Trigger warning for rape and systemic abuse of rape survivors
Some years ago, I was raped. I never reported it.
I am not alone: the vast majority of rapes are not reported to the police. Some estimates suggest up to 95% of rapes are unreported. The thing is, a lot of the time, not reporting a rape seems like a sensible option.
When a woman reports a rape, forensic evidence is gathered using a rape kit. This procedure is highly invasive, consisting of a full, intimate physical examination and sampling from parts of the body which have only recently been violated. It is highly understandable that many survivors would not want to subject themselves to this intrusive procedure following a traumatic experience. There is also questioning, sometimes with an insensitive or disbelieving tone from the police. Between half to two thirds of rape cases never make it past investigation, and there is a paltry 6.5% conviction rate. A convicted rapist will serve an average of eight years in prison.
Then there are horrifying stories like this. Layla Ibrahim was attacked and raped by two men. She was courageous enough to report this to the police, even though the police had a track record of repeatedly arresting her twelve year old brother and failing her sister after a beating, due to being a mixed-race family in a predominately white area. Despite overwhelming forensic evidence, the police chose not to believe Layla. She was sent to prison for three years.
This did not happen in Iran or Sudan. This did not happen many years ago. This happened last year in the UK.
It is yet another story of rape culture. It differs from others in magnitude, not substance. We live in a world where survivors of rape are not believed.
Rape culture falsely differentiates between “serious rape” and other rapes. This dichotomy alone is enough to ensure that many rapes are not reported. I did not report my rape because rape culture had taught me that what happened to me was not rape. So many women I know have had a similar experience.
When a woman does identify that she has been raped, she faces disbelief from others. This is particularly true if she has been raped by someone powerful: the treatment of the women who accused Julian Assange and Dominique Strauss-Kahn of rape are testament to this. It is also true if she has been wearing “the wrong” sort of clothes, or being “the wrong colour”, or behaving in a way that rape culture dictates is a “definite sexual invitation“.
Layla Ibrahim was accused of “wasting police time” with reporting her rape. Meanwhile, 450 London detectives have been pulled from their usual work to go over CCTV footage of rioters with a view to prosecute them. What, here, is more of a waste of police time? Seeking justice for a person brave enough to be in the minority of people who report rape, or sending a kid to prison for nicking a pair of trainers?
Not reporting a rape seems to be the best possible option in a culture which allows rape, sometimes encouraging it. Not reporting a rape seems to be the best possible option in a broken justice system where barely any survivors see justice served. Not reporting a rape seems like the best possible option where the survivor can be sent to prison while the rapists walk free.
What, then, can be done for rape survivors seeking justice?
In her fantastic book Cunt: A Declaration of Independence, Inga Muscio proposes a solution: Cuntlovin’ Public Retaliation:
The basic premise of C.P.R. is publicly humiliating rapists. Since rapists count on a woman’s shame and silence to keep them on the streets, it seems to me an undue amount of attention focused on rapists would seriously counter this assumption.
C.P.R. can be employed when a woman is sure of her attacker’s identity. Since most attacks are not perpetrated by strangers, this is a highly relevant factor.
There is safety and power in numbers.
A group of two hundred women walking into the place of employment of a known rapist would have an effect. If each of these women were in possession of a dozen rotting eggs which were deposited on the rapist’s person, the rapist might well come to the conclusion that he had committed a very unpopular act, one which was not tolerated by the community. If a rapist had to walk through a crowd of angry, stating, silent or quietly and deadly chanting women to get to his car in the grocery store parking lot, he might feel pretty uncomfortable.
This technique would require a vast degree of solidarity among women and allies. Were it to happen, though, it would feel a damn sight more like justice than the current shambolic system.
The risk to survivors is considerably lower in Muscio’s admirable proposition. Here, they do not risk further invasion with no justice served. They do not risk imprisonment for daring to report a rape to a morally bankrupt police force. They do not become passive pawns in a game of patriarchal power. It is justice for survivors, by survivors.
Muscio stresses non-violence, and I thoroughly agree. Violence is not a solution to violence. Showing a rapist that such behaviour is thoroughly intolerable, reminding him that his behaviour is thoroughly unacceptable, through a supportive network of the community–that is more like what justice looks like.
Were this to happen, rape culture would topple. For this to happen, we need to fight rape culture. Then, perhaps, we will see true justice.