Before you lynch me and burn me at the stake, let me explain first, please.
Let’s make something clear: I don’t want to argue about definition of rape or perform victim blaming or excuse perpetrators. It’s not about claiming that “well, if she kissed him than she really wanted to have sex with him” or “she shouldn’t have wear that” or “she brought it on herself” bunch of crap. I really applaud the modern day definitions of rape and sexual violence and the more inclusive of some sexual acts (not necessarily penile – vaginal), the better.
If it includes rape on men, than it’s really great. I’m all for clear definition and swift and punitive actions when the rape gets reported. I would really love to see more prosecution for the rapes when victims speaks up and more of society’s support when rape survivors are at their lowest.
I really dream of a day when I wake up and see in the news that some rape victim reported a crime and EVERYBODY is like: “what a brave woman” or “I really feel for her” or simple “I believe her”.
But if we look at the statistics, it’s hard not to be pessimistic. What, around 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men experienced sexualviolence in their life? The numbers vary from country to country, depending on definition of rape and who asks the question. But one thing is usually clear: false reports are scarce and yet few percentage of rapists get prosecuted. And that EVERY rape statistics is an underestimation of the total number of rapes. Because majority of sexual violence goes unreported.
Humanity is slowly learning about dynamics of violent and abusive relationships, the circle of fear and violence. That sometimes it’s more dangerous to leave abusive partner than to stay and try to endure. That there is so many ways that an abusive partner can tie the victim to himself – by economic means, fear, children, desperation, addiction, etc.
Also in terms of prosecuting of rape we came a loooong way. It’s acknowledged that rape can be committed by a partner, on a date, by a stranger or a member of a family. It doesn’t necessarily involve the use of force, because as it’s known, one of the fear response is to freeze. Simple “no” is enough as a proof that sex is unwanted or, as California went a step forward, a “yes” is required for sex to be considered consensual.
And again, I’m cheering and I am happy with every improvement on this ground, every small step towards seeing rape as it is – a grave violation of somebody’s integrity; and every step back from victim blaming and slut shaming is an incredible achievement.
And that brings us to the key point: some victims do not speak up. They do not report their victimisation. Heck, they don’t even mention it to their friends or families.
Sometimes it takes time to report rape. Sometimes victim needs to handle her own emotional issues connected to trauma, before she exposes herself to another danger. Mostly, the biggest deterrent is that “nobody will believe me” or “everyone will blame me”. Which is actually a real threat, considering that rape victims are treated awfully in criminal proceedings.
However, the point I’m trying to make (but haven’t even started yet) is that we have a problem with narrative that we create around rape. There is this damaging tendency to view sex and sexual violence (and therefore rape) as an extreme, as either black or white: either it did happen and therefore it is the crime that have to be reported and prosecuted; or it didn’t happen and victim is simply lying.
When we speak about rape, we highlight it’s disconnection from sexual pleasure and it’s actual roots in power and will to dominate. Many feminists portray it as a crime that requires harsh punishment. Some of us try really really hard to persuade the misogynist world that victim is never to blame (hail to that). And I believe that if the victim reports this crime, all of this facts are really important. And if we can get the work done soon, that would be just great.
So come on, let’s get to work.
What if the victim does NOT want to report the crime?
That’s when narrative radically changes. If rape is a crime and therefore rapist is a criminal, why wouldn’t anyone want to report rape? Unless he is threatening her or controlling her. Well, that’s an excuse. But if he isn’t? What if there is nothing standing in a way of reporting a crime except victims willingness to do so?
The extreme narrative somehow vilified the perpetrators of rape to the point that if someone we know (and like) is accused of committing rape, we automatically turn against victim and towards victim blaming, because it’s impossible that such a great guy can do such a bad thing.
So here is a brain-picker: what if some men who commit rape are actually a good guys who just did a bad thing? What if some men who commit rape actually love the women they raped?
And one more thing: What if victim did not report a rape, because she doesn’t want him to get into trouble? Because, well, she actually loves him?
If the victim has a feelings towards the perpetrator or is a relationship with him, there might be another thing happening: she will not admit to herself that it was rape. Because if rape is so bad and we are together and he loves me, than he couldn’t have raped me, could he?
And somehow we all aren’t allowing for this narrative to happen. We hardly see stories when rape happened in the scenario of consensual relationship. Because rape is bad and need to be reported or if the victim doesn’t report it, then it didn’t happen. And that’s it.
What we don’t realise is that through this extreme narrative, not only we prevent victims from speaking up and getting support, but automatically we are committing another violence on them: determining what happened to them based on their actions. We are deciding what it is that they should do, regardless of what they would like to do.
By this extreme narrative, we are stripping victim of choice, because in order to be considered raped, she needs to report it and name the rapist. By this extreme narrative, we are silencing their mixed emotions of having some warm feelings towards rapist and at the same time feeling totally betrayed and violated.
Now the big what if: What if we start to concentrate on what victim wants and needs instead of categorising her response to the act as an indicator of crime occurring? What if we suddenly decide that the well-being of the victim is an upmost priority and therefore whatever she is comfortable with, we just accept it? And if she said that she was raped and doesn’t want to report it, then we will offer her simple: “I believe you. Is there anything I can do for you?”.
There is an actual story behind the point I’m making. I have a personal story to share.
My boyfriend, whom I love dearly and we are together couple of years now, did rape me and did sexually harass me at some point in our relationship. I never told anybody, because a) I refused to call it sexual violence; b) the acts where in such a grey area that by many it would be deemed nothing; c) if someone would believe me, I was shielding myself from listening to insults towards him. Because by the end of the day, he is still my boyfriend and I love him.
Two of the situations happened when we were both drunk. In a fervour of emotions and alcohol, he decided that he would love to pleasure me. And he continued to do so, regardless of the fact that I really didn’t want him to. He hold me down, until I really struggled myself out of his embrace. His response both time was that he would never hurt me and he only wanted to please me. So you see, not really the terrible rape/sexual violence nightmare scenario.
The third situation happened when we had sex after amazing foreplay, in my favourite position, in a way that I always liked it. But this time I wasn’t liking it. I was hurting and asked him to be more gentle and slow down, but he didn’t stop until he was finished. So again, very ambivalent situation and not really a great prosecution material.
There was no bruises, there was no violence, there was no screams or threats. It just sort of happened that way.
Regardless of their triviality, those events did leave a mark. I still sometimes cry at the memory of those events. It paralyses me, when I smell alcohol from him, even if I know that he just had two sips of beer. Once he came back home drunk and all he could manage was crawl into bed and fall asleep. But I still lost it. I couldn’t sleep entire night, I was crying half terrified, half furious that he could be in such a state when I’m most afraid of him.
Sometimes, when I have too much to drink I’m flushed with negative feelings towards him and all I want is to hurt him, as if somehow it would alleviate the pain I’m feeling.
So why I stayed with him? Well, because I love him. And since that time he changed a lot. It took me loads of time and effort, to explain to him why the things that he did were bad and how did it make me feel. He worked long time for his understanding that sometimes I will just have a flashback and get from “I’m horny, just f*** me” to “don’t touch me and get away from me” in a second, but he allows me for some space and comforts me when it happens. He is more perceptive towards my responses during sex, and flinches at every sign of discomfort. Sometimes it’s a downer on a passion part, but at least I feel safe with him that now he won’t do anything to hurt me.
I am the total contradiction to the prevalent rape narrative. I was sexually violated by my boyfriend and no, I didn’t report a crime and yes, it was still a sexual violence. Yes, he is a good person and yes, he still committed the act.
But even if the rape survivor is a person like me, with feelings towards rapist and absolute unwillingness to call it rape and report it as a crime, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t leave a mark. It doesn’t mean that the victim is not having flashbacks, trauma, nightmares or avoids situations that serves as a reminder of that time.
Sexual violence, ANY act of sexual violence, be it rape, harassment or some minor acts like street harassment always affect victims one way or another. Most of the times there will be no tears, no screaming, no shock and no severe mental illnesses and traumas. But there will be this sinking feeling that something has been stolen from you, something that impacts on your sense of security, ability to trust and willingness to “be normal”.
And I think it’s another step that we need to take – be more understanding towards victims. Be better listeners. Be more perceptive of how the situation did affect the person. Be more understanding that it takes time to deal with the situation. And most importantly, we need to stop measuring situation by our own perception of how the rape victim should act like and what she/he should do and just simply accept that rape is one of this crimes that it’s never black and white, but it’s in every shade in the colour pallet. That the dynamics of relationship that the victim is in, her state of mind, age, social background and familial ties all impact on the sexual violence scenario, on the ability to handle the situation and on the victim’s behaviour after the act.
And that sometimes for the victims it is not always clear that it was rape.
Written by Khutulun
P.S. If you experienced sexual violence and you don't know how you feel and what to do with this feelings, have a look at Nina Burrowes book. It's amazing. It helps.