Content Note: I’ve gone to a place in my past here that might be hard for people to read. So please consider this a trigger warning for sexual assault and violence.
I am writing this post from my new houseshare. I am mostly unpacked, to the astonishment of my new housemates who didn’t believe that I’d be able to fit my 2 bed flat’s worth and 30+ years accumulation of STUFF into one double bedroom. But I have moved many times in my life and I am skilled at Making Things Fit – and one person’s ‘cluttered’ is another’s ‘cosy’. I am definitely in the ‘cosy’ camp. Having this much STUFF though does mean it takes forever to pack, and by the time I’d reached moving-day-eve I was a total mess. I was curled up on the sofa in my pyjamas in a zombified state crying because I’d told the neighbour (the one who’d let me watch Kung Fu Panda with her son when I got locked out) I was moving and she got upset and hugged me. I needed ice cream.
I really, really REALLY needed ice cream. Specifically, Ben and Jerry’s Caramel Chew Chew. I operate on a strict IIWIIGGI policy when it comes to this sort of thing – If I wanted It I’d Go Get It. This tends to prevent me from eating ice cream ALL THE TIME, because if I can’t be bothered to walk to the shop to get it, I obviously don’t want it.
The shop was 5 minutes walk away. Just 5 minutes. But it was dark outside, and 15 seconds of that 5 minute walk is a narrow passageway between two streets. If it had been day time, I would have just chucked shoes on and a sweater over my pyjamas and headed out. But it was dark outside. So I got completely dressed, in clothes as figure-hiding as possible. I got my bike keys and held them so the tines poked out through my fist. I made sure I told a few friends where I was going, and when I’d be back. And I walked to the shop as briskly as possible.
At this point, some women reading are nodding and going yup. And some men are probably going “what the HELL? it’s only 5 minutes away”. And yet, this is something I feel I have to do – even for a 5 minute walk to the shop. Isn’t that crazy? I am just going to buy ice cream.
The thing is, the really fucked up thing, is that I don’t just do this in case I get attacked. I know that if I *do* get attacked, there’s little I’ll be able to do. I am pretty strong and tough and self-aware, but if some guy decides he’s going to attack me then all the ugly clothes and self awareness in the world are not going to stop him. The reason I do all of this is so that afterwards no one can say that I was “asking for it”. I do it so that there will be nothing anyone can use to “blame me” for my own attack, other than “why was she walking after dark” which is tenuous at best. Does this sound like a hysterical reaction to you? For me to go through a list of things I’d better do before I leave the house? “I’d better get dressed, I don’t want them to say I was asking for it as I was wearing pyjamas and no underwear”. “I’d better wear trainers so I can run, I don’t want them to say I was asking for it because I was wearing slippers”. “I’d better make sure I have my keys in my hand, I don’t want them to say I didn’t put up a fight so must have wanted it”.
I was attacked by a stranger from behind 14 years ago. I was lucky. His first punch – to the back of my head – didn’t knock me out entirely, so I was able to scream (and you bet I can fucking scream) and the spot he attacked me was right outside a housing block where I knew a lot of people. Once he was on top of me and punching me in the face I lost consciousness, but my early screams had been enough to bring people out to see what was happening. I have a dim recollection of a punk friend of mine legging it after this guy shouting at others to come with him. I was carried into someone’s living room. Someone put tea in my hand but I couldn’t drink it (later I would find out my jaw was fractured). Someone went to my flat to get me some clothes, as mine were torn where the guy had tried to pull them off. The police arrived. I was still quite out of it at this point due to shock and being repeatedly hit around the head. And thus began the questions, that would be asked repeatedly. By the police on the scene. By the ambulance driver. By the hospital admittance staff. By the triage nurse. By the doctor. In fact, the only person that didn’t ask these questions was the x-ray technician, who had to work around the fact that my face was so swollen my piercings couldn’t be removed.
The questions were:
Have you been drinking? What were you wearing? Did you know him? Had you seen him before? Did you do anything that might have provoked him? Do you usually walk this route alone at night? Where had you been before?
The answers (not that it should matter): No. black trousers and a Cure t-shirt. No. No. No. Yes, because it’s WHERE I LIVE. ) Shopping for a suit for a job interview.
Even after answering these ad infinitum I was treated with suspicion by hospital staff and police alike. I was left waiting in the hospital waiting room for 8 hours. I was discharged alone with no way to get home, and no idea what hospital I was in. Despite trying to follow up with the police after I never received any answers. To this day I don’t know if he was caught by police, if he was never found and attacked again, or if my punk friend and his mates caught up with him and he’s buried in a shallow grave somewhere in East London. In my fantasy revisionist history version of this, where what helps me deal is more important than the truth, it’s the latter.
In the aftermath I was bruised, scared, I had flashbacks and nightmares, concussion and a fractured jaw. But not only that. I was shocked at my treatment by those I had always seen as there to help – the nursing staff and the police – who treated this as nothing more than a girl out late at night (it was 10.30pm) who must have done something to deserve it. Even *friends* who found out about it suggested that I perhaps shouldn’t walk back from the bus stop alone.
14 years later I am still reading articles where women are blamed for their own attack. For wearing tight jeans. For wearing control underwear. For looking older than they really are. Because she was just so pretty, the guy couldn’t resist. There are so many more out there.
And it’s not isolated cases – there is a widespread lack of understanding, despite many campaigns – over who is to blame for rape; when in fact it is very simple. RAPISTS are to blame for rape. A society which is bogged down in rape myths is to blame for this widespread lack of understanding.
A society that doesn’t understand how to deal with rapists comes up with ‘anti-rape underwear’ and ‘anti-rape nail varnish‘. And while on one level it’s great that people are trying to innovate over this it doesn’t make it any more bullshit that the potential victims are meant to take part in the prevention of their own assault. And the danger in such ‘anti-rape’ devices is that when we already exist in a culture that blames victims for their own assault, if a woman *DOESN’T* take these ‘preventative’ steps, will she then be further blamed for not doing enough? Ok, you were conscious, sober, you know self-defence, you were alert, clothed, covered up, wearing sensible shoes, BUT WERE YOU WEARING ANTI-RAPE NAIL VARNISH? No? Then you didn’t do enough.
When this argument comes up, some (perhaps) well meaning people say but why wouldn’t you take these precautions? You wouldn’t leave your bike unlocked would you? If you do that, you are asking for your bike to be stolen.To which I say, no. I wouldn’t leave my bike unlocked. In fact, I have 4 locks (as you can see from my ‘popping to the shop’ picture). But I know, from bitter experience, that if someone really wants to steal your bike they will. No bike lock is unbreakable. That’s why I have insurance. And the reason I have good locks is so that the insurance company will pay up if/when the bike is stolen. Because if someone is going to steal your bike, they are going to. And with insurance, you can replace it.
And you know what is not a bike? A WOMAN’S BODY. A woman’s body is NOT an object. It’s a person’s body. It’s a living person, who is trying to live their life. To suggest that a woman not taking precautions to prevent rape is like someone not locking up a bike is so offensive, I can’t even envisage what is going on in the minds of people that make that comparison. You can’t ‘insure’ a body against rape. An insurance company can’t replace your unraped body or compensate for sucha violation done to you. But if you really want to go there, and suggest that in order to prevent our bodies being violated that we need to ‘lock them up’ like a bicycle, how do we go about it? Do we never drink ever? Never go anywhere after dark? Never talk to strangers? Or be in a place with strangers? Never leave the house? Not that the last one will help you as in the UK 90% of rapes are committed by someone the victim knew. So actually, to ‘prevent’ rape, a women needs to never go anywhere or talk to anyone ever.
Maybe I am being overdramatic and paranoid with my ugly clothes wearing, key carrying, sensible shoe wearing 5 minute after-dark trip to the shop. But with attitudes like this still so prevalent, is it any wonder that so many women still feel that they have to take action like this not just to *prevent* rape, but to make sure we are believed if the worst really happens?