When not reporting a rape seems like a sensible option

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.

19 thoughts on “When not reporting a rape seems like a sensible option”

  1. I agree with you about there being times when not reporting a rape is a good idea. I bitterly regret reporting either of mine (and one was the kind of ‘stranger’ rape that usually afford more sympathy.)

    Unfortunately I think the idea of women protesting rapists falls down on one major thing. Women buy into rape culture too. In fact in some cases they buy into more enthusiastically than men. It’s easier to blame her for wearing a short skirt/flirting/drinking too much or any other thing you don’t do than admit that any woman can encounter a rapist and that you can’t actually protect yourself fully.

    Then add in the reluctance to see some rapes as rape because that would involve a lot of women having to admit they have also been raped and it’s easier to live in a tentative denial.

    And of course the women who participate in either allowing rapes to take place (it was strongly suspected a woman helped hold me down while I was raped by at least two men) or cover up for rapists (like the girl I knew who accepted a Chloe handbag as a bribe not to speak to police as what she witnessed in my first rape) and this idea isn’t likely to get off the ground.

    Despite my poor experiences with police, I’d prefer to see women forming a loose coalition where they can put pressure on police, law makers, judiciary and work to dismantle rape culture from within. This requires education and a lot of effort and will take a long time to have effect, but we’re starting to see some positive changes with the normalisation of SARCs and increased levels of discipline in the Met over the handling rape cases. Baby steps that hopefully are going the right way though…

    1. I quite agree with you about women buying into it as much as anyone else, and I, too, am not sure that Muscio’s proposal is the perfect solution. Certainly, a lot more solidarity between women would be very important in overturning rape culture. It’s just so entrenched. We have a lot of work to do, and I am proud of women who have the will to fight it.

  2. I thank you for reporting. In the US a victim may make a statement to the police even if she refuses a rape exam, or if it’s too late to gather DNA evidence.
    Every woman resists, in the way she is able at the time of crisis. If she chooses not to report, she has resisted in other ways.
    The good of reporting is that some criminals are convicted and taken off the streets at least for a while.
    Thank you for your blog, and addressing a tough subject.

  3. Excellent post, the case of Layla Ibrahim is heartbreaking.

    I chose not to report because I didn’t think people would believe me, the thought of undergoing medical examination caused me to have an anxiety attack every time I thought about it and I just wanted to forget about it. To be honest, I had no idea what the process would be if I were to report, and still don’t.
    Maybe that’s part of the problem. We don’t talk about rape but we should and maybe part of that dialogue should be making common knowledge what happens if you choose to report so, should you be unfortunate enough to get raped (unfortunate is a massive understatement, I know), you are able to make a more informed decision about reporting. Sometimes I regret not reporting, then I here about cases like the one presented here and I feel confident I made the right decision.

    Definitely getting hold of a copy of Inga Muscio’s book as well, sounds brilliant.

    1. I think the conspiracy of silence around rape is a large part of what makes rape allowed to thrive. Whatever decision you made, I am sure it was the right one.

      Definitely read Cunt. It should be compulsory reading for all women.

  4. What really stood out to me from that Guardian article is the prominence given to whether she had a mental illness, as though this determined the truth of her allegations.

    People with mental illnesses can still be raped. My attacker targeted me _because_ he knew that no-one would believe my word over his, as I was known to have a serious mental illness.

    My best friend believed him over me, because it was much more comfortable to see it as a symptom.

    I tried going to the police, and it triggered a massive relapse. I literally couldn’t speak to the police, and couldn’t understand their words. My brain just shut down.

    I could never have given evidence in court, and even if I had I wouldn’t have been ‘convincing’.

    I’ve been frightened for years now. Anyone can do what they like to me and I won’t be believed.

  5. Another person who reported and who had that turn against her. The police basically ignored some of the evidence, and my rapist was never arrested. Consequently, our mutual friends — who had been guilting me with questions of why I was “doing this to him” — cut off contact with me, some after leaving one or more harassing phone calls or notes at my place of residence.

    I don’t know if it’s accurate to say I regret reporting. I mean, I sure as hell wish that the results of my reporting had turned out differently. But I don’t know if that’s the same thing as wishing I’d never reported in the first place. (I go back and forth on this in my mind and have for over a decade.)

    But I do know that, were I to be raped again — even in a manner on the “more prosecutable” end of the spectrum (not to mention the assault/abuse experiences I’ve had subsequently where I knew reporting would be 110% useless) — I would think long and hard about reporting again. My past experiences would inform my future decisions — and yes, I would (and do) understand not reporting as an utterly logical choice to minimize additional trauma and facilitate healing as best I could.

    And yeah, it sucks that we live in that world.

  6. Tori and C

    I would never report again. I would actively refuse to participate if the police were involved without my say-so. This is partly because I really hope not to have an exam again (I found it awful, hearing the proof of what had happened to me) and partly because I think the chances of my not being arrested and charged like Layla are slim.

    It would be my third reported rape and during the legal proceedings of the second when I brought (and won) a complaint against all 16 officers involved in my case, the Met actively threatened me with this should ‘anything happen’ again. They forged my signature on letters asking to have the complaint stopped, came to my house at all hours, asked questions about me to the neighbours and made phonecalls of varying threateningness to me, often at 4am, different voice each time. Yet they failed to identify my rapist or prove to me whether there was more than one assailant.

    I agree that because I now know anyone can do anything to me and no-one will protect me, i find it impossible to live a normal life. No matter what I’m doing, I’m just waiting for the raping to start again and the careful rebuild life I cling to to fall down round my ears. Endless therapy is helping a bit though. I sleep now and that really helps.

    I wish you all luck and healing!

    1. Aggressively policing the way that *survivors of rape by men* discuss their actual experiences and responses thereto is presumably just fine, on the other hand.

      Keep derailing, QRG.

      (I must say, if I were Stavvers, or Cath Elliott, or any of the feminist bloggers you devote your life to trolling, I’d ban you in a heartbeat.)

  7. I don’t think I said anything ‘aggressive’. I thought the proposed intervention assumed that ‘survivors of rape’ were women and ‘rapists’ were men, that’s all.

    Cath Elliott has banned me from her blog you will be pleased to know.

    I have not commented on here or any feminist blog for a while. I have been busy writing and living, in my own ‘spaces’.

    This just seemed an important issue to me.

    But thanks for your observations! Like I said. Stay classy feminism.

  8. Hello everybody – many thanks to all who shared their experiences here.

    Part of me loves this idea, however, depending on what the group of women did/said, they might be at risk of being prosecuted for harassment, criminal damage, or civil charges of slander/libel. In the case of the latter, obviously it entirely depends on the case whether he’d win in court or not – if there were lots of the features which often prevent a criminal conviction then he might. So I might be personally cautious about engaging in such an action depending on what it was, even thought I love the sound of it.

    There are ways you can gather physical evidence without involving doctors etc, although the chances of the police dismissing this, like any other evidence, are obviously unknown. [***TW for physical evidence] Things like using a toothbrush and then freezing it, using a tampon or tissues and then freezing them, freezing underwear/sheets, taking your own photographs in the unlikely event there’s any bruising etc, and getting a friendly witness to when you did those things. I’m told that sperm in cloth will even last through a wash (the heads get stuck in the fibres, apparently). [***TW end]

    Also, in many (not all) areas these days there are Sexual Assault Referral Centres where you can give in such evidence to be analysed, or get an exam done if you did want that (up to 7 days after), and you don’t have to report. They can keep the evidence on their database in case you decide later you want to report, and if another woman comes forward with the same DNA then they can let you know there’s a stronger case if you both decide to report together. They do various other things like emergency contraception, STI checks and counselling referrals. *However* while they describe themselves as non-judgemental and seem to be relatively well-trained in that, they don’t promise to be non-directional – so whether and how they might pressure you to report is unknown. And at the end of the day, they’re not women-only or even women-lead, so they’re not a great place for anyone who doesn’t want to deal with men (apologies for reflecting their binarism).

    Having said all of that, I am in absolute solidarity with anyone who doesn’t want to touch police or doctors with a barge-pole, for triggery or non-triggery reasons. Ninjanurse hit the nail on the head in saying that every woman resists – everyone does it in their own way. Staying away from police, SARCs etc can be just as much self-care as visiting one.

  9. I am actually in the midst of reading Inga’s book right now. I am disgusted by the patriarchal, and greatly misogynistic, culture in which we live in the U.S. and I wanted what was, to me, a fresh and refreshing perspective.

    When I read her section on the C.P.R. method, I thrilled at the possibility of walking by such an event, were it to happen; I would want to hopefully meet the eyes of the man being shamed and, in seeing him plead for support from me through them (being visually defined as a fellow male as his eyes dart across the women justifiably shaming him and landing on me), flash him back a stone-cold look that says, “That’s what you get, you sick f@#k,” as I ostensibly ambivalently go about my business (while secretly cheering on that lovely group of women with all the love in my heart). Not that my say should necessarily matter at all, but I would support every C.P.R. action that women are willing to enact and could affect great impact on those types of men from the core of my being (of course, without being directly involved – though I would love to gather intel, pre-operation, if it means I can help).

    As Inga said:

    “A man could, feasibly, sacrifice his coffee break raping a woman.
    That woman would then spend her entire life dealing with it.
    So would her daughters.
    So would theirs.
    This distribution of power is not acceptable.”

    It is certainly not acceptable for any rapists to be given that balance of power over others, and applaud everyone willing to stand up to rape culture in any and every means available to them, and with which they are comfortable. Much appreciation for your article, and also your candor.

  10. The inconsistency of police and prosecutors is unfathomable. In 2010 I was a witness in a rape trial and the process was pure farce. Within a week of the allegation it was little more than persecution of the accused.

    It was alleged that he’d kicked in the front door of his ex and raped her. There were two witnesses, a taxi driver who dropped him off there and a neighbour who’d seen him leave. There was also a damaged front door. The police at this point did what you’d hope they would. They arrested the man. I know him because my cousin is married to him, the woman who accused him of rape lived near the barracks where he was stationed shortly before the alleged incident and he was having an affair with her.

    What became clear right at the start, whatever else we think of him. He couldn’t have done it. At the time of the alleged rape he was more than 200 miles away moving into a house he’d been given the keys to that morning. I know he was there because I was there as well. Statements from me, the estate agent, neighbours, his wife, and around various members of a WMC we went to after the move was finished were taken by the police. The CPS went ahead with the case. At the initial hearing he was granted bail because of the witnesses who placed him 200 miles away on the date. For the next year he had to report to a police station everyday and was banned from a county. The police turned up at his house at random times to see what he was doing.

    The trial lasted 3 days. The jury took less than an hour to acquit him.

    Who really got out of the taxi on the day, and who the neighbour saw leave is neither here nor there. The police and the CPS brought a case against someone who clearly couldn’t have done it. Compare that to the examples of the police not taking allegations with evidence that holds up and you have to ask what the hell is going on.

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