In this article I would like to take a look at response of society to sexual abuse and how it influences the victim’s reaction to their experience.
It’s always neat to start up with some stats, like “every two minutes woman in USA will be sexually assaulted”, but the fact is – I wouldn't give a penny for rape, molestation or child molestation statistics. Why? According to RAINN 60% of rapes are not reported. I know way too many people who were sexually assaulted and never reported it and I would go for more than 60% unreported cases, way more than that. This underreporting can actually be a landslide number, so yes, I don’t pay attention to rape statistics.
I would like to discuss rape and molestation from perspective of European and American societies, not even going into arguments of why in countries like Egypt or Saudi Arabia rape is statistically nonexistent. (In fact, following statistics can make you believe, that Egypt is a country with one of the least number of rapes. Whom are we kidding? Women were being gang raped during protests in Tahrir Square, so do you think this is how safe country for women looks like?)
As many brutal cases of rape proved it, we have collective problem in judging sexual crimes. I am not going to discus court rulings here, I would like to look at reactions to rape of news recipients, people watching TV and reading newspaper articles. Every now and then some story makes its way into mainstream media and that gives us an update of what people really think about sexual abuse victims.
People tend to talk about the victim, not the rapist.
Orange County gang rape is a good example of how sexual assault polarizes the society. In this case, video showing an unconscious teenager being brutally raped (meaning: penetrated without consent, she was unconscious for God’s sake!) by 3 jolly boys is not enough to prove that this girl is a victim and deserves our support and sympathy. Victim of rape was publicly proclaimed a slut and has to live around people who believe she ruined lives of 3 nice boys, by sending them to prison for 7 years (yes, in the eyes of law this brutal act deserved punishment of 7 years only).
|"She was drunk, she got horny", "she wanted it, but she's ashamed of it now, so she calls it rape", "what was she doing in a party anyway??" - That's what we call slut shaming, honey.|
Her friends were happy to testify in favor of rapists, and even today they go on Internet to spread lies about her. Long story short, thanks to people's sympathy to the rapist, this girl is constantly shamed and scrutinized, because living with the pain of being rape survivor is not enough. And maybe case is old, it happened in 2004, but these comments about it are fairly recent, which only shows what victim of this crime has to put up with even 10 years after rape happened.
|More about ex-friends here|
Court trial is hard enough for any sexual assault victim, but public prosecution is nastier and it can go on forever. Guilty verdict for rapist doesn't mean anything for people who already decided the girl is a slut and most probably, they will never change their minds.
In response to this outrageous statement, sexual violence survivors are sharing their experience on Twitter with hashtag #SurvivorPriviledge. It's worth reading for anybody, who even considers that being a rape survivor is an awesome thing and puts you in exclusively privileged group of people.
Another interesting statistic is the number of false rape accusations. Because that's what drives the disbelief for EVERY rape and sexual violence victim, because there is soooo many women and girls who "cry wolf". Well, it couldn't be further from the truth. Official statistics in countries such as USA or many countries in EU indicate that false reports constitute between 2-10% of all rape reports. Not cases - reports. So if we take the official statistics and we take into consideration real life rape cases that hasn't been reported, false accusations make up for really really really tiny part of all rape instances. So why we as a society persist to question the truthfulness of rape survivors, when more than 90% of them reported a crime that really happened?
Even though that most of the legal definition of rape it is stated that absence of yes is a presence of no, but absence of no is not the presence of yes. Consent is stated and defined clearly, but somehow people are still ready justify rape and rapists if the victim didn't yell with all her power "no, don't do this, noooooo!"
Reporting rape is like going through hell for the assaulted. And I didn't even talk about treatment by police and doctors who can be just as judgmental as all rape apologists writing comments on Internet!!!! Living with a stigma of a slut is nothing that any person dreams of, so many just chose to stay quiet. Many women and men know that it will be too hard to prove their innocence, so they don’t even try and live with sense of injustice ever after.
If we have such problem sympathizing with a girl who was drugged and had juice cans pushed into her vagina, how can we ever sympathize with a victim of molestation or child molestation where there are no screams, no blood, no bruises, no witnesses, only victim’s feeling of violation, feeling of being raped?
Molesters are most often people we trust. Fathers, mothers, uncles, family friends, teachers. We are taught since we are little not to talk to strangers, not to trust outsiders, so when we are out on the streets we have our guards up, we are careful. If we are assaulted by a stranger we know what to call it, after all we didn't have anything to do with this person. But how to react when person who hurts us is our father or other trusted person? They wouldn't do anything to hurt us, would they? Whom to turn to when it is our parent/friend of a parent/family member who is hurting us? Saying that they hurt us would make them feel bad and we shouldn't hurt family. Isn't that correct?
Fear and inability to define what kind of wrong had been done is another reason for victims to stay quiet and not to report the crime to anyone.
Perhaps, accepting that a little girl molested by an adult is a victim is not that difficult. After all, she’s just like 5 or 8 years old, she couldn't possibly know what was being done to her. With boys it’s a little harder. We tend to feel less sympathetic for them; it’s again our broken perceptions about gender in action. Sexual abuse is something that happens mostly to women, we think. But this opinion is based on statistics and you already know what I think about them. Men are not likely to report sexual abuse, because it’s a shame for a man not to enjoy sex or let women be dominant, take control of his body; it would prove he’s not strong enough, not manly enough.
What about teenagers and adults who were molested, especially when victims are male? Again, there was no penetration, no blood to show in a shocking movie or TV series, but somebody forced victim to touch him/her, forced victim to watch sexual action like masturbation, stimulated victim’s genitals or forced him/her to oral sex.
Are we able to feel bad for them? Are we able to believe when they say “I was molested, I didn't enjoy it, and I didn't want it. I wish I could forget what happened to me.”?
If we can call victim of rape a slut, what do we call a victim of molestation? A liar? Storyteller? Even the word “molestation” doesn't represent the true weight of this crime. Rape is scary, molestation is something, well, it can be anything. Who cares about a boy who saw old priest masturbating if we don’t care about a gang raped girl?
There are families where generations of girls are subjected to molestation and they can’t open their mouths to stop their perpetrator, because they don’t have soft cushion of support around them. All they have is dark mass of people waiting to call someone a WHORE.
I’m sorry for writing “we don’t care”, but as long as we don’t challenge rape apologists, both online and offline, we are complicit to slut shaming and perpetuation of rape culture.
To make things even more cheerful, there is no agreement on a simple thing as what (instinctively) is meant by sexual violence and rape. Well, the boy hasn't been touched, he was just forced to watch, so it wasn't sexual abuse, was it? Or the girl didn't had anything put in her vagina, so it wasn't rape. Or the tearing and burns and bleeding around victims intimate parts could just as well be a result of consensual sex, isn't that right? Well, we have a proof of intercourse, but it's her word against his and his reputation. Of course we won't believe her.
Can you imagine the situation that you have a drunk driver who hits a woman on a crossing, but instead at looking what happened you are justifying the driver, because he is such a good man, but he had just too many drinks. And anyway what was she doing on that crossing? You wouldn't blame the victim (woman) for getting hit by a drunk driver, because he shouldn't have done that, especially if he is a decent guy! So why suddenly the same drunk man is excused when he forces himself on a girl and rapes her? Why those situations strengthen the perception of decency of the perpetrators and weakens the reliability of the victim? After watching/hearing/reading about what those boys from Orange County did to that girl, how can anybody believe that they are decent boys? The act in itself was repulsive and they did that with the smile on their faces! What kind of decent person does that?
All of us, encouraging survivors to tell their stories would help society to open their eyes and ears to crimes that can take place only when we are not looking, only when we are not listening, only when we choose not to talk about them. Molestation and rape continue to happen because we, as the society, prefer to scrutinize morals of the victim, not morals of the perpetrator.
I personally don’t think that during my life time people will understand that victim doesn't have to be bruised up and covered in blood to be a victim. There are crimes that leave only mental scars and we should be civilized enough to acknowledge them and their harmfulness. There is no other crime like rape where evidence don't matter - what matters is a proved "decency" of a perpetrator and alleged "slutness" of a victim.
Victim shaming works in favor of the criminals, it creates an atmosphere of impunity. We can stop rape culture, you can stop rape culture. Don't judge other people when you don't know their story, don't call other women "sluts" or "whores". Understand, that dress is not a reason for rape. Make up, drinking and even flirting is not a "yes".
Talk about rapists, not the victims.
If you are survivor of sexual abuse, talk about it, write about. Your story is important and it can help saving other people from experiencing the same hell you had to go through.
Written by Inanna and Vespertilio
P.S. If you are a victim of sexual violence and you struggle to come to terms with what happened to you, have a look at our section "Food for Thought" and have a look at the materials written by Dr Nina Burrowes. She found a simple way to show the victims of this crimes that you are not alone and that you can be helped with whatever you are going through.