Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Something like 'Talking About It'

It is with some regret that I must admit that I'm not ready to take on all the responsibilities I set out to assume by participating in the Talk About It movement. Perhaps I'm being too much of a perfectionist in some ways, and I don't need to talk about everything in great detail... it does feel like if I do this, I need to do it properly, though. Both for my sake and the sake of all the other untold stories that are in silent circulation, informing every sentence we form on the page and every phoneme we speak... I hope to return to the topic of sexual consent and how often womens' (and mens' boundaries) are violated through revealing my own personal examples... it's just that, the more I went back to a time I have somewhat suppressed in my memory, the more down I was getting, and I fear that it's too much, too soon, to go back to that time. Perhaps just by writing about the experience of wanting to write about it, I can help people who see the value in lifting out of shameful silence the injustices committed against us.

Ok, here goes: It wasn't my fault that I was raped. The fault is solely that of the rapist.

One of the first things I wanted to talk about was the reaction I received from my parents. I told my parents in our living room one night, and was angered by the silence. It seemed to go on forever. When at last my mother said something, it was inadequate: I was expecting "Oh my god, are you alright? What happened? Did you recover physically without complications? Did you go to the police? How can we help you with your psychological recovery?" Instead, I remember the silence more than what was eventually said, because it spoke volumes. It said: Your rights are not as important to us as you think they are. You don't deserve emotional support because you probably asked for it on some level. 

I know otherwise. I know that I had (and still have) the right to have my sexual integrity respected, and it's horrible (not to mention illegal) that it wasn't. Rape is a violent act (nothing to do with sex) which is designed to terrorise, intimidate and otherwise disempower an individual. In my case, the rapist wanted to put me in my place because I demonstrated a lot of confidence and independence, which was threatening to him. I didn't need him, and he knew it. I was a white solo female traveller in China, and he was suffering from state-sanctioned structural gender inequality which prioritises patriarchy through brutal performances of dominence. You'd better believe that he was a seriously fucked up individual who needed to abuse to feel validated.

I guess I just began to Talk About It after all... ha!

Did I report the rape? Yes.

Did the police do anything about it? No - he basically got away with it. He told me that, when the police took him in for questioning, they beat him. But I'm not sure if he was telling the truth, or lying to seem more vulnerable and likeable.

Is this common? Yes - if I remember correctly, it is estimated that only about 1% of rapes are ever brought to justice. Most of them aren't reported, and this is because the abused individual often struggles to frame their experience as one of 'being raped' and 'requiring that it be brought to justice.'

What is rape culture? As an Australian and a global citizen, I live in a country and a world in which women are not treated as equal to their male counterparts. One extension of this structural inequality is Rape Culture. A good example of it is how the comedian Daniel Tosh joked about how it would be hilarious if a female audience member were to be gang raped in that moment. Rape is trivialised, normalised, made to be something other than what it is, which is a cowardly demonstration of control aimed at hurting another person physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

Recently there was a phenomenon called SlutWalk, which I didn't participate in because I have never identified with its eponymous slur, much less the need to 'reclaim' it (I argue that creating extra circulation of this language is irresponsible and more damaging than helpful). Anyway, the point of these marches was to bring home the message that 'No means no' and that it doesn't matter what a woman is wearing, how much she has had a drink, how provocative she acts - if she indicates she doesn't want to have sex at some or any point in an interaction, that is her right, and our society needs to accept that as a basic truth.

What happened during the rape? I said Stop. He kept going. I was so shocked and traumatised that all I could do was lie still, trying to distract myself from the pain. It was traumatic and has had a big impact on my life (mostly negative, as can be expected).

What gave you the courage to speak out? Knowing that I'm not alone. Apparently 1 in 4 women will be raped before they graduate university, according to that news report. That doesn't take into account rapes that happen outside the college years. I belonged to a community about a year ago which was made for women by women, and as we started talking about our troubles, we started to talk about rape... and it emerged that most of the active participants (there were many) had been raped. We concluded that rape was prevalent, and did our best to be supportive of each other. It helped me understand my experience in context. Since then, I've joined other feminist groups, and read a lot about the subject. It has helped me find some peace, and Talk About It.

So if you're reading this and you've been raped (and don't forget that men are also subject to rape), remember: It's not your fault. You have the right to be angry, you have the right to be upset, you have the right to seek justice. No matter how society might seek to blame you for being abused, the blame lies solely with the rapist. Nobody ever "deserves" to be raped. Nobody ever "asks" for it. Do people "ask" to be murdered, or robbed? No. We would largely see such an attitude as horrible, and society is frequently horrible. It is all the more horrible because it doesn't largely recognise how horrible it is. (In the words of Mark Twain, Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.)  

Believe in yourself, and continue to empower yourself. One day, when we have true gender equality, rape culture will probably fade away. Help me spread the word to those more vulnerable than you: Rape is a tool for the oppression of women. The personal is political. Talk about it. (If you're on Twitter, you can use the hashtags #talkaboutit and #prataomdet.)

One more thing: You're gonna be okay. Time heals all wounds. And this is from someone who thought I'd never feel as good about my life as I do now.

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