Posted by irresponsibility
There is something disturbingly fanciful about the (anonymous) Guardian feature titled ‘Now he can’t hurt anyone else’. It is about a rape – a particularly brutal, random, life-twisting attack. Really, though, it’s about the aftermath, urging us to see the silver lining; the sympathetic, efficient police; the capture of the perpetrator; his eventual imprisonment. We are invited to observe that sometimes the system does work. “I wanted to write this. To reassure people that rapists can, and do, get caught and convicted. That, in my experience, reporting rape can be a better experience than it is often painted,” the author explains.
“The system is a good… by bashing it in the press… we do nothing to encourage victims to come forward” she says, bravely. You can’t fault her good intentions. Much less argue with her experience. Yet the tone of the feature strikes me as a vague, wishful, a trifle Pollyanna-ish. She invites us to think that things are getting better, but the language itself is laced with hesitation (“reporting rape can be a better experience than it is often painted” is hardly a ringing endorsement of the status quo).
Ugly truths snarl out between the lines. In the wake of the attack (she was followed into her empty house by a stranger and raped violently at knifepoint) the author admits she, “didn’t want people to suspect anything more than that I had been violently mugged.”
She couldn’t even bear to tell her family. “I waited a day to break it to my parents, initially telling them I’d been mugged.”
She doesn’t say why she was so reluctant to tell the truth about the crime, doesn’t have to. We are expected to understand that you can’t just tell people you’ve been raped. We are expected to understand that rape is too shameful, too horrifying, too likely to cause people to ask (or at least think) uncomfortable questions. (“What were you wearing?” “How much did you have to drink?” “Did you scream?”)
Much less does the author examine the implications of her feelings in light of the specifics of her attack. As a victim of a classic, cop-drama worthy rape (bad guy, knife, bushes, etc) she was still terrified of being judged. “Would they think it was my fault because I’d had a few drinks? Would they think me foolish for not being walked to my front door? …Would they think I was unmoved or making things up?” she asks, poignantly.
If she felt like that, imagine being the victim of a more “ambiguous” crime. Imagine being the woman on a night out who wakes up naked in a strange bed, sick and used. The woman whose boyfriend coerces her into sex. The teenager who isn’t sure if it’s her fault the guy wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Rape is rape. Having a man you meet at the bar force himself on you after a few cocktails is no different, and no less traumatic, than being ambushed by a maniac, but – let’s be honest – the public perception of the crime is totally different. In a case like the one outlined here, where there are signs of violence to affirm what happened, it is possible to receive an empathetic police reaction, to hope for justice.
What lies unuttered, though, is that reporting anything less than a “textbook” assault leaves women vulnerable to being disbelieved. To the slight roll of an eye that suggests, “What did she expect doing that?” To the risk that going to the police will simply add humiliation to anguish. To bleak self-doubt: “Was it my fault?”
As much as I would like to believe in happy endings (“the judge handed down a total of 10 years imprisonment”) we are a long way from being able to safely generalise from the particular, here. The real problem isn’t, as the article suggests, women’s perception of attitudes towards rape. It is the attitudes themselves.