TRIGGER WARNING: This post may be triggering to those who have been a victim of sexual assault.
LANGUAGE WARNING: There is an excessive use of profanities thought this post.
On being a victim of rape culture
Part 1: The day before
Part 2: Where am I?
Part 3: The day after
Drunk or sober I am not to blame for being raped
I have spent most of the last six years blaming myself for being raped by a stranger. Why? Because on the day it occurred I had been drinking heavily. In fact, I was hammered. Like most Friday and Saturday nights and a few other nights during the week as well, I drank a lot.
Of course it was my fault! I gave over all my rights to protect myself when I took away the ability to control my physical actions, mental cognitions, and the ability to verbally give consent or otherwise by drinking a shitload of booze with a group of work colleagues on a Friday night. I might as well have been wearing a sandwich board over my shoulders with the words "FUCK ME FOR FREE" printed on both sides.
WHAT A LOAD OF CRAP!
Yes, there's a good chance that I wouldn't have been raped on 19 April 2007 if I was sober that night.
But there's an even greater chance I wouldn't have been raped that night if the man who committed the crime had any respect for women. Or the law.
Mia Freedman published an article regarding the correlation between sexual assault and alcohol a couple of days ago. It's caused a bit of a shit storm around the interwebs.
On one side of the argument is Mia, and a hell of a lot of her commenters on the post, saying that we need to teach our daughters, sisters, nieces, girlfriends to stay sober while out because if you get yourself inebriated some randy bloke might just come along and stick his dick where you don't want it.
Mia says "Some people are angry at the idea of highlighting the link between drinking and sexual assault. Some people insist that when we mention the connection, we are victim blaming."
Mia, if what you say isn't victim blaming, why have I felt so responsible for what happened to me that night?
And then there are other commentators (Clementine Ford for Daily Life and Kim Powell at the news with nipples) who are crying foul on Mia's argument, saying women have the bloody right to walk the streets at night, drunk and teetering on sky high stilettos, scantily clothed should they wish, without the fear of coming to any harm.
I think I, as a victim of drunk rape, sit somewhere in between the two arguments.
Women should be able to dress up in all their finery, go out and get a little tipsy, drunk if you like, and feel absolutely safe from harm.
But the reality is there are fucking arseholes out there that will take advantage of our drunkenness. There are fuckers out there that will see that lovely cleavage we are showing off as an invitation to sex. Some men will even buy us the drinks to get us to that state of willingness to leave with them. Hell, he could chuck in a rohy to make it a sure thing.
While I was in hospital recently, a blogger friend posted on her timeline this image. It sent me into a spiral of PTSD flashbacks and depression because it brought all the memories back to the forefront of my mind.
And there it is!
Victim blaming lies in the culture we live in that lectures women to prevent themselves from being raped but doesn't put nearly as much emphasis on teaching our men the meaning of consent and that sex without it is morally reprehensible and against the law.
My right to give consent that night was stripped away from me. By alcohol, yes. But mainly by the man who coerced me by force to his filthy apartment.
You would think waking up out of a drunken stupor while a stranger is violating you, and has been for hours while you were unconscious, is one of the worst things that could happen to a woman.
I've only realised this recently. As bad as being raped was, and I still feel the pain of it every time I sit down on my permanently damaged coccyx, the actual act wasn't the worst part.
The worst and most damaging effect of being raped, for me anyway, is the way I was treated after the assault; once I became the rape victim.
I've written all about what happened that night in detail which you can find under the tab above titled "From Rock Bottom to Parenthood". The last post that I wrote in the series, "Reporting the crime", is not the end of the story. I've been meaning to write that final chapter for six months but haven't been able to get my head in the right space to do it. I just haven't been well enough to go there. I'm probably not well enough to write it now, but I'll take the risk and go for it anyway...
Even before the night I was raped my life was a slowly, yet surely, moving train wreck in the making. Heavily addicted to cocaine, ecstasy and alcohol I partied hard and I slept around all while holding down a 9-5 office job with a prestigious investment bank. I never, ever blacked out and I never went to a one night stand's house. I always brought them back to mine where I felt safer because my flatmates would be sleeping in the next rooms and could come to my aid, should I need it.
Back in April this year I wrote:
Fear returned to me then as I thought over my life and how by being there, at the police station, it could be put under scrutiny. I've watched a lot of Law & Order and countless other crime shows and I realised that my life was turning into an episode of Special Victims Unit or The Bill. If the cops ever got this guy and it went to court all my secrets would be exposed. All the lies I'd told to my family and my employer would be dragged out in court. Everyone would know about my addictions, my financial debt, my promiscuity. I had visions of my friends and work colleagues being questioned in the witness box as to my character: "Yes Your Honour, Vanessa loves to party. Oh yes, she's known to have slept with a few blokes from the office...".
At some stage in the evening the two WPCs, my friend and I were driven to a rape crisis centre in Whitechapel where I was prodded and poked by two nurses taking swabs of fluids and blood in the hope of finding some DNA evidence. I knew the exercise was superfluous because I'd showered several times since the assault two days before. This was all just routine. I knew I was being put through a series of procedures to be ticked off a standard "girl raped while drunk crime report" as we went from one examination to the next. I remember my friend pointing out to me, while they measured how tall I was and what I weighed, that I was shaking. I hadn't even realised until that moment that I was trembling. I was petrified and in shock. I still hadn't really grasped the idea that I was a victim of a crime. This was all actually happening to me and that my life had been changed forever.
It was heading well toward midnight, if memory serves, when we arrived at what I remember to be a massive police complex situated north of the Shoreditch/Hoxton area I was familiar with. As my girlfriend waited outside I was escorted into what looked like a store room. The WPC asked me to take my top off so she could photograph the bruising on my right shoulder. Photos were also taken of my face from various angles. Instructions to move this way or that were given in cold, well rehearsed lines.
I think it was not long after that the detectives arrived. A male and a female detective. The two WPCs that had been with me all day had done all the hard work now I just had to repeat everything I'd already told them to the female detective while sitting in front of a video camera. This must have been at about one or two in the morning.
I sat there like a good girl, shifting from side to side to avoid sitting directly on my damaged tailbone, and repeated the story of what had happened on the day and night of Friday 19 April 2007. I think one of the WPCs was present as well as the female detective who was asking all the questions. She went over the notes that the WPCs had taken through the day, I guess looking for holes in my story.
Exhausted does not even come close to describe how I felt in those early hours of the morning as they questioned me over and over again. I'd been interrogated for hours and I just wanted to go home. But the questions kept coming: How much exactly had I drank that day? How could I possibly drink that amount and remain standing let alone get myself where I ended up? Is it any wonder why I can't remember anything? What did the perpetrator look like? What kind of black man was he? African, West Indian, Arab? I don't know, I kept telling them. Can't we finish this another day, I asked. When I've had some sleep. No, it was better to do it while it was all still fresh in my mind.
When the WPCs finally drove my friend and me back to my flat in the early hours of Tuesday morning I felt worse than I had before I went to the cops. All those questions asked over and over. The doubt in their eyes said it all: another drunken girl got herself into more trouble than she could handle.
My friend told me that while I was being interviewed on film by the female detective, the male detective sat with her in the waiting area of the police station. He asked her all sorts of questions about my character. Did I like to sleep around? Did I have a thing for black men? Did I get drunk a lot? Had I made this sort of complaint before?
If that line of questioning isn't pointing the finger directly at me, the victim, I don't know what is.
Over the weeks that followed, the police would phone me with questions about everything I'd told them. From the description of the building where the assault occurred (taken from the drawing they'd got me to do from memory which apparently didn't match that of the building I pointed to in the drive-by of the crime scene) to my belief that my drink was spiked which was why I had no recollection of getting to where I did (the toxicology results, obtained from blood taken two days after the assault, came back negative of any stupefying substances).
Learning that my blood was clean was devastating. Even though I knew the chances were slim given the time between the crime and when I was tested, I wanted so much for them to find rohypnol or some sort of date rape drug in my blood to give me a reprieve from the responsibility of the destruction of my life.
Appointments with a counsellor at the rape crisis centre were made and on the second occasion I went the social worker told me outright:
"The police would hate me telling you this but do not go through with the complaint. If they do actually find the man who did this to you his lawyers will do everything they can to undermine your character. From talking to your friends and family, to getting information from your colleagues and employers. Your entire life will be dragged before the courts. They will find a way to say you asked for it."
I don't know why this warning from the social worker shocked me, but it did. I had convinced myself that my previous concerns that my private life would be made public was just paranoia. An overreaction from watching too many cop shows on the telly. But when the social worker confirmed my fears I realised that we, as a so called civilised Western society, had not progressed past the bad old days of victim blaming.
To protect myself, I had to protect the rapist.
I didn't even tell my parents back in Sydney what had happened for nearly a week because I thought they'd blame me too. I turned out to be wrong, but that was how deeply I felt responsible for what had happened to me.
I felt like gutter trash. A drug-fucked whore who deserved everything she got. I stopped seeing the counsellor and started drinking from the moment I woke up through to the moment I went to sleep, if I slept at all. I had my hair cut short so the rapist couldn't recognised me should we have the misfortune of passing each other in the street and I was constantly on the look out for him. I tried to keep up appearances by turning up to work when I could because I was so scared of losing my job.
The company I worked for sent me home to Australia for a couple of weeks so I could get some rest and see my family. As I flew back to London two weeks later I knew deep in my heart I should have stayed in Sydney. I was flying straight back into the path of self destruction. The burden of blame and disgust was so great that I wanted to die.
There are so many messages out there for women to keep a look out for baddies ready to jump on them at any given chance. Just as Clementine Ford puts it, us women are told:
Don't drink. Don't walk by yourselves at night. Don’t wear provocative clothing. Don't flirt with men you don't intend to sleep with. Don't be rude. Don’t lead men on. Don’t accept drinks from strangers. Don't sign a check you don't intend to cash. Don’t go to parties without your boyfriend. Dress like a lady. Understand that the world isn't fair. Look out for evil monsters, but don't make normal men feel like rapists by avoiding their attentions. Smile. Don't imagine for a moment that you have an equal right to take up space in public without having to endure touching, groping, objectification and jokes at your expense. The world is what it is, yo.
The message has to change from telling women to protect themselves to telling men that sex without consent is wrong. We must teach our sons, brothers, cousins, all men from all cultural backgrounds, that NO MEANS NO!
Being unconscious and therefore unable to give consent, means fucking NO!
From the time sex education begins, at home and at school, boys and girls need to have it ingrained in their psyche that non-consensual sexual activity of any type is unacceptable and is a crime.
In an ideal world women should be able to go out and get pissed and walk home alone without fear of being attacked but until we ramp up the message directed at the perpetrators and would-be perpetrators of these crimes, we still must do whatever we can to protect ourselves.
As difficult as it is for me to truly believe I am not responsible for what that man did to me back in 2007, I know deep in my heart I did not ask to be raped. An unconscious body cannot say yes or no. But when I live in a society that is constantly bombarding me with messages like one in Mia Freedman's article, it's a hard not to feel I am somewhat to blame.
I chose to have a few drinks with some colleagues after work.
I accepted the free rounds of vodka shots that were handed out in the name of lifting office morale.
I am the one who must have followed that stranger back to his flat...