TRIGGER WARNING: VIOLENCE, SEXUAL VIOLENCE AND SELF INJURY.
I have been thinking about trauma a lot lately, my own in particular, but also on a wider scale.
I remember once disclosing to an ex that I had CPTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). He was a soldier and, even though he knew of my multiple experiences and traumas, he still asked why I would have CPTSD.
“Erm, Rape?” I remember saying to him, dumbfounded that he would question me.
The more I think of this though, the more it makes sense. Hadn’t I had the very same thoughts when I was told? Hadn’t I felt a recoil at the notion? I wasn’t a soldier, I had never been at war, and there is the crux of the issue.
How abuse and trauma is portrayed.
Think of how Rape is portrayed in the media, whether that is through the news, articles, or tv and film. The general tropes I have found to be popularised are:
- It’s night
- The rapist sneaks up behind the unsuspecting victim or breaks into their home.
- There is a struggle, often some form of violence
- The victim will scream for help
- The victim will clearly say ‘no’ at least once, but usually several times
- The Rape happens
Now, I’m not dismissing this as a reality, there are victims of Rape and sexual violence whose stories sound a lot like this. I’m simply saying that for a lot of victims it’s not so. I know my experiences of Rape looked nothing like this and it’s clear from the statistics that this is the case for many survivors.
So, then the question in my mind becomes, why?
Why does the media over-represent sexual violence and Rape in this way to the point of fetishization, while they under-represent the reality of these crimes which happen to all genders, not just cis women, to the point it is detrimental?
Well, I’ve got some theories.
DISCLAIMER: The thoughts below are my own mind’s musings, thoughts, and opinions, not undisputed fact. Please do not take these as fact or, ‘the way its is.’ Critical thinking and fact checking should always be the first port of call.
I was first raped at the age of 14 by my—then much older—boyfriend. He sexually abused and raped me over the entire course of our relationship (I’m slightly foggy of the length of this but I believe no longer than a year).
There are a few moments that stand out in this.
We were kissing on his bed and he whispered in my ear, “Do you want me to finger you?”
I froze. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to do or say and, while this was happening, his hand had navigated my jeans and underwear and was now touching me.
I was giving him a hug goodbye and he took out his erect penis and put my hand on it. I took it off and he held me tight to him while he masturbated to completion, his ejaculate going onto his carpet.
We were out at the seaside and he said to me, “If we keep having sex we need to think about protection.” I remember replying, “We aren’t.”
I think that’s the closest I ever really got to clearly and firmly stating I didn’t want to.
I don’t remember the first time, or the last time. It has all become an amalgam in my head. I’m sure I said I didn’t want to, but that could be my shame filling in the blanks in my memory.
The second time I was raped (as in, the second person who raped me), I was 17. My friend’s boyfriend had been helping me with some DIY and it had gotten late. I agreed to him staying over. He slept in my bed with me. We were fully clothed. When I woke up, I was naked. When I questioned him about why I wasn’t wearing clothes his response was,
“Be very careful about what you are implying.”
I have never reported either of these incidents. I was even hesitant about saying I let him stay in my bed because of my shame.
I never considered them rape; I still have arguments in my brain about it.
I mean, neither of them fit what Rape ‘traditionally’ looks like according to the media, and as a teenage girl I had consumed enough to know this. I didn’t want to talk about it. I was ashamed. I had let this happen. It wasn’t their fault. I didn’t say no, or fight. I had by, not saying “no,” said “yes.” They didn’t know they were raping me.
- It’s night – Not all the time
- The rapist sneaks up behind the unsuspecting victim, or breaks into their home X
- There is a struggle, often some form of violence X
- The victim will scream for help X
- The victim will clearly say ‘no’ at least once but usually several times X
- The Rape happens?
If we are going off the media’s checklist for Rape, it’s clear I wasn’t raped, and yet:
- My boyfriend was 22 and I was 14.
- My friend’s boyfriend removed my clothes and had sex with me while I was asleep.
- Both of them were Rape.
In my view, this sets up a fracture in the survivor’s mind, a vacuum of self because your body is screaming that you have been raped and yet it doesn’t fit the checklist, the mould. So, as nature abhors a vacuum, shame rushes in to fill it and that’s where the fallout happens.
1. The Unpreventable i.e. ‘the victim did everything right, but it still happened’
2. The self-inflicted i.e. ‘the victim was asking for it/it’s their own fault’
From this the hydra of rationale, victim-blaming is born.
In the case of women, specifically, in these kinds of situations, the questions start; toxic beliefs surface about how women should be, the judges (whether friends and family, or in court) look at a woman’s ‘character’ rather than the actual crime itself to see if, in fact, she’s a ‘slut.’ In which case, was it really rape?
It goes on and on with people questioning outfit choices—was the woman somewhere she shouldn’t be? Etc.— and it becomes so insidious, so systematic that you get situations in which authorities, i.e., police and judges, who don’t take survivors seriously, as proven in the example below;
“The victim ‘was probably as much in control of the situation as was the defendant,’ Judge G. Todd Baugh said in 2013. Baugh was giving his explanation on why he sentenced a teacher who pled guilty to raping a 14-year-old student to only 31 days in prison. Baugh later faced suspension and public censure by the Montana Supreme Court and apologized for his words.”
Or the victim gets blamed or somehow made responsible for the rape, as in this case where the FEMALE judge, took it upon herself to use it as a teaching experience, for the victim:
“If you wouldn’t have been there that night, none of this would have happened to you… I hope you look at what you’ve been through and try to take something positive out of it… You learned a lesson about friendship and you learned a lesson about vulnerability…
“Those were Judge Jacqueline Hatch’s words to a victim of sexual abuse by a police officer in 2012. The officer was not sentenced to jail time, despite his conviction. Hatch later apologized to the victim for her comments.”
This trickles down into the collective consciences of our society.
I mean, if our lawmakers, judges, police and other authorities don’t consider Rape seriously unless certain criteria are met, why should we? And then we perpetuate this plague of victim shaming. Treating the victim as a defendant, expecting them to explain ad nauseum what happened, asking why they waited so long to come forward, trying to ‘play Devil’s advocate,’ and accusing them of attention seeking are just a few examples.
I know, as a woman, I have heard,
“Text me when you get back”
“You aren’t going out like that, are you?”
“Can I walk you home?”
“Don’t go through the park at night.”
What are we saying here? We are saying don’t LET yourself be the victim, make sure you are ok.
When we view Rape like this, it should surely make us realise that the entire culture around Rape and sexual violence is so fucking skewed to help the perpetrator (usually male, statistically white) not the victim/survivor. It breeds the ‘Boys will be boys’ environment in which women and girls are made to change how they dress and behave because men are just helpless and must touch if they see something they like. Which is not only infuriating for women but so insulting to men as well—and let’s not forget that Rape is about power, not sexual attraction.
This is why reflecting realities in our media is so important, because until we can start showing these incidents happening in a more realistic way to a wider group of people, then we will continue to live in a Rape culture that protects the rapists and predators.