Before I was raped I had an image of what rape looked like. A man would leap out of the shadows, clothes would be ripped, there would be violence, and when the victim stumbled away from the scene of the crime, bloodied and distraught, the police would ensure that her attacker was brought to justice. When I was raped it looked very little like that. I think that contributed to the year long delay in reporting it to the police.
When I was 16 I was raped by a man I had met once before. He didn’t need to leap out from the shadows because I willingly walked into a secluded place with him, he didn’t need to rip my clothes because pulling down my trousers gave him access enough, he didn’t need to use violence, and when I left the scene of the crime, distraught and only mildly injured, it never even occurred to me to call the police. I didn’t consent and I begged him to stop, but it wasn’t “real rape”.
Looking back now, I am shocked that I couldn’t see it for what it was but it was almost ten years ago, I was young, and I don’t think anyone had ever discussed rape or consent with me. There has been an explosion of discussion about gendered violence, rape, and consent since then. I can only hope that has had a positive impact on victims, potential rapists, the police, legal professionals, and the general public. After all, the jury is made up of the general public.
After reporting it to the police I soon realised there were “good victims” and “bad victims”, there was “rape” and “real rape”. A conviction, even just the decision to prosecute, rested on being found “good enough” and my rape “bad enough”. I gave my statement to the police and then the tallying up of “good victim” and “real rape” points began.
I earned some “good victim” points for being a virgin, being physically frail, and having injuries that were documented by a medical professional but I also got “bad victim” points for being drunk, smoking cannabis, having mental health problems, and wearing trousers that were too big for me (having the waist band of my underwear visible was a flirtation tactic, according to his barrister). There was a witness who found me wailing in the street and took care of me, taking me into his and his wife’s home. He was a pastor of a church, so that gained me some credibility points, but I lost some for not telling him I’d been raped (and why would I when I didn’t even really consider it rape?).
Once my rapist had been arrested, I believed the worst was over. I believed that the police would catch him out and a jury would convict him or, if they couldn’t catch him out, I would be spared going to court.
Nothing could have prepared me for court. I was not the one on trial but I was accused of lying, being delusional, stalking him (in “various disguises”!), and, the worst part, of enjoying what he did to me. I have always maintained he did not intentionally physically harm me but the force of what he did led to bruising and severe grazing along my spine, my head being repeatedly hit on the ground and my glasses being scratched as they came off my face and ended up under my head. Rather than seeing it for what it was, sex that was so rough I received injuries, I was expected to be grateful he had not punched me. I was expected to be grateful that my rape was not “real rape”.
The problem with being raped, but not being a victim of “real rape”, is that your character then becomes the main source of evidence for the jury. When you are violently raped, character doesn’t come into it as much but for the the majority of rape victims (the majority of rapes are by people known to the victim and do not include extreme physical violence) what it really comes down to is: are you a good victim?
When you take that statement on its own, the absurdity of it becomes clear. The character and behaviour of a rape victim has absolutely no bearing on the fact a person has committed a crime. No amount of flirting changes the fact that rape is sex without consent. There is not a prescribed number of inches that a skirt must be to make non-consensual sex illegal. Flirting with someone and then giving them the cold shoulder might not be the nicest thing to do but it isn’t a crime and, even if it was, one crime does not justify another.
I’ve often played that night over in my mind, rewriting it, wishing I could have been a “better victim” so that my rapist would have been found guilty. I could have worn a belt so my trousers didn’t sit so low, I could have drunk water instead of wine, I could have scratched his face and taken myself as evidence to the police immediately after it happened. And, if I had done all of that, would I have been a good enough victim? No, because there is no such thing as a “good victim”. There is no such thing as “real rape”. The law is very clear:
(1)A person (A) commits an offence if—
(a)he intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person (B) with his penis,
(b)B does not consent to the penetration, and
(c)A does not reasonably believe that B consents.
(2)Whether a belief is reasonable is to be determined having regard to all the circumstances, including any steps A has taken to ascertain whether B consents.
(Sexual Offences Act, 2003)
“Good victim” and “real rape” are creations of society. They are myths that keep victims quiet and make it easier for rapists to get away with their crimes. When someone speaks about being raped, can we please all focus on the important part: a person was raped.
If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, either recently or in the past, please consider reporting it to the police and/or getting some support.