Two Essential Testimonies on Date Rape

Occasionally, this website forgets it is a blog and descends into sheer self-promotion. Not so today, when we share a couple of pieces posted elsewhere on the sensitive issue of so-called ‘Date Rape’ (the qualifying prefix to which is actually superfluous).

Two things have sparked another collective conversation over this issue. The first is the ill-advised, point-missing defences of Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, who is wanted for questioning in Sweden on sexual assault charges. The second is the wilfully ignorant remark by US Congressman Todd Akin (R-MO), that a victim of ‘legitimate rape’ rarely gets pregnant.

In response, two women have bravely written personal testimonies about how they were forced to have sex without their consent, and the feelings of confusion and shame that followed the ordeal. Both articles are accompanied by the phrase ‘Trigger Warning‘ (which I confess I had not encountered before).First Eliza James writes at Liberal Conspiracy how she was raped at university by men she liked and fancied:

So I lay there and waited for it to be over. I thought: “Nobody will ever believe me. It will look as though I said yes all along if he uses a condom. There will be no semen.” He finished after a bit and got off me. I was shocked. I cried endlessly. Put my clothes on, but couldn’t look him in the eye. And he was confused. He kept asking me what was wrong. He truly believed that he had done nothing wrong: I’m no rape apologist, but I believe he thought that was how dates go.

Second, Laurie Penny describes how she was raped after a party, by a man she respected:

The man who raped me wasn’t a bad guy. He was in his early thirties, a well-liked and well-respected member of a social circle of which I am no longer a part, a fun-loving, left-leaning chap who was friends with a number of strong, feminist women I admired.

I was horrified at the way his face looked, fucking me, contorted and sweating. My head span. I couldn’t move. I was frightened, but he was already inside me, and I decided it was simplest to turn my face away and let him finish. When he did, I crawled to the corner of the enormous bed and lay there until the sun came up.

This guy seemed, if anything, confused as to why I was scrabbling for my things and bolting out the door. He even sent me an email a few days later, chiding me for being rude.

These accounts are difficult to read, yet compelling. They a reminder of how shames and stigmas invented by Dark Age culture, centuries ago, still suppress the voices of women who are abused in the 21st Century.

Unfortunately, the articles have also served to highlight the prevalence of the “she was asking for it” attitude and the removed, but equally insidious “you are revelling in victimhood” response. After publishing her piece, Laurie received hate mail, and also spectacularly tone-deaf comment from men on Twitter, accusing her of courting controversy. For example:

http://twitter.com/And_Ennui_Go/status/240176396029284352

Back to the two articles: For me, the most bizarre and unfathomable aspect is that the perpetrators of the rape seem to genuinely believe that they had not done anything wrong. This is deeply troubling and truly fascinating in equal measure. That this attitude is held by apparently normal and intelligent men makes it all the more disconcerting – we cannot simply dismiss this as the actions of the drugged-up feral underclass who slipped through the net and missed out on the usual lessons of morality.

We don’t need to go another round with the likes of George Galloway or Todd Akin, arguing over the definition of ‘rape’ versus ‘poor sexual etiquette’ (as Galloway described it). But I do not think that the testimonies of Eliza and Laurie should be the last word on this subject. We need to get to the bottom of this male pathology, that says it is somehow OK to rape women after dates, and at parties. Personally, I suspect that the propaganda of popular culture has something to do with it. The films and the sit-coms and the soap-operas (produced overwhelmingly by men) portray women as invariably available and gagging for it: a damaging message to pass on to any viewer, male or female. But that explanation feels like a cliché and I am not a psychologist.

What I would like to see commissioned is an article by, or an interview with one of these rapists. Not a convicted stranger-rapist who preys on women in parks… but a date-rapist who experienced the same feelings of confusion and bemusement as the men in the articles by Eliza James and Laurie Penny.

Do such testimonies exist? I am not sure how one would go about commissioning such an article, and how one would avoid simply another apologia for rape. But I think that the insights such an article could offer would be crucial in understanding the attitudes at the root of all this, and thereby finding ways to stop this kind of abuse.

Update

I’ve just seen this post on Jezabel by Katie Baker, ‘Rapists Explain Themselves on Reddit, and We Should Listen‘ which links to a Reddit thread in which rapists try to explain what went through their minds. Most of the comments do look like self-justification but as Baker says, it is interesting and essential to know what kind of mind-set produces these scenarios.

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