Today in the park I saw the man who raped me.
He was the first man who had sex with me. I don’t phrase it as the first man I had sex with because that makes me sound like I was an active participant and I wasn’t really. And on a warm September day more than 10 years after he raped me, he walked past me. He was with his dad – yep, weird to remember that he has a family and they knew him as a tiny child and his history extends so far beyond how I know him – and I was on my own and there he was. Just…there. He’s not even supposed to be in this country.
I don’t know if he saw me. We walked past each other as if we didn’t know each other, like ships that pass in the night. Or in this case, like boats that pass in the day. But we did know each other. We definitely did.
I’ve been listening to The Archers as they went through Helen and Rob’s trial dealing with domestic abuse. Despite the fact that it’s Helen on trial for the attempted murder of her husband Rob, during the court proceedings it comes out that he raped her on a regular basis. She talks about how she switched off and became numb in the end and something struck a chord. I know that feeling.
I remember being raped like an out of body experience. I don’t remember it happening to me – it’s more like I was hovering above watching as it happened. I remember the conversation and the instructions he gave but I don’t remember….
I remember it not hurting and being confused that it didn’t hurt because the first time is supposed to hurt isn’t it? Why didn’t it hurt? But I don’t remember how it actually felt.
I remember him commanding me to tell him I love him even though I didn’t.
I remember crying after and not knowing why.
I remember but I don’t remember.
He looks exactly the same. I don’t think I do. I don’t feel the same – I can’t possibly look it. I’ve grown outward and upward and inward and in all the directions a person can grow. I have expanded to fit myself in ways that I never thought I would.
Three thoughts went through my head as we walked past each other.
1 – No. That’s him. Why is he here?
2 – Thank God he didn’t see me.
3 – Nothing. I feel nothing.
And after the initial shock it was strangely liberating to know that 10.5 years on, walking past him I felt nothing.
And yet I know on a different day I might have felt something.
On neither of these days would I be able to talk to him. To look at him properly, hear his voice; speak to him without fury and pain and questions that I don’t believe he’d ever answer. I wouldn’t want to meet his eye. I wouldn’t want to try because I don’t believe he’d ever see that what he did was wrong. He remembers it differently. His story will never be, “I raped that 17 year old girl”.
And that’s such a big part of the problem.
One of the other things The Archers dealt with was the shame. The shame of admitting it happened. The thought of talking to my family about it fills me with terror and dread and an intense desire to hide or run away because I don’t want them to carry that knowledge around. I don’t want their picture of me to be this picture of me. It’s not shame for me but the thought of giving them that pain…I couldn’t look at them. They don’t need to be hurt like that. They can’t un-know it once they know.
I didn’t – couldn’t – tell anyone for 8 years because I didn’t acknowledge it myself. And just like Helen in The Archers, I knew it wasn’t right. I didn’t say anything to anyone about it. If I talked about losing my virginity I lied. I said it was when I was 18 over Christmas with the next guy I dated.
I suppose what I want to say is this:
It’s not ok. It is horrible and awful and violating. It’s not ok that it happened to me or to you or to anyone you know.
It’s not ok that I didn’t really know what it was. That I didn’t report it. That I didn’t even know what had happened to report. It’s not ok that when rape is shown on TV or in films it’s nearly always violent and angry and down a back alley. It’s not sneaky and manipulative and on your boyfriend’s bedroom floor. How can we recognise it in reality if we don’t know the most common forms it can take?
It’s not ok that there are men manipulating, taking and violating women. It’s not ok that people like Brock Turner aren’t being punished severely for this because they can swim really well guys so yeah it doesn’t matter how they treat women because whatever it’s just a woman right? Those people are making the world less safe for everyone. They’re doing a disservice to all the men who respectfully don’t go around raping women and then denying responsibility for it after the fact. They’re sullying your reputation and what it means to be a man. And what they’re doing to women is much, much worse.
But I’m ok.
And it’s ok that it took me a long time to acknowledge it.
It’s ok that I didn’t know how to talk about it, that I felt nothing for 8 years because I didn’t allow myself to think about it for that long.
It’s ok that I cry now when someone talks seriously about rape, fictionally, a book, an article, on the radio, in reality…anywhere really.
It’s ok that I find it hard to say that I was raped, that what happened to me was rape, that the man I saw in the park is the rapist who raped me. My mouth sort of gets stuck around the words and they stop in my throat and they choke me a bit but I feel like I have to force them out. It’s hard to say it out loud.
It’s ok that I feel a bit weird when someone talks about the statistics around rape and women because I slot myself into them and I don’t like it but I know I’m there. And there are so many of us. We are an ocean of faces. And those are just the ones on the surface – the ones you can see.
It’s ok that I felt nothing when I walked past him. It’s ok that on a different day I might have felt everything. Because I did my best and I’m always doing my best to deal with it. I’m lucky it doesn’t haunt me every day of my life. But it sneaks up on me and surprises me with its impact sometimes.
I went and sat on the grass in the sun for 45 minutes before I went back to work. Everything carried on as normal around me.
This boat is still afloat, sailing strong and beautiful. Today I am OK.
The ever-important context bit – I’m allergic to alcohol. It comes up a lot as a conversation topic because we live in a culture where drinking is a huge part of socialising and people get weird when you tell them you really won’t be having even one drink. It comes up a lot on dates because we rely on alcohol to loosen us up and get through that initial god-help-me-this-is-so-fricking-awkward-why-won’t-it-end stage. I went on a first date with a guy and the not drinking thing came up.
The next day I got these messages, apropos of nothing. We weren’t chatting about my socially unacceptable allergy, just out of the blue this arrived:
For those of you wondering what comes after what the size of my iPhone screen allows in one shot, that last message reads:
Now slow down with all this rape talk. Its putting me off a bit….It’s totally not rape if you agree to drink it.
Unsurprisingly we haven’t been on a second date.
(Side note: At this point I ask you to excuse my misspelling of rohypnol. It’s not a word the iPhone likes, whichever way you spell it and I wasn’t really focused on that element of the conversation. That being said, grammar and spelling are always important.)
So this was December 23rd and I’ve been thinking about it since then. Wondering whether what I said was enough, if I should further explain why I feel so strongly about the situation. I’ve gone over and over it, wondering if I’m making too much of a stupid comment, doubting my gut instincts and then wondering why I’m tarring myself with the “hysterical woman” brush I hate so much. So before I change my mind, I’d like to speak it.
If I were brave enough, if I thought it would do any good, if I thought it would change anything, this is what I’d like to say:
I wanted to talk to you about the last time we chatted. I thought about doing it at the time, but I didn’t think I’d say the right things and I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to say anything at all or if I would be wasting my time.
I don’t know why you thought it was OK to make a rape joke. We even had a conversation on our date about how a guy had made rape jokes on a previous first date I’d been on and how unacceptable I found it and how it was weird and a turn off for me. So that’s why I thought you just didn’t want to see me again and said “if you didn’t want to see me again you could have just said so.” Because I couldn’t think of a reason why you would decide that was a good line of conversation, why you would think that after making those jokes, I’d want to see you again.
Aside from that, there’s the much more important fact that you don’t really know me. Let’s be clear – I don’t have a blanket ban on joke topics. Adrienne Truscott had a whole hour of jokes about rape, naked, and did it so brilliantly, making such a blatantly necessary point that she won an award for it.
But you met me once. You don’t know me. You don’t know what might have happened to me and yes that’s true of everything before you know someone and you could put your foot in it with anything…but rape? Really? I made it pretty clear that I wasn’t finding it funny but you kept going with it anyway. And maybe I’m reading too much into things, but why choose to ask me if I’m allergic to rohypnol – a drug pretty much entirely known for its use for rape? Why not any of the other hundreds of drugs you could have chosen that don’t have rape connotations?
I don’t think anything is off limits to joke about on a stage providing it is done to make a point, with at least some semblance of an original take and in the right way. I also think this no limits thing applies to long-standing couples or old friends who know each other well enough to understand what issues really mean to each other. Context is everything right? But you continuing to make light of the idea of raping me after I’d clearly expressed discomfort…? Somewhat aptly, forcing the joke on me anyway? To me that is horrible and insensitive at best.
That’s really not a great best.
You seemed kind of OK when we met and maybe it was just a bad judgment call on your part. But even when you apologised you just said you were “sorry for making me feel uncomfortable”…but you didn’t say you were sorry for making jokes about raping me. Like the problem is me being upset, not you making the joke. Just another woman overreacting to a harmless joke about rape right?
No. Not right. I’m not overreacting and it isn’t harmless. Because it’s indicative of a wider attitude, that these things are totally fine to casually joke about in any context. And to me at least, it’s indicative of what might be at your core. Do you also make racist jokes? How about the occasional homophobic pop? I’m speculating of course, but suddenly these things that I loathe, these ideas that stand against equality, that silence people or belittle them or their experiences, their very real, hateful and violating experiences…they’re brought into the light and mocked and I have to tell you, they’re not funny. Rape is not funny. And your apology isn’t good enough.
What you should be apologising for is the fact that you persisted with a line of conversation that went beyond disrespectful and became creepy, bordering on threatening. What you should be apologising for is your attitude to something that is a horrible ordeal, that more women (and occasionally men) face than should ever have to. Oh, what’s that? It was “obviously a joke”?
Of course! Because the way to make me laugh is to talk about a horrific violation that you could commit if only I’d agree to take rohypnol. You’re right. That is just *hilarious*.
Someone pointed out to me that you clearly have no actual intention to rape me. I know that. I’m not an idiot. It was a bad joke in poor taste. But we let casual racism slide and incrementally, without us noticing, it becomes racism. We let casual sexism slide and slowly, without us noticing, it is sexism. We let jokes about rape slide and I dread to think what they actually become.
There were 22,116 recorded rapes in England and Wales from June 2013 – June 2014. This is 29% higher than the year before, despite a general fall in crime by approximately 16%. This could well be down to people feeling more able to come forward and report that they’ve been a victim of rape, but that’s still a shocking statistic. And those are just the ones that are reported. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-29642455)
In 2005 the U.S. Department of Justice conducted a study called the National Crime Victimization Study. The results showed that approximately 2/3 of victims / survivors (however you want to think of it) of rape knew the rapist.
My worry is that maybe you’re the kind of person who one day won’t take no for an answer, who’ll think that some women are asking for it, who victim blames and who thinks casually misogynistic thoughts and secretly (or not so secretly) believes those thoughts to be true. My concern is that if we were together you’d expect me to put out when you want it even if I don’t, you’d ignore it when I’m uncomfortable because it suits you. You’d apologise for how I feel, not what you’ve said or done. You won’t open your mind and reevaluate your opinions or why you have them. You won’t question the effect society and ingrained attitudes to women have on you. You won’t ever fully respect me or how I might feel about something.
You said something on our date that made that ringing alarm bell thing happen for me. You said that women are physically built less funny than men. I don’t think that’s true because boobs are clearly hilarious and also because it’s a ridiculous thing to say as a generalisation. Ultimately there are lots of reasons why you might try to veil your “women aren’t as funny as men” opinions when faced with a feminist woman who does comedy. But I guess that conversation should have tipped me off. In at least one societally reinforced area, you think women are less able than men. In your eyes that must make us less than men. And that means you won’t respect us as much as you should. You’ll be surprised when we succeed but not pleasantly. You’ll enjoy it less – not more – because it proves you wrong.
I’ve done that thing that I do where I’ve over analysed something someone has done. I know that. But my gut instincts are pretty good about people and they’re telling me I’m onto something here. I can’t ignore that. Even if I wanted to, I don’t think I could comfortably see you again. Because you made a rape joke at my expense. Because you showed something true about yourself when you thought it was safe. Because you made it not safe for me.
So for future reference: rape jokes? Not OK. Apologies? Need sincerity. And women? Women are your equals and deserve your respect. It shouldn’t have to be said. It shouldn’t be allowed to slip under the radar and it hasn’t slipped under mine. You’re 35. You have no excuse. Grow up and start treating us better.