By Lucy Jane Drummond
It took me ages to write this article. Not because I couldn’t be bothered or because I was too busy, but because I really, really want to do the subject justice. You see, writing about the woes of Westminster or the happenings of Holyrood might be just as vexing as the next issue, but writing about something as emotive, as important and as taboo as rape is something that has caused me a bit of a headache.
Even as Women’s Officer in our Union, an empowered and vocal feminist, writing about something that’s so frequently misunderstood and misrepresented by so many, whilst remaining sensitive to the feelings of the people who may have been deeply affected by what I’m going to discuss, is no mean feat. To be honest, it would take more than one article to do the subject justice, but I really want to try to set the record straight. There’s one fundamental truth to always remember when talking about rape – it is never the fault of the victim and always the fault of the rapist.
Sadly, this truth is often forgotten by the media, by the police or even by average Joe at the pub. Whether intentional or otherwise, there exists a culture of victim blaming in our society. “Did you see how short her skirt was? She was totally asking for it.” In some cases, the victim can even internalise feelings of blame, which is especially catastrophic to their health and well-being. Archaic and frankly insulting attitudes that place the blame on the shoulders of the victim aren’t just hurting others, but are making rape acceptable by taking the responsibility away from the rapists.
Perhaps the most recent high profile incident of victim blaming and shaming was the Ched Evans case. Premiership footballer Ched Evans was found guilty of raping a woman in a hotel room and consequently sentenced to five years in prison. However, while justice had been served and Evans was incarcerated for his crime, the internet and, in particular, the Twittersphere, went into overdrive. Were these tweeters pleased that a man had been jailed for raping a woman? No. They were incensed that their football hero had been (rightly) convicted of a heinous crime, whilst naming and shaming the woman he had raped. In case you aren’t aware, it’s illegal to name a rape survivor, as this breaches the anonymity granted to them by the legal system.
The fact that the survivor of this crime was openly abused while Evans’ supporters bayed for his release, despite his being a convicted rapist, shows just how little society really knows or cares about rape and other crimes of sexual violence.
But what of sexual crimes in the student world? We’re frequently told how lucky we are to be at one of Europe’s most beautiful university campuses, and yes, visually, Stirling University’s campus certainly is pretty idyllic. Like all other universities and colleges in the UK, Stirling does its best to give its students a fantastic student experience that they’ll remember fondly upon graduation, but if you scratch the surface, the UK student experience might not be all smiles and sunshine. The ‘Hidden Marks’ report, carried out by the National Union of Students, highlights just how much of an impact sex crimes have on students today.
One in seven female students will experience sexual assault during their time as a student. More than four in ten students who had been the victim of serious sexual assault had told nobody about what had happened to them. The most common reason students gave for not reporting what had happened to them was that they didn’t feel it was serious enough to report.
The findings of the ‘Hidden Marks’ Report certainly makes for upsetting and shocking reading. Whilst speaking to some Stirling students about their own experiences and opinions on the issue, I met with a female student, who wishes to remain anonymous. Her words below are saddening, but she herself is brave and keen to speak out to help others.
“Rape and assault aren’t always violent, aggressive acts by those you perceive as ‘bad people’. You can know and love somebody who might do it. I have been raped several times by a past boyfriend, but it was never aggressive. At the time, I didn’t realise what he was doing was wrong, because he was my boyfriend. We loved each other, so in my mind, it didn’t seem like rape when it happened”.
This brings home perhaps the most important point of the issue – consent.
Despite many people having a “glamourised” version of what rape is in their heads, believing it to be the actions of a violent stranger in a dark alleyway, stranger rapes are actually in the minority. The majority of rapists are known to the victim, many are even their partners, as recalled above. It isn’t the situation that is the defining factor, it’s the absence of consent that makes it rape. Consent is not a continuous allowance either; simply because you consent to sexual intercourse with someone on one occasion, it doesn’t mean that you will or have to consent to it again. It is also something that can be withdrawn at the moment of intercourse if you decide that you don’t want to continue. It’s your right, your decision and your body.
There exists a culture of jokes and comments around the subject of rape and sexual violence that simply gets dismissed as “being a lad” or as “banter”. My own experience of this is unfortunately wide and varied, but perhaps the most memorable line used to sexually degrade me was “you’d make my cock look like a barber’s pole with that lipstick”.
I spoke to a male student, keen to figure out if I was the only one who felt as sickened and as outraged that such actions of sexual harassment are tolerated.
“Rape and sexual assault are widely regarded in today’s society as taboo subjects. However, what appals me is that even today the passing of derogatory comments and remarks are viewed as healthy ‘lad banter’,” said William Rennie, a law student at the University of Stirling.
“It is unacceptable that the general public are not educated enough to understand that such behaviour is perpetually insulting to women”.
I feel that more needs to be done to challenge the attitudes that continue to blame rape victims for their own rape and think that rape jokes are funny.
If you think about making a joke or comment about sex crimes or rape, just imagine the woman you’re saying it to as your own mother or sister. If you wouldn’t want someone to say it to them, don’t say it to someone else. Sexual intercourse without consent is rape – no always means no.