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Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Living in a rape culture

Trigger warning: sexual assault.
Some people may find the contents of the following blogpost upsetting. I wasn't sure whether to put it up but then I remembered that I have nothing to be ashamed of and if I can help anyone by writing this then it's worth it.
One night I was coming home from a Halloween party and I was attacked. I was followed to a quiet road and then stopped by a man I didn't know. I fought as hard as I could but I was slow. It felt like my blood had turned to treacle in my veins. And a small ridiculous part of me worried about making a fuss. A taxi drove past, but the passenger saw me struggling and made the driver reverse. The man ran off. If that taxi had not gone past or if it was carrying a less observant passenger, I don't know if I would be able to tell this story. But I had a lucky escape. My mum sent the passenger flowers.
The police were sympathetic but ultimately there was nothing they could do. He hadn't had a chance to leave any DNA on me, thanks to my rescuer. My account was doubtless so muddied and narrowed by fear that it was of little help. They had other things to get on with. Near misses like mine probably happen all the time. They gave me a slip of paper with a phone number for counselling on it. I never called.
Afterwards I was anxious and sad. I was anxious about all sorts of things. Going out, the clothes I wore, the dark. I was sad mainly about one thing: the realisation that there are people in the world who want to hurt you for no reason. I literally didn't know what to do with myself, didn't know how to feel normal again.
But when I spoke to people, I realised that I was not alone. So many women have gone through some form of sexual assault or harassment. Those stories aren't mine to tell. But every woman is touched by it to some extent. And this is in the UK, ostensibly an equal society.
A wee while ago, I was standing in the queue in a co-op (in the middle of the afternoon) and some lads behind me started shouting about how they would 'F*** me like a rat'. Charming. I should have turned round and belted them but I didn't. I wanted to believe that it wasn't happening, and I didn't want to make a fuss. What they were doing was the same as the man in the alley. They wanted to feel powerful at the expense of another human being.
My story is unusual in that it fits the fairytale mould of assault: dark alley, menacing stranger. Most women will suffer at the hands of someone they know. Living in a rape culture is like walking unguarded through a jungle. You know most of the time you're safe. But you never know if a tiger might attack. And if it does, will it just scratch you? Or will it take more? You might not be able to see the tooth marks it leaves but that doesn't make them any less real. Oh, but add to that the fact that most tigers wouldn't dream of attacking you, and share your lives and your homes. Abs you worry about seeming to stridently anti-bad-tiger in case it upsets the good tigers in your life.
I worry about the young women I know. I don't worry because I think they are fragile. I worry because I know you don't need to be fragile to be hurt. But being hurt makes you fragile. It's hard not to be a little more brittle and a little more suspicious of people.
I hope that they never have to go through any assault on their dignity. But if they do, I hope that they are gentle on themselves, and I hope the world is gentle on them. I hope they know it doesn't make them any less.  I hope that they feel confident in blaming their attackers and not themselves. But mostly I hope they know they're not alone, and we can fight rape culture with everything we have.

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