We live in a victim blaming culture in which less than 6% of reported rapes lead to a conviction. Ahead of the release of a groundbreaking new documentary, Raped, we speak to three survivors about why it’s high time we made some changes.
There are certain rules that all girls are taught to abide by as they grow up. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t wear revealing clothes. Don’t wear too much make-up, don’t flirt, don’t lead men on.
Don’t let your drink out of your sight in public places. On that note, don’t drink too much – if at all. Definitely don’t walk home on your own at night.
Essentially, the message is this: don’t put yourself in a vulnerable position, because anything that happens as a result will be your fault. And herein lies one of the biggest problems in our patriarchal society - the onus for avoiding rape is heaped solely on the shoulders of victims, rather than the perpetrators themselves. It’s no surprise we live in a culture ingrained with victim blaming, in which one third of people believe women who flirt are partially responsible for being raped.
And when it comes to rape, the statistics are horrifying. Around 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales every year, and 90% of these victims know the perpetrator before the offence. Despite these numbers, just 5.7% of rape cases that are reported to the police result in a conviction for the perpetrator – a far lower rate than for many other crimes committed.
Now, a new documentary is hoping to hand some of this misplaced power back to rape victims – by giving them a voice. Raped sees 10 victims, including nine women and one man, discuss their ordeals.
Here, stylist.co.uk talks to three of these women to further understand just how damaging victim blaming can be – and why we urgently need to work to fight back against it.
Nathalie was graduating from her masters when she was raped by a fellow student after an end-of-year party. Thinking she wouldn’t be believed, she couldn’t face reporting the rape to the police.
“I didn’t think anyone would believe me that I was raped. I didn’t know if I believed it myself. I had a lot of trouble processing what happened and working through it in the immediate aftermath.
My boyfriend believed me but my friends didn’t – needless to say, they’re not my friends any more. I only told a few people as I couldn’t really talk about it without hysterically crying, and yet people were still coming back to me with questions like, “but you’d had quite a lot to drink, are you sure you didn’t lead him on?”
When people say things like that, it makes you think rape was something that you asked for. It was a fairly effective way of making sure I didn’t speak out about it, and I didn’t report it to the police. I didn’t want to undergo questioning or have to justify what happened. And when everyone belittles what you’ve said, you feel like they’re not on your side, and it’s hard.
As time went by and I could think about it with a clearer head, there were things that were so obviously not OK that I couldn’t even question them anymore. The fact that I didn’t ask him back. That he just walked into my room. The way he was manipulating my limbs like a doll. I told him no, obviously, and that I didn’t want to. With time, it was clearer to see that that wasn’t OK. I’ve been seeing a counsellor and it’s been really, really helpful. I can think about it without getting insanely upset now.
But there were times when I felt so alone and I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to even contemplate stepping foot inside a police station. Plus, I remember reading the statistics around rape and seeing how few convictions there are. There’s clearly something wrong with how we view this particular crime and this particular type of violence. There’s something wrong with where we put the blame.
As far as I’m concerned, rape is a crime about power and control. There are so many structures in society that always have men at the top of the hierarchy. When you have that kind of power dynamic, it stops you from speaking out, because you are already submissive, smaller, weaker. You have already been physically overpowered. The way we treat rape generally as a society says a lot about where the power is, and who has it.
When we tell young girls to be careful, we are implicitly implying that if they break the rules, they are asking for it. The message is always ‘don’t get raped’, but it should be ‘do not rape’. It’s always the victim who gets raped – the agency of the person doing it is often removed from it entirely.
My message to anyone going through something similar would be that however you react is OK. Something I struggled with was that I wasn’t having the ‘proper’ reaction, but however you want to cope with it is fine. It doesn’t make it any less valid.
And people who don’t believe you are not worth your time.”
Sheeva didn’t know her rapist very well. They met in a bar and went back to hers. She said that she didn’t want to have sex but her attacker forced himself on her, performing violent sexual acts which she never would have consented to. Sheeva went to the police but, at first, they didn’t believe her. She reported the rape again a year later but her rapist was a French citizen and, eventually, he could not be tracked down by the police.
“After I was raped, the overwhelming sensation I had was that I must have misunderstood what happened. I couldn’t imagine that the guy I had gone home with had been a rapist and fully aware of that fact.
I didn’t want to think I had been raped because I didn’t want to think of myself as a rape victim. Calling it a rape made it a lot more real and a lot more awful.
I had frozen while it was happening and I didn’t know that was a common reaction, so I just thought I hadn’t fought back hard enough. I thought I must have wanted it for some reason, and that other people would think the same.
I guess that’s because we live in a society where women are rarely believed in general. We have to justify everything we go through.
People who are victims of rape are often scared to go to the police in case they don’t believe them. My experience was that I was disbelieved, belittled and condescended. It made me call everything into question because I felt they were just confirming that I must have been wrong, somehow. I took what they said at face value because I was speaking to people in authority, and I thought they must know better than me.
I was absolutely horrified. I had gone through a year of struggling with PTSD and depression before I could face reporting it, and I thought I’d been wrong about myself the whole time.
Then when I came to my senses I was so angry. I felt completely unsafe – you trust the police to look after you, so when they treat you like the criminal you obviously don’t feel safe anymore.
I had to remind myself that these policewomen were the exception, but unfortunately we live in a culture where rape victims are often being believed.
We need to be talking more about rape, and talking honestly. What does rape look like, what happens when someone gets raped, what does consent mean?
It took me four years to fully understand and accept what had happened to me. I was really good at saying I wasn’t to blame, and being outspoken about it, and rationally I knew it wasn’t my fault. But emotionally speaking, it was really hard to accept that I’d been a victim of rape and that it had just been a case of really s**t luck, which was really hard to deal with.
My message to other survivors would be: remember that you know you did not consent. You weren’t to blame. It doesn’t matter how much you were wearing, or whether you were in bed with them at the time, or whether you had consented previously.
It was not your fault.”
Katie was having drinks at a friend’s house when she was raped. She stayed over her friend’s house in their son’s bed and was awoken during the night by a man having sex with her. Katie couldn’t move. When the man finished she recognised him as her best friend’s brother. Katie went to the police. Her case was picked up by the CPS, and her attacker received a seven year sentence.
“Initially, after you’ve been raped, you’re so much in shock at what happened that it’s easier for you to believe it’s your fault. You want to be able to control the situation because it’s something that was so uncontrollable at the time.
You think, if I’d done this, or said that, or if I hadn’t worn that, then I could have prevented it. And it’s easier to think, if I don’t go out and I don’t drink and I keep myself safe, then I can control what happens to me. It’s harder to believe that someone just wanted to rape you.
It’s easier for others to believe it’s the victims fault too, because otherwise they would have to believe it could happen to them as well.
I didn’t fight my rapist off, and that’s very normal - in most cases, the victim doesn’t fight back. My rapist came into the room and raped me while I was asleep, after drinking a lot of alcohol. When I woke up, I didn’t do anything. I remember thinking things and wanting to do things but I couldn’t move, I couldn’t say anything.
People think because you don’t fight back it’s not rape, or because you don’t say ‘no’ it’s not rape. But what if you’re not given the opportunity to say yes? Then it is rape.
People always say victims should have modified their behaviour. They shouldn’t have had so much to drink, they shouldn’t have dressed a certain way, or flirted or let someone buy them a drink. We place the blame solely on the victim.
But getting raped wasn’t my fault for drinking - I’ve been drunk loads of times before and not been raped. The only thing different that night was that there was someone there who wanted to rape me.
As a young girl, I was always told to be careful - don’t walk home after dark, hold your keys in your hand, get a taxi. All of these things are about actions I should take to stop someone from raping me when actually, the only people who can prevent the rapes are the rapists themselves. And they’re the people who need to be educated.
When I told people my story, some of them struggled to understand why I didn’t fight back. It was easier for them to believe it had happened once my rapist was charged – but that carries a lot of weight for the victims who don’t see the perpetrator get a charge.
After I was raped I didn’t want to be here anymore. I don’t think people understand the impact it can have and how it can make you feel. But I have a son and a partner who I love very much, and most people around me were so positive, which helped my recovery. From the outside it looked like I was very much together but I wasn’t. On the inside I was struggling.
My message to other survivors is that it’s not your fault. This wasn’t something that you did, it was something that someone else did to you.
Speak to someone who understands rape, like a counsellor. It’s like an invisible scar that you carry with you and the only way it gets better is that you try and let go of some of that guilt and responsibility that you feel for it.”
If you, or someone you know, needs help or support, you can contact Rape Crisis here
Raped will air on Channel 5 on 22 November
Images: courtesy of Channel 5