When I was 19, a stranger followed me as I walked home alone. It was around 10.30pm, when he grabbed me unexpectedly from behind and started dragging me towards the cycle path, not quite a dark alleyway, but close enough to fit the criteria I’m sure. This ticks all the boxes, for one of the many myths that exist about rape.
Myth – Women are most likely to be raped by a stranger, outside, in a dark alleyway.
Like some sort of bizarre version of Cluedo, with the cards, A Stranger, Outside and A Dark Alleyway, this would make my assault more believable to some people, because it fits their idea of rape. What if the cards had been in fact, A Family Friend, After A Party and In The House. How could a change of circumstances such as knowing your attacker, being at home or having past relationships, alter the fact, whether people will believe that you have been raped or sexually assaulted. To be doubted, when you are having to recount a horrific experience must be truly awful. I was very, very lucky, I wasn’t raped, I was able to fight off my attacker and my screams brought another woman to my aid. Was I more believable because I fought back, because I had a witness?
During my career, I have encounter many women who were victims of Domestic Violence and had also been the victims of rape, not by an unknown man, but someone they knew, that they had loved, even trusted. The reality of rape is that 80% of women know their attacker, its not the mythical stranger lurking down the dark alleyway. It’s a husband, a partner, a friend, a work colleague. The myth of the stranger, is certainly not what the majority of rape victims experience.
Myth- Women provoke rape by their appearance or their behaviour.
The night I was attacked, I was dressed like a jumble sale reject, in Dr Martens, long skirt and a very baggy jumper. On the other occasions when I have went out, dressed more alluring, did I deserve to get raped? NO. Because nobody deserves to be raped. Its not about how much cleavage or leg might be showing, or if your behaviour is deemed to be flirty. Rape is about power and control, the crime of rape, cannot be justified because of items of clothing.
Myth- If a woman didn’t struggle, wasn’t injured or didn’t report immediately, she wasn’t raped.
I was very, very lucky, not only was I not raped but I didn’t freeze up in fright. Some survival mechanism kicked in and I fought and screamed like mad. It could just as easily gone the other way, and I could have been paralysed with fear. Until you are in that situation, you don’t know how you would react . In some cases it is better to remain calm and quiet, otherwise the rapist might become even more violent. I have trouble remembering the date of my attack, my mind has made it a vague, hazy memory, although I sometimes still get unexpected vivid flashbacks, even after all these years. I don’t know if I would have reported it immediately, a day later, a week or two later or when I was feeling less vulnerable. Would it have changed the reality of what had actually happened, if there had been a delay in reporting? A rape is still a rape, even if you don’t report it straight away. Shock can cause you to not really acknowledge, what has actually happened to you.
Myth- Its not rape if a woman has consented to some sexual intimacy, or has previously had sex with many partners.
Sex without consent is rape, whether you are married or living together, had consensual sex with him in the past. If you didn’t say yes to sex, its rape.
Myth- Rape can’t take place in an ongoing relationship.
Myth- Some rapes aren’t ‘serious rapes’
All rapes are serious, its a violation of your body. The aftermath of a rape or sexual assault, could affect you for the rest of your life.
This blog is supporting Mumsnet’s We believe you campaign. As a society, we need to acknowledge that there is no excuse for rape, even if a woman has drunk alcohol, taken drugs, wears different types of clothes, gets married, has a relationship, walks alone etc, nothing is an excuse for rape. We need to make sure victims feel supported and comfortable, with reporting rape or sexual assault, that they don’t fear that they won’t be believed, or feel in some way responsible, for the crime that has taken place against them.
The simple fact is, sex without consent is rape and should be treated as such, in every case. Women should be believed, so that appropriate action can be taken, to tackle this horrific crime and re educate a society, that sees some people as more deserving of justice, than others.