Sunday, 20 January 2013

Dear Caitlin, part 2

Edited to add: TRIGGER WARNING!  This article is about rape.

Caitlin, I’m sorry but you’ve disappointed me again.  Please don’t misunderstand me, in this age of Twitterstorms with some of us Twitterers criticising our feminist icons for what they say in their columns, I am not attempting to attack you.  I do still think your writing is great, I still have great respect for you.  I don’t expect everyone to get it right all the time, and I recognise that all of us humans are fallible.  It is wrong for me to put you on a pedestal and expect you to be perfect.  No-one can live up to that expectation.  I am truly thankful that you’ve attempted to grasp the nettle that is rape, and have started to try to make sense of the chasm in society where rapists get away with rape, and victims are blamed.  You’re not making a joke out of rape, you’ve moved away from the position you (appeared to) have when you were interviewed by Mia Freedman and talked about women clattering down the road in their heels which was the subject of my last blog to you ( ).  But, I don’t think you understand, not really.  Please, let me explain.  Please, listen.

I agree with you, and I applaud you, when you say, “The idea of “asking for it” – whether said by a lawyer in Delhi, a drunkard in a NYC bar or a careless woman gossiping in an office in Slough – is the single, toxic pathogen from which all our problems with rape blossom. Culpability. Blame.”  I agree with you, when you say, “Let’s not call this a sexual crime any more” because it isn’t a sexual crime.  Rape is about power, exerting power and control over a body.  It is not sex.  I personally get very angry with the newspapers when they use the terms ‘sexual assault’ or ‘sexual violence’ to minimise the crime.  To describe the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war in Mali, or Syria, as ‘sexual violence’ as Metro did this week, is absolutely wrong.  Euphemisms water down the impact, and they are unhelpful.  Let’s call a spade, a spade.  Rape is rape.

I agree with you, rape is a very hard word.  I was in group therapy this week, a group with 5 other women who have been raped.  Some by members of their family, some as children.  Some were in relationships with men who raped them regularly.  In the scheme of things, I guess I was ‘lucky’.  I was on a date.  It was a ‘one off’, one night.  And, I didn’t do everything right, I was drinking.  I wasn’t wearing heels (because I rarely do) but I was dressed to impress, I was wearing jeans, but I was also showing cleavage.  For a long time afterwards, I did struggle with my culpability, had I given the wrong signals (despite saying very clearly that I didn’t fancy him so this really was going to be just a one-time dinner)?  Had I been incredibly irresponsible in putting myself at risk by drinking?  When I started to understand that my drinking and my clothing were not responsible for my rape, my rapist was responsible for my rape, I was able to start the healing process (which I am coming to think will be a process that lasts a life-time). 

But, I digress.  Rape is a very hard word.  At group therapy we are all asked to check-in at the start, to talk about our week.  The previous day I’d got into a conversation with a colleague about dating, would I go online to find someone.  And, rather than just say ‘no’, or that it ‘wasn’t for me’, I decided to be honest.  I said, no, I don’t do online dating, because I was raped when I did.  I am very frustrated by the silence that surrounds rape.  It happens to so many (you quote 1 in 20; there are some studies which claim that as many as 1 in 4 will suffer it in their lifetime), and the silence surrounding it means that survivors feel as though they are alone (when they’re not), the silence contributes to the internal feelings of shame & blame, and the silence means that many go blithely through life thinking that ‘it can’t happen to them.’  So, I decided not to be silent.  My colleague was shocked, I could see her pain for me in her face.  But, she also opened up to me about a vicious relationship she’d been in years earlier and how it still made her question her relationships, how trust is so hard to find, to feel. 

I shared this anecdote at group therapy.  It was the 5th week of group.  In all that time, it was the first time one of us had actually used the word rape, named it for what it was.  Another girl shared later.  She said that my use of the word, the fact that I could say the word, had taken her breath away.  She couldn’t use the word, it had too much power.  You are right, it is a word with “baggage of shame, and blame, and ruin. A word so hard for an injured woman – or a man, or a child – to say”  but I entirely disagree with you when you argue for it not to be used.  Yes, it has been used to often to mean things that aren’t rape.  We mustn’t use it when we don’t mean rape.  To say our facebook account has been ‘fraped’, trivialises the word.  We mustn’t do that.  But, you are wrong to argue for the word to not be used at all.  Those of us who can say the word, must say it, to honour those that cannot.

The problem with rape is not the sex, as you say.  Sex has nothing to do with rape.  Sex is irrelevant to rape.  I agree with what you say about sex, it’s a confusing thing, with confusing emotions.  But, please don’t get mixed up and think that rape has anything to do with sex.  It really doesn’t. 

And then, your article became very hard to me to read.  Let me try to explain.  Rape is not an internalised violence, akin to a punch in the face.  There absolutely is a difference “ if it’s a vagina being brutalised, or an eye? If the weapon is a penis, or a cosh?”  When I read those words, I felt as though I was being strangled, there was a pain constricting my chest, I felt like you’d winded me.  The external body heals from an external wound.  Nearly 5 years later, the bruises have faded (I can still ‘just’ see where one of the biggest external injury was to my thigh, although no-one else would).  But, I am not healed.  I suffer from anxiety attacks, from bouts of severe depression.  My therapists have told me I am suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.  Your article makes absolutely no mention of the mental impact of internal trauma, it implicitly seems to suggest that because the body will heal after rape, we can call it assault, simplify the crime, make it easier for others to understand.  To call rape ‘assault’ is just another euphemism, minimising the impact on the survivor, telling the survivor that they have no right to be traumatised, that the pain they feel every day isn’t there.

You are right, rape is “one human ripping another human being to pieces,” and you are right, we shouldn’t call it sexual assault, but we shouldn’t call it assault either.  It is rape.  Rape is not, “Just a violence, like any other.”  Rape is not ‘just’ anything.  There is no other crime like it; even murder, because with a murder, you are dead, you are no longer suffering.  I agree with you, let’s not confuse the crime by equating it with sex, let’s ensure people everywhere understand that rape has nothing to do with sex.  But, let’s not confuse the crime by calling it assault either.  Let’s honour those survivors who still get up everyday and face this world knowing what they know about it, and honour those that couldn’t do that and ended their life because of it, by ensuring that people everywhere know how absolutely debilitating the crime of rape can be, is.  Let’s ensure people everywhere know the horror of rape. 

Caitlin, I am so happy & thankful that this is a topic that you’re trying to make sense of.  Too many women, men and children are forced to try to make sense of it for themselves.  I said before, you have a voice, a very loud voice.  You have a platform.  You can do so much to help change perceptions, to help change society.  Please, I hope you’ve understood what it was about your article that I felt insulted by.  I hope you understand that I am not trying to attack you personally.  I hope you understand that this is a dialogue.  I know you said last night in your reply to my tweet that no-one else had complained, that you had received only good feedback, including from rape counsellors.  I have spoken to other rape survivors about the article.  I am not the only one.  Caitlin, we need someone like you, who has a loud voice, to help fight our battles in society, to change things.  We hope you hear us. 

Below is the transcript of Caitlin Moran’s article that I quote, which appeared in the Times on Saturday 19th January.

‘Let’s not call this a sexual crime any more – with its baggage of shame, and blame, and ruin’
That broken, ex post facto bastard’s curse – “She was asking for it” – reached its spiteful apogee last week, in the wake of the Delhi gang rape.

The lawyer representing three of the men charged with her murder, Manohar Lal Sharma, gave an interview you will want to hide from your children – but whether more urgently from your sons or your daughters, I cannot say. Both become more doomed if they read it and believe it.

“Until today, I have not seen a single incident or example of rape with a respected lady,” Sharma said – insisting the partner of the dead woman was “wholly responsible” for her death. The unmarried couple should not have been out so late at night, using public transport.

This woman, now dead, had brought this upon herself. She left the house, intending to have sex on a bus. She had essentially walked through the streets, looking for six men to help her commit suicide via an iron bar. She was searching for the quiet sound of a fly-zip, as ruinous as the sound of a bullet being thumbed into a gun. This is something women do.

The idea of “asking for it” – whether said by a lawyer in Delhi, a drunkard in a NYC bar or a careless woman gossiping in an office in Slough – is the single, toxic pathogen from which all our problems with rape blossom. Culpability. Blame.

It’s so hard to insist that rape can happen wholly unprompted, with the lights on, to a cheerful woman who has done everything “right”. Surely she had a token of ill luck somewhere on her body? Some evil glamour left in a pocket; a glance that had been better off left at home? Even though a new report shows one in 20 British women have suffered sexual assault – someone you have been in a room with, today – we think black lightning cannot fall on a sunny day, although we know it can with all the other crimes: on the bonnet of the drunk driver; in the nursery, with a shotgun.

The awful issue of blaming the injured is what makes rape so iniquitous – like telling children in care they should simply have picked better parents in the first place. Why does this happen?

Well, the problem with rape is the sex. As a species, we are still confused, overwhelmed, afraid of and intoxicated by sex. It is a cocktail, mixed in with religion, politics, suffrage, power, love, magic, fear, self-loathing and things left widely unspoken. It makes us drunk. It makes us dumb. It confuses us in manifold. Look here, at this pile, in merely its non-fatal complications: Fifty Shades of Grey, with its duct tape. Happy marriages, with their rape fantasies. Count the sex counsellors and agony aunts. Rape couldn’t happen on a bigger moral and philosophical fault-line. Rape couldn’t strike in a worse place.
That’s why I sometimes think we should do away with the word “rape” altogether. Let’s not call this a sexual crime any more – with its baggage of shame, and blame, and ruin. A word so hard for an injured woman – or a man, or a child – to say, now that we’ve used it in too many places, for too many disparate things, for it to be functionally descriptive of a crime.

Let’s call this crime something simpler, and less confusing, instead: internal assault. Intramural attack. Regard it just as we would an assailant violently forcing a hammer handle into a mouth, or puncturing an eardrum with a knife. Does it make any real difference if it’s a vagina being brutalised, or an eye? If the weapon is a penis, or a cosh? This is punching, but inside. This is the repeated piercing of someone’s body. When you put it like that, suddenly the issue of rape becomes very clear: how many women would ask for that?

The phrase “sexual assault” confuses a million men, and women, like Manohar Lal Sharma, right across the world – that troubled word, “sexual”, casting a shadow so deep that it hides the “assault” part altogether. It makes people think of rape merely as some sex that just “went wrong”.

The police report of the Delhi gang rape alleges that the victim was so badly broken, one assailant “pulled her intestines from her body with his hands”, before throwing her from a moving bus.

And yet, still, everything we debate about this incident is framed around it being a sexual assault. That they attacked her below, before they attacked her above, has defined it. It’s become another argument about men and women and desire and politics and culture. Rather than what it is – what all rapes are: one human ripping another human being to pieces.

Not sexual assault. Just – assault. Not a sexual crime. Just – crime. Not rape – with all the confusions we can’t afford, can’t bear, another generation to painfully sift through, as we have had to.

Just a violence, like any other.

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