Let’s talk about rape. Now right away you’re cringing – who wants to talk about rape? When you think about social taboos, rape discussions are right up there with menstrual blood and the things you’ve accidentally masturbated to on non-mainstream porn sites.
No one wants to hear it, no one wants to talk about it.
When your mum and dad sit you down for ‘the talk’ chances are they’ll rattle off the basics (‘wear a condom’, ‘put it in the right hole’) and then leave the rest for you to figure out on your own through either school, friends, or the media. In this way, rape gets pushed to the margins and people just assume you know the dos and don’ts. As if you came out of the womb having two thoughts: One) that crying leads to feeding and Two) that rape is bad and you shouldn’t do it/ prevent it happening to you.
But what is rape?
Now I can already hear you scoffing. Of course you know what rape is. But I’m asking, do you really? What do you imagine when you hear the word ‘rape’?
The problem with everyone’s ideas on rape is that it’s often pictured in a very black and white, Hollywood-style way. What I mean by this is that people picture a doe eyed girl, who’s just on her way back from her late night Church group, dressed in her Sunday best (long skirt, nice buttoned up blouse) when… DUN! DUN! DUN!
A rapist appears!
In your head this is clearly a rapist. He’s probably older than the girl, most obviously a stranger to her, perhaps even dressed in either trackies or a trench coat – whichever bad guy stereotype you endorse. He pulls the girl into an isolated spot, the girl cries out, she tries to stop it, but tragically, nothing can be done and this is how the rape happens.
Now while this is a very bleak and disturbing picture, statistics indicate that this kind of sexual assault counts for only a small percentage of assaults. In fact, in the UK, on average only 9% of rapes are committed by ‘strangers’.
And if you’re under the belief that, as a woman, you’re most in danger by stepping out alone at night, you might be surprised to learn that rapes in public and unknown places are far lower than rapes that occur in known environments – such as your home, your place of work, or at your school.
Why is this? Well, disturbingly, 85% of rapists are known to the victim.
In fact, when it comes to rape there is no ‘typical’ situation or victim/attacker. Rape has reportedly happened to women from the ages of 3 to 95, to women of all ethnic backgrounds and class.
As RapeCrisis points out, “rape is an act of violence not sex”. Therefore it is capable of occurring to any woman or man at any time.
And the numbers certainly back this up.
In the UK alone, between 2009/10 and 2011/12 there have been an estimated 78,000 victims of rape per year. 69,000 of the victims are thought to be women, and 9,000 male.
On average that means that one in five women has experienced some form of sexual assault. And this brings me to my original point: why we need to talk about rape.
Because even now, most rapes go unreported and many cases don’t even see a trail. Out of those 78,000 offences, only 15,670 a year will be reported to the police. From that figure, only 3,850 will become ‘detections’, meaning that they will proceed either to a court or to an out-of-court disposal. 2,910 people will then face court proceedings, and in the end, only 1,070 people will get convicted of rape.
Just let that sink in for a moment. Out of 78,000 rapes a year, on average, only 1,070 attackers will be convicted – isn’t that crazy?
And when you look at the recent Steubenville trail, is it really that surprising? Our stereotypical idea of what a rape is has meant that we often dismiss the real rape cases as ‘the victims fault’ or as ‘the girl who cried rape’.
Why is it that these people feel that the Jane Doe of the Steubenville trails deserved to get raped? Or even feel that the incident wasn’t rape at all?
Because she doesn’t fit our idea of a victim, and the boys don’t fit our idea of rapists.
The girl was drunk and therefore she brought it upon herself. The boys weren’t strangers, but her classmates, with good grades and promising football careers.
But in the eyes of the law, when a person is intoxicated by alcohol or drugs, they are no longer able to give their consent to anything and that includes sex. The Steubenville victim was drunk to the point where she couldn’t even stand up, therefore she did not consent to those boys having sex with her. No consent equals rape.
And it’s as simple as that.
If one person says no to having sex (at any point) then anything forced upon them is rape.
It doesn’t matter if the victim is drunk, if she kissed the attacker previously, if she’s had a lot of sexual partners; it doesn’t even matter if she’s in a relationship with the attacker – it is rape. No consent equals rape.
And as long as people continue to believe differently, as long as people only have one model for what rape is, then rape will continue to go unreported under the fear that the victim will be ignored or, even worse, that he or she might be attacked by the media and the public for ‘asking for it’, for ‘being a slut’, for ‘being a liar’.
And with one in five women suffering from this, can we really choose to ignore these problems any longer?
Let’s talk about rape.