I am enraged. No. More than enraged. I am disgusted. Frustrated. Scared. Hurt. And I shouldn’t be alone in this feeling.
The prominence of rape culture in society is silencing survivors of sexual violence and enabling the trivialisation and acceptance of the attackers’ lack of consequences. Society maintains ideologies that normalise violence, appreciates rape jokes and deems sexual coercion so acceptable that rape is seen as inevitable. Rather than fostering a mentality that condemns and seeks to prevent these crimes, we regard rape as a sad fact of life and “just the way things are.” We continue to view sexual violence as an obscure crime which affects few and can often be tainted by false accusations; the reality is so much more dire and different. I’m not going to throw statistics, or any form of numerical analysis of rape or sexual assault at you to illustrate my point. Why? Because every percentage and ratio are collations of thousands of victims whose experiences should have amounted and resulted in so much more than mere quantitative data. Numbers don’t adequately explain the dehumanising pain that sexual violence causes. Numbers don’t encompass the versatility and differing severities of assaults which people have endured. Numbers haven’t and won’t change, nor bring about change; People caring and educating themselves will.
It is an injustice that a crime, which aggressively violates our fundamental right to body autonomy, is met with such disappointing inaction. Often, people are so focused on the reputation of the attacker that they don’t recognise that a reputation reflects who we are as people – and someone who assaults others should have a reputation for exactly that. Moreover, victims are regularly treated as if they are burdening others with their trauma if they attempt to speak out. We are more offended with a survivor reclaiming their strength and control by holding their attacker accountable than we are with the assault in the first place. Society loves a victim – we see glamorised Hollywood films detailing the lives of vulnerable people put through hell and carrying the weight of their past. We applaud these people; we see them as strong for being resilient and silently “getting on with it.” But the second a victim says no; I am in control; I am powerful; I am more than my rape; we feel intimidated and disapprove, as if a victim owes society a meek voice that doesn’t make a fuss.
For those who have never experienced this, it is hard to comprehend the sufferings of a sexual violence survivor. But, even after having encountered unimaginable trauma, victims often have more to come. The shame, stigma and rejection with which victims are greeted with afterwards means there’s no surprise that they so often feel alone, isolated and incapable of speaking out and reporting their attacks. Not to mention the fact that the police have been known to belittle survivors’ experiences as well as actively encourage them not to speak out, if their case appears weak. Police search for holes in the reported statements and victims can generally be left feeling not believed and defeated. The product of this is that attackers continue with their lives; blissfully unbothered as victims relive, repress and remain with their trauma long term.
Thankfully, organisations worldwide such as the Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre provides tailored support for these survivors in the form of support groups, legal advice and therapy. Whilst many similar centres exist, this is not sufficient. Society needs a cultural shift in its attitude towards sexual violence. Rape is not inherently sexual and has nothing to do with consensual sex. It is a blatant abuse of power and derives from a desire for violent control. We must cease to teach people, specifically women, how to prevent their rapes by covering up, not going out at night alone and to even piss themselves to avoid an attack, because all this is doing is placing the responsibility of stopping the assault on the victim, not the perpetrator. We must teach people to stop raping; a simple lesson that is all too often not taught appropriately. Sex education and consent lessons must improve in schools. The porn industry must not be used as a method of learning how to have sex. Victims must be heard and believed. A society which does not stand with and support victims is a society I wish to play no part in. So, if you know nothing about sexual violence, educate yourself! If you know a perpetrator, hold them accountable. If you know a survivor, empathise and stand by them. Sexual assault and rape are terrifying experiences which victims should not have to deal with alone. Society, do better and be as enraged as I.