I’m sick of the misunderstanding surrounding rape, and I’m sick of the silent suffering that it causes. I can only say this as a man looking in on the destruction that has happened in the lives of women I know, but I want to say it nonetheless.
I will never forget walking into the room of a close acquaintance one night and finding her bent over a chair, tears washing down her face, her arms crossed over her head as if she was afraid the sky was about to fall on her. I asked her what was wrong, but I already knew. She had been raped.
But it had happened six years ago.
I of course cannot elaborate about this person’s situation, but the absolute truth beneath the story is evident. Sexual assault destroys people. And it does not go away easily.
I know several people in my life who have been sexually assaulted, and every single one of them has been forced to confront the most horrific psychological, physical and spiritual atrocities that have occurred as a direct result of their attack. The trauma that can arise does not seem to correspond with how malicious the attack was either; which is to say that it is irrelevant how ‘bad’ each individual case was, because, whatever the circumstances, their self-esteem totally imploded regardless. Whether they were held at knifepoint or gently pushed into an unwanted sexual act, these people were all put through hell. That is what we must remember when we talk about rape.
I want to send out a clear and unequivocal message to both boys and girls about the real reason rape is such an appalling thing. The fact is that even the slightest bit of forcefulness, even the smallest suggestion of stepping into a grey area, or just the minimal presence of bad intent can crush a person’s sense of self. I am constantly alarmed at the nonchalance with which other boys my age approach female sexuality, and the contempt they can hold for girls who don’t give into their approaches. I am incessantly afraid that another person close to me will have to go through the psychological catastrophe of being raped, and that perhaps the next person won’t be strong enough to take the burden.
RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, lists the following as potential outcomes of being raped:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: severe anxiety, stress and uncontrollable thoughts.
- Traumatic flashbacks.
- Depression: despair, hopelessness, prolonged sadness, uncontrollable crying, dramatic increase or loss of appetite, loss of pleasure in anything, suicidal thoughts.
- Dissociation: the feeling of being separate from yourself, sense of being removed from the world.
- Dramatic loss of self-esteem, insecurity, feelings of anger, distrust and feeling unsafe.
Since I’ve been at uni I’ve heard several rumours flying around about events that could potentially be classed as rape, and, almost every single time, they have not been settled conclusively and the stories have paled into dust because no one had the guts to come forward. Every time I hear one I’m forced to wonder which of the above problems the victim is going to go through, and to what extent their life will be ruined by it.
One thing we have to make excessively clear is that rape is a far broader category than people are usually willing to acknowledge. It is defined as an act of sexual intercourse that is forced upon someone – which means that an unwanted kiss could be classed as rape. People always throw their hands up and say, ‘What, do you want me to make her sign a contract first?’, but this is absolutely miles from the point. The point is that, if you are in a grey area, then you are already over the line. Even an act of slightly forceful but apparently consensual sex can smash someone’s self-esteem; even the mildest suggestion that someone is bending to your will can destroy their faith in themselves and the world. At its heart, it is a myth that rape is about sex – it is actually about power and control. If you impose power on someone and take away their sense of control, even if they appear to be consenting, you are throwing them into the ocean of self-doubt. The human mind is an extraordinarily delicate thing, and we must treat it as such.
I cannot stand it whenever I hear a public figure denying, normalising or trivialising rape. It makes me physically furious. And, similarly, I have come across people in my own life who have expressed such deeply naïve opinions about rape and perhaps even have perpetrated crimes that could be considered as such. But they would never have realised it, and they would probably defend themselves. It strikes me that the majority of people have absolutely NO idea what they are talking about when it comes to dealing with rape. They do not understand the psychological hell that any amount of coercion can unleash upon someone. And no one deserves that, ever.
Perhaps if you too woke up every morning with your hands trembling, your stomach sick and your mind thumping you like a sledgehammer, your blood pumping and your thoughts as suicidal as the night before, in the knowledge that you have to face a world that terrifies and berates you, you would begin to understand why rape is bad. Perhaps if you too could feel the blinding terror of experiencing someone you thought you could trust destroy your faith in the world, you would begin to see. Perhaps if you could see with your own eyes what I have seen happen to far too many people, you would begin to feel the suffering yourself.
I write this fully in the knowledge that there are people out there and around me who have, and perhaps will, go on to do things to people that will break their self-esteem. I only hope that they are made to see the horror that they create. The deep-set insecurity that arises out of the mildest case of sexual coercion is an awful, awful thing to inflict on a person’s life.
So I plead with my peers to understand why it is that we promote respect and attack rape. Tread very, very lightly. People are far more fragile than you might think.