, there will be no mention of my rapist at all. Instead, the article will state that ‘a woman was raped’. My rapist will not have his actions examined by the media.
Should I be assaulted by one or more young boys or teenagers, especially if I am a young woman of similar age, their actions may be explained and accepted as “boys will be boys,” or “sowing wild oats”. If their assault on me is their first sexual experience, this will be especially true. My assailant or assailants’ actions will be judged less harshly, and in some circles, congratulated. I will be called a slut.
Should I be assaulted, and my appearance is such that I am not considered to be sexually attractive, due to my age, weight or physical features, I will be told I should be grateful for my assault. Some will tell me I am engaging in wishful thinking, and that my assault could not have happened. My assailant may be ridiculed for his choice of victim, unless he was intoxicated when he assaulted me. I will feel humiliated, and my assault will still have happened.
Should I be assaulted, and also suffer a preexisting physical or intellectual disability, I may struggle to communicate what has happened to me. If I cannot speak, the tools provided to me to communicate with others may lack ways to articulate sexual assault. I may be considered to be confused about what happened to me. Depending on my disability, some may consider me “lucky” to be assaulted. My assailant, if convicted, will be reviled more than if I did not suffer a disability. Why is this?
Should I be assaulted by a person who is regarded as a celebrity, the fact of their celebrity will be used as an argument or proof of why my assault could not have occurred. I will be asked to explain why my assailant, widely believed to be “a nice guy”, would assault me. I will be asked to explain why my right to justice is worth more than my assailant’s career. I will be asked to prove that I am not pursuing my complaint for monetary gain. My assailant will be presumed innocent, or presumed above the law.
Should I be coerced or threatened before I am assaulted, so that I am silent or so that I perform the acts demanded of me out of fear, I will be asked to explain why my compliance under threat does not amount to consent. My assailant will not be asked to justify his threats to me.
If I should have a previous sexual relationship with my assailant, no matter how long ago or how briefly, I will be asked to explain my sexual life in minute detail. If my explanation includes a suggestion that I may enjoy or have a history of rough sex, my assailant’s actions may be judged reasonable and my accusation unfounded. My assailant will not be asked to detail his sexual history.
If I should decide to report my assault, aware of the above, I will be one of 15% of assaulted Australian women who choose to do so every year. I have a 17% chance of seeing my assailant convicted. Should my case go to trial, it is likely that I will be asked all of these questions when I am on the witness stand. My assailant and his legal team will try to convince the jury of my peers – the same peers who fill comment threads with victim-blaming statements all over the internet – that I am a slut and deserved my assault, or that I am lying about being assaulted, or that I wanted to be assaulted, or that I consented to the assault and later changed my mind.
To disprove “beyond reasonable doubt”, all my assailant must do is convince some of my juror peers that any of these may be true. Convincing evidence may not need to be presented.
Should I choose to report my assault, I will stand public trial for having a vagina. If I am sexually active, I will stand trial for using my vagina. My assailant will not stand trial for possessing a penis. His sexual history will not be public record.
This is rape culture, patriarchy, a legal system suffering from cultural bias. And no, rape is not fucking funny.
* (Yes, I know men can be sexually assaulted too. Yes, I know women can be sexual predators too. I do not wish to minimize or obscure these facts. However, for the purposes of this rant, I am speaking for the overwhelmingly greater prevalence of male assaults on women. That said, should my brother be assaulted by a woman, especially if she is considered conventionally attractive, then he will be told he’s lucky and should have enjoyed it. That’s just as goddamn fucked up.)