Trigger warning: this post discusses rape and rape apologism
I watched Newsnight tonight. Word on Twitter was that it would be about a senior political figure who had raped children.
When I heard this, I admit I was frantically wracking my brains to work out who it was. I thought of several people who I most suspected. I thought of all the politicians I could who had engaged in rape apologism to my knowledge: they were the ones I suspected most, with their passionate defences of rape culture. (I’m really going to try hard not to libel anyone in this post, but I’m quite drunk). I’d heard whispers of names–was it going to be them? Who could it be?
Then I watched the segment. They were clearly going out of their way to avoid naming the abuser. All we learned was that it was a senior Tory politician. As I watched, though, I realised how largely irrelevant it was for me, an uninvolved member of the public, to know this rapist’s name.
We heard about what happened. We heard of abuse of vulnerable young people. We heard of how the police were uninterested in investigating what happened, even as the survivors tried to seek out justice through the channels that society is taught is proper. We heard how the rapist is a powerful man, surrounded by other powerful men to keep it quiet. We saw evidence of the fear of libel, how even as a survivor talked about what had happened to him, Newsnight would not name the rapist for fear of legal threat.
They didn’t have enough to name names, they said, even as a survivor talked openly about how as a culture we needed to move towards believing survivors. He was begging us to be believed. I believed him.
Yet in our culture, this is apparently not enough. Newsnight knew of the threat of libel, and thus opted not to name a man who had abused and raped young people, because the only evidence available was their word.
The word of a survivor is enough. It should be enough. It must be enough.
We live in a society where this word is not enough. It’s not valued. We have a legal system which protects perpetrators of rape and abuse by operating on this principle. It silences survivors by telling them their experience is not enough, by pretending that being accused of rape is the worst thing that can happen to a person, that it’s worse than being raped.
In a way, it doesn’t matter that we, as the uninvolved public, don’t know the name of the man who did these things, although it would be better if we did. It does matter, though, that survivors were brave enough to speak out, and if they wanted their rapist named, they should have been able to do this without the culture of silence surrounding them.
Our response to this must not be a game of “guess the paedo”, making it more about the perpetrator. We should–and must–criticise the system that would not allow a survivor’s wishes to be respected, repeatedly. But in this case, ultimately, what we as the public needed to know was the story presented to us, and to look between the lines at the continuing cultural cover-up which became slightly more visible. And what we need to do with that knowledge is fight to ensure that this cannot continue to happen.