When we rationalise to some level of normality the rape of women as being, somehow different, that there are grey areas, that ordinary men can spontaneously lose all form of moral consciousness and violate someone sexually in a moment of uncontrolled lust-fuelled madness, then it is an indictment not only about our attitude towards women in society but also a shockingly offensive and naive view of “mainstream” male sexuality. The sight of any woman in supposedly “provocative” circumstances does not have the potential of converting any man into a rapist. Rape has no connection with mutual, caring, sexual relations, however tenuous, it’s about power, control, domination, and a lack of respect for the dignity and rights of another human being. A rapist plans to rape.
The psychological impacts of rape, and society’s attitude towards the crime, create a damaging lifelong legacy for the tens of thousands of women who have to remain silent about their experience, who are isolated from society – all because of the rape “delusion”.
The rape “delusion” is the way we sanitise its pernicious reality and simplify it to create an orthodox illusion which appeals to what we can just about accommodate within our personal world view about ourselves, and our society. It is always looking for “justifications” that explain the awful truth. We need to deceive ourselves that the judgement of the perpetrator was temporarily clouded by – “the way she dressed”, “the flirty behaviour”, “too much drink”, “I thought she said yes”, “she didn’t say no”, “but he’s a nice guy”….and so on. In reality the rapist has planned, coerced, manipulated, exploited a vulnerability, or deliberately engineered a scenario which appeals to his deceitful predatory nature – to overpower, control and destroy his victim. The corrupt pleasure of his conquest of a woman or child is through the very act of penetration with his penis – the rape. That is the reality that bursts our safe, delusional bubble. And for the victim, life will never be the same again – the trauma having caused a seismic rupture in their most fundamental beliefs about the world in which they live, and their safety within it.
One of the biggest barriers to recovery from rape is – the rest of us. Our condemnation of rapists is unanimous, but our ambiguity, equivocation and tacit shaming of rape victims leading to isolation, secrecy, and the internalisation of psychological trauma is totally reprehensible and one which we all need to reflect upon.
To understand more about rape from a female victim’s perspective, and to shed further light on the nature of the hidden personal consequences I met with 7 different women from Derbyshire, on 3 occasions in a safe environment facilitated by SV2 ( Supporting Victims of Sexual Violence). These are their combined experiences, feelings, and knowledge – their Voices.
“The actual experience of rape is very different to what you expect – it’s not your man in the street, the stranger. It’s actually something that’s contrived, takes place behind closed doors. My perpetrator chose the quiet sibling, who wasn’t going to raise the alarm who wouldn’t even recognise that she’s been raped until they were in their early 60’s, because I couldn’t find a category to put it in….what had happened to me. The notion of rape was…strangers who just jump out on you, so I couldn’t find a definition for it either, as it didn’t seem to fit those categories as I didn’t fight, run and scream – I just shut myself off from it so I couldn’t experience it. The notion of rape, is sadly entrenched with the idea of “Viking pillaging” but actually , statistically that’s a small part of it – the raft of it is what happens quietly, secretly, and people being manipulative, getting a power kick…and actually, it’s very little to do with sex. The bulk of it is the kick that the perpetrator gets out of it, and its to do with a lot of other things, and that’s why it has affected me so profoundly as it wasn’t about sex, it was about everything else that went with that which dismantled me as a person – very greatly. And has given me an aversion to sex – and that’s a forgotten point.”
“I was scared, frightened to death. Imagine having to tell your Dad that someone’s just taken your virginity…but I didn’t understand that then. He’d had sex with me, I didn’t have sex with him”
“As a school child you weren’t going home to be happy, and be with your family, you were going back and walking into a horrible, horrible place.”
“ I was about 8 when I first met this man, and I don’t even remember thinking it was that wrong. I was frightened as I got older when I started to realise that it was wrong, when I started to do sex education at school. That was when I realised about what was actually happening. Before that I didn’t really know what it was.”
“I was groomed to not say “no”, so when I was in that situation again, I didn’t have the vocabulary for that – I just responded. So the perpetrator had no notion of gaining my consent, he just created the situation that suited him”
“I remember as a child, just trying to think of nothing, so I was not in that situation, and the more it was happening the more I got better at just shutting my eyes and, mentally, not even being there. And the way that affected me growing up, I was very isolated person, very withdrawn, very quiet, not trusting, unable to tell people about important things where I would have needed help – it was all kept in, as I was so used to keeping the secret. My perpetrator had said that if I told anybody – he would kill me. I was used to keeping everything to myself, and as an adult that caused a lot of anxiety, throughout the rest of my life. Depression – because you’re coping with things on your own. It destroyed so much following the abuse”
“ I was abused as a kid, and I was also raped as a young adult, and that wasn’t from wearing short skirts or things similar to that – it was a very abusive relationship and you think which box can you put that in because it’s not relating to the “Rolf Harris type” media stuff and its not relating to going out and wearing high heels and tight skirts – there is no exposure in the media of that type of relationship”
“ I was groomed and sexualised at an early age, then, as an adult, my body actually responded in a way that I didn’t want it to. If there was a certain type of man, certain type of triggers, my body just opened up – that’s what it was trained to do. I didn’t like it so half the time I shrouded myself in clothes to make me look unattractive. But being promiscuous fitted in with the times back then,…but, for me, it was actually another form of rape. I said “yes” to any man whether or not I fancied him because that’s what my body said and because of my survival instinct I switched off, blanked it – I can’t remember the sensation. I’m not saying that those blokes were being rapists, but they were taking a chance, and because I’d been conditioned by my rape, in that period of time – it was a slow-motion rape.”
“(on the grooming process) For men who have had a normal range of experiences they don’t like having a finger up their bum (prostate examination by GP) – what stops them jumping off the table? They’ve been groomed, groomed to trust the doctor, that this is a good idea, and it’s good for their health – so the grooming there is positive. It makes that man stay on the table, allow a finger to be stuck up his bum. His body says ‘no’, and all his reactive instincts are against it…but the grooming makes him stay on the table, relax if they can, let them do it and off they go – that’s how grooming works. And that’s what the perpetrator does, he creates this false security, and I was told it was ok – they manipulated things so they can do what they want to do that the child doesn’t want to do”
“From my experience of being abused as a child, you are sort of broken by the time you become an adult. Your guards are way down, and I remember after my abuse ended when I was 16, then I met someone when I was 17 – in those early years there was no “No”. It was happening, it was just the way that it was, and I hadn’t realised that and I thought – this is it – it’s what you do. And it’s only looking back now that I can see why – it’s because I’d been abused, made horrible, and that was the way I was seeing myself. So if I met anybody, I thought, obviously, this is what’s going to happen at the end of the night…and that was it”
“( on the subject of “date rape” without gaining explicit consent) It’s the beginning of it , it’s not seeing, it’s not empathising with the other person sufficiently to change your actions – and it is about power, because in that moment that’s what they want to do! So it’s not about wanting to make a woman happy, it’s just about getting their own rocks off – and knowing they can do it”
“You are so isolated, until you are able to come to a group or get counselling. I’d never spoken to anyone about it, and I’ve certainly not met anyone else who has been a victim – not that I was aware of, although the statistics show that I probably have”
“I think society is struggling with what the reality is, and they’ve had their confidence shaken by Rolf Harris and Jimmy Savile – they were hiding in plain view. Where it’s mostly happening is by people who are perfectly respectable – if my perpetrator walked in this room nobody would have thought he was capable of any of that – but he was very good at doing that. He was a Rolf Harris type, and that was what actually triggered me – because I looked at Rolf Harris and saw that this was just another version of mine. He was thought of as charming and witty and all of those things. They wouldn’t be making comments about short skirts – they wouldn’t be making themselves that obvious”
“My perpetrator would listen to a certain type of music, smoke heavily, and do lots of other horrible things, and there are smells relating to that which brings it all back”
(subject of triggers that provoke an emotional response in the victim years after the rape event)” mine was brylcreemed (styling product) hair – the sight of it”; “suede desert boot shoes” ; “slight regional accent…and you don’t anticipate it. I’d be in a situation, when something triggers me and I’d be in a cold sweat. All of this is repressed, if we’ve not addressed it, and admitted until later on that we’ve been raped – then there’s all sorts of sub-conscious stuff going on – sight, smell, sounds. You then take lots of prescription drugs to calm you down as no one understands what’s going on – the GP doesn’t want to go there at all….it’s ridiculous”
“One of my friends suggested that I was doing it for attention, almost, and that I’d imagined it. For them, it is easier to believe that we’re making it up than to accept that it’s happening – that’s their safety valve”
“Women probably do feel that those who have been raped or abused – that it’s just sex. Why are they going on about it, why can’t they forget it, they keep raking it up. Women have sex with their husbands when maybe they don’t want to have it…and they just lie back, wait for a few minutes of sex and get over it and don’t really understand the impact – on trust, relationships, self-esteem, guilt, “
“You block it out, you get good at doing it, but while you’re doing it you’re blocking a lot of other things out and your life isn’t making any sense”
“People cannot relate to rape. It is not within their experience. Meeting this group is the first time I’ve met any other women who I have known to have been raped. People say “oh, go and talk to your friends” – you tell your friends and they run a mile because they can’t cope with it either”
“You need to be with people who understand – this is a safety net. You feel, with other people, who have had similar abuse, that it’s the only talking that will help. If I was to tell a friend it would not help me at all.”
“You have to be very careful as to which friends you tell. If I told them I wouldn’t know how they would react even though I’ve known them for a long time…would I lose them as a friend in a way in which they are at the moment?”
“I told my family when I was in my early 30’s, and I was completely rejected from the family for many years. They rejected me because it threatened the family, and it proves that my childhood fears were actually correct that it would blow my family apart.”
“The damage is done the first time…. that first damage is really hard to put back together again. It’s the first point when you realise that adults are not going to protect you and quite probably all adults are not going to protect you. The repetition was not whether I was raped again but it was the constant threat that I may be raped again as I knew he was waiting for his next chance.”
Categories: Sex/Domestic Violence