Rape is a horrific crime. It is a crime involving an abuse of power. Due to the biology it is a crime that is perpetrated by men; men who seek power and wish to weaken and destroy another.
Despite the emotiveness of this criminal act, rapists seem to have manipulated our law, media and people into colluding with them to reinforce this power imbalance in the aftermath: the victim is left having to pour over every minute detail of their actions, constantly questioning their motives for a look they gave or item of clothing they’d selected; the rapist is provided with an unlimited list of circumstances or excuses for the choice they made to break the law.
Let’s just consider this alongside another crime for a moment. Someone decides they need money. They target a small shop in an area away from their home. They rob the shop owner, punching him or her for good measure. Quite rightly, there is an outcry from the public and the robber is vilified. There may be a story that appears of how “the robber was down on his luck” and needed money to eat. But importantly, the robber receives no sympathy for this; it is not held up as an excuse for his behaviour. At no point is the shop keeper told that this is what they should expect if they run a shop and have their produce and tills on display. At no point is the shop keeper questioned about the way he spoke or looked at the robber. At no point is the shop keeper questioned by the press about any previous contact with the robber or whether they’d been a regular customer. As it should be, the shop keeper is supported as a victim and the robber is derived for his actions and “how dare he take advantage of the vulnerable shop keeper” is cried around the country.
Now with rape and consent, we have an entirely different story.
But before I come on to this, it is imperative that we begin to acknowledge at least why this issue is steadily on the rise. As I’ve already stated, the crime is almost always committed by men. What is happening to our men that they can end up “confused” or “misunderstanding” whether consent has been given for the intimate act that is about to take place?
Firstly, for many of these men, there is not an issue. They just simply wish to have their power kick and feel entitled to take what they want.
What we must not deny though, is that many of our young men and growing up surrounded by porn; a couple of clicks and there it is on their phones. Let’s not pretend that these scenes don’t often show women moaning “nooo” or being tied up and “made to take it”. Hardly the best education for a healthy sex life and ensuring consent is it.
On top of this our media is filled to the brim of the rape myths that need to be dispelled. The Daily Fail can always be relied on for plenty of examples: “she was wearing next to nothing”, “we’d had sex before”, “she’s promiscuous” etc. So boys, if she has a short skirt on, or you’ve had sex before, or she’s had sex with some of your mates, that counts as consent, right? No, actually.
Then there’s reality shows such as Geordie Shore, a must watch amongst many groups of teens. If you have never seen it, don’t waste your time in doing so. Just know that the whole show revolves around getting “mortal” (so drunk you can barely stand and end up pissing yourself), “tashing” on (snogging anyone in sight) and for the lads, seeing how many women they can get back to their pad to “bang” (have sex with). So the message to our young males: go out, get drunk, pick up some girl who is so drunk she’s completely incapable of anything and then expect to get a good banging out of it. It’s all fine.
Or is it?
Again, we’ll get to this but first we need to also examine the current message that is given to our young females. I was taken aback when I witnessed a discussion amongst some girls aged around 16 on the issue of abortion. They were considering the case of when a woman becomes pregnant as a result of a rape and their first response was to consider whether the woman may lay at fault for that rape; they questioned what she might have been wearing or how she might have been “asking for it”. Seriously? A woman asks to be raped? It seems to go against the definition of rape to me. But it highlights the widespread issue we are faced with.
How many of us as young women were screamed at by our parents, “YOU’RE NOT GOING OUT LOOKING LIKE THAT!” And so the victim blaming began. Our media as already demonstrated, perpetuates rape apology and victim blaming to the point it just becomes part of life. Over and over again, the message is sent that if you dress a certain way, you are a “tart”, “slag”, “slut”, “asking for it”, or such insult. If you’ve decided to wear some pretty lacy pants rather than your big granny period pants, then you’re out looking for sex and attention. Does no one stop and consider that actually this may be more to do with a woman’s self-esteem or confidence? No, of course not, because in our society it’s all about the men. You mustn’t send them the wrong messages with your clothing. Men needn’t worry about these things; they are free to dress however they wish. Just stop and think a moment about why that is…it can’t possibly be because they don’t have the need to take action to “avoid” rape?
Young women are constantly given the messages that we need to: take responsibility for the way we dress; micromanage our behaviour, actions and gestures; expect that anything we do might lead to us being raped. To any man reading this post: You’re right, that is damn insulting to you too. Female teenagers grow up being taught that men are sexual predators who cannot control their impulses and penises so we must be prepared and do everything possible to avoid this happening to us. I personally, would like to give the majority of men, more credit than that!
What we need to do is re-address these messages given to men and women. We need a proper education that properly addresses the issues of consent.
Let’s return to our shop keeper and robber. As already suggested, when rape cases appear in the press, they are dealt with very differently. What we should find is: that like the victim shop keeper, the victim of the rape should be supported and sympathy shown; like the perpetrating robber, the perpetrating rapist should be vilified, criticised and called for punishment. But that is not the reality. Sadly, power remains with the rapist who can draw on the many established rape myths: “She was drunk but did consent”, “she was wearing a g-string and a short skirt and was giving me the look”. Meanwhile the victim is having to defend themselves against a tirade of questions. “Why did she choose to wear that outfit?” “Why was she hugging him in the club?” “Look at her background”. In behaving this way, we as a society are colluding with the rapist and blaming the victim. What we should be quizzing is whether the rapist even bothered to seek consent or indeed whether the victim was in a position to consent.
Which brings me right back to Geordie Shore’s lads and drinking culture. If someone is completely “mortal”, how on earth are they able to even consent to having sex with someone? They can’t. They are in no position to make any sort of decision. Can you imagine any situation in which a crucial decision could be made and would be taken seriously whilst said person is drunk or incapaciated?
It’s a sobering thought. Think back to those big nights out and consider whether that person was able to consent. By the way, this happened to me at 16. I was completely drunk and kissed a guy. He decided that meant I was up for it. He dragged me into the toilets. Yes. He dragged me. In front of many other teens celebrating the end of term. I was in no fit state to offer much resistance as standing upright was enough of a struggle, but I did what I could. So ingrained are these attitudes to victims being to blame for rape, that despite the odd frown, no one stepped in. I spent 20 years deeply regretting my actions and getting drunk, thinking about what I could have done differently rather than acknowledging the fact I had been raped.
Consent has inconceivably become unclear to many; what does or does not constitute consent? We are at the point that this now needs to be explicitly part of of our education system but in the absence of this here is a non-exhausted guide to consent:
So what is not consent?
- A child cannot consent. No really, they can’t, however they may behave.
- A way someone dresses is not consent. I don’t care if they’re butt naked. Nudist beaches are not sex camps.
- A way someone moves, looks or behaves is not consent.
- Not saying “no” or not fighting against you is not consent. You heard it, being paralysed with fear, unsure what to do, fear of making it worse, is not consent for entering your penis into an intimate area.
- A person being promiscuous or involved in the sex industry is not consent either. They are no different to anyone else and still have rights over their own body.
- Being in a state of mind in which important decisions cannot be made for example, drunk, means consent cannot be given. Or for that matter, someone allowing you to buy them drinks or give them drugs does not mean they consent to sex too.
So what is consent?
- Consent is best described as enthusiasm. Enthusiasm whilst of full mind. Enthusiasm that has been free of any form of coercion.
Really, you need to ask yourself if you have any doubts about this, why would you want to have sex with someone unless they were really enthusiastic about it, unless it was some form of expressing your power and importance over another human being?
Our society is sick in more ways than I can count at the moment. But working with young people, I really am concerned about their attitudes to rape and consent. No victim should ever feel that they were in any way to blame.
We have lost sight of the perpetrator and allowed him to hold onto the power. We should instead be teaching our young people: to seek consent; that anything less is rape; that there is never an excuse; that urges can be controlled; that if you rape you will be hounded; that if you rape, you will be punished; that if you rape, you lose your rights; that if you rape, you are in fact the weakest that society has to offer.