There are people behind recent rape statistics, and you must take their stories seriously, says FRANCESCA EBEL.
Let me tell you what I did today.
I dragged myself out of the warm, comfort of my bed, stumbled over to brunch, lit a cigarette and trawled through the newswires for the day. A message from a friend popped up in my inbox: “What do you think about this?”. Attached, was a link to last week’s Tab article ‘What to do if you are raped’.
Immediately my stomach tightened. I scrolled over the statistics we’ve been hearing about for weeks, that don’t get any less shocking.
“88% of these cases go unreported.”
My face flushed as I read the instructions…
“Tell a friend.”
The anxiety that grips you as you try and articulate how you feel, the constant feeling that you have exaggerated the details; that you somehow asked for it. Their expression as they consider whether what you’re saying is really true. Their accusation that you are attention-seeking and deluded.
“Go to a sexual health clinic the next day.”
She glances at me briefly. “Was this incident ever reported?”. I shake my head and her expression melts a little. “Have you considered counselling? Talking about it could really help you.”
… As I looked down at that screen I realised that I’m sick and tired of feeling powerless: I refuse to be silent anymore.
Trigger warning: This story is a personal account of rape and may affect readers.
It happened three years ago. I was 17 and still going through that phase where drinking straight vodka and kissing strangers was my idea of having a good time. An hour later, my friends were helping me up the stairs and into bed where I drifted off into the oblivion.
I’m awoken by a crashing noise and a burst of white light. I stir and as I peel open my eyes am aware of something, someone, wrenching back the duvet and clambering on top of me. He’s frantically pressing his lips to mine but I don’t react. There’s a sensation as my legs are pulled apart and a sudden, tearing pain.
I feel like I’m dreaming but know instinctively that something is very wrong. In my drunken stupor, I try to shove him off.
“No.” I croak
“Stop it. Get off.”
I push him again but he ignores it, breathing heavily into my ear.
When its over he promises me he’ll come back. As I stumble outside to find him, I discover him having a “post-coital cigarette”, laughing with his friends.
I sit there staring at him for a long time.
I have made the decision to speak out today for several reasons.
I want to put a face to a story which has happened to so many people. Behind stories of rape and sexual harassment, there are people who have to carry on with their lives and come to terms with what happened, no matter how violent or ‘ordinary’ their experience. Rape can happen to anyone at anytime and I hope that my story will demonstrate that.
I want to shed some light on why it is so hard to report an incident and just why that 88% is so high. The reason I was triggered by last week’s article was because I truly wish I had acted then and there, but a total lack of awareness of what it means to be raped held me back. We can no longer allow this to happen.
By storing the incident up inside me, I’ve let it gnaw away – the questions, anxieties and fury have built up to a level which is almost intolerable.
And finally, I want to educate and initiate. Rape is not just confined to shady, impoverished corners of the globe – it exists here, right here in one of the world’s leading academic institutions. And it’s time it stopped.
Perhaps you’ve read this far and you’re wondering whether this is attention-seeking.
This worry has gripped me from the day it happened: how people will react to my story and whether their perception of me will change. I don’t want this incident to define me but I do want something constructive to come out of what was a very negative experience.
So yes. This article is attention seeking: I am seeking attention for what happened. I want more people to engage with the problem, to identify the issues and to realise that, even in this progressive environment, we have a serious problem. Speaking out about rape has its consequences, not only for oneself, but also for one’s family and friends. This was not an easy, off-the-cuff decision to make – its function is a hell of a lot more important than fishing for sympathy.
Earlier, I called up a very close friend who is also a victim. Her response to my decision was completely unexpected but ironically it was her words that shaped my decision to break the silence:
“People can see the faces of rape victims every day if they choose to. To be perfectly frank, their versions of rape are much more traumatic than yours. Legally speaking yours is not a clear cut rape – and nor is mine.”
Her words echo exactly what I have felt for the past few years and reflect the reason why my rape went unreported. It has taken me three years to really see it clearly. For weeks after the event I was completely numb at the memory: I blamed myself – I’d been too drunk and I’d been kissing him earlier in the night – surely that must mean that it had been consensual? I laughed it off as my friends gossiped about what had happened, the fact that we’d “had sex” became a running joke within my friendship group. A few months on, the anger set in. I knew full well that I hadn’t wanted it to happen and I’d been utterly powerless to stop it.
But by that time, it was far too late. I didn’t have the courage to express what had really happened – I thought that in the unconscious, narrow-minded world that I lived in people would brand me an ‘attention-whore’ or ‘a liar’. How could I claim to have been raped when ‘rape’ conjures up such violent images? How could my experience possibly parallel brutalities such as gang-rapes in India? It was unthinkable. Mine was not a violent rape; my rapist’s motives were not hateful or destructive. Thankfully, my enjoyment of sex has not been affected and I’ve flourished in functional relationships. So how could I even begin to claim to identify with other victims’ experiences?
Recently I’ve begun to realise that this just isn’t an excuse and that there is a place for my story, right here in my own country. That night, I was forced to share a level of intimacy which I usually reserve for the people I trust and care for. I was violated against my will, by a friend who unfortunately remains on the periphery of my life. Rape is not black and white – it’s incredibly complex and can have devastating consequences whatever the situation. Right now, there is a critical and pressing need for us to broaden our understanding of the issues and educate future generations on the nature of consent.
Knowing what I know today, would I report my rapist? For reasons that I can’t express, even to myself, I wouldn’t. There is no excuse for what he did but his actions are the symptom of a much wider problem.
There are too many faceless victims. Unlike so many, I am blessed with a channel of free expression and I feel that I have a duty to use it, for the sake of those less fortunate than myself. It’s time for us to speak out and educate, break the stereotypes and act before more people get hurt.
If we say no, stop. And if we speak out, please for the love of God, take us seriously.