[Trigger warning for discussion of sexual violence]
Thursday 8th March was International Women’s Day. You might have noticed that there were more articles about women in the papers. You probably heard at least one man say: “What about International Men’s Day then?”
At the University of Warwick, we celebrated with an inspiring five days of Women’s Week events. These events covered many of the topics that highlight why International Women’s Day is still so important: the glass ceiling, sexism in porn, domestic violence and much more.
The most resonant of these was a talk given by Sarah Learmonth from Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (CRASAC).
CRASAC support 3,500 women, men and children every year, offering a telephone helpline, counselling and therapy groups, advocacy and outreach services.
At the risk of becoming ‘the one who bangs on about rape statistics all the time’, this is a huge part of the reason why International Women’s Day, and myriad other campaigns to highlight women’s issues, are still unfortunately so necessary.
At least 47,000 women are raped every year in the UK, and 1 in 4 women have experienced rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. 89% of rapes are never reported – even higher than the statistic cited by Uni Lad – and the UK’s rape conviction rate, at 6.5%, is one of the lowest in Europe.
The statistics for Coventry are truly shocking. Almost 10,000 children under the age of 16 are likely to have been raped or abused, and almost 4,000 women aged 16 and above are likely to have been raped or seriously sexually assaulted.
CRASAC’s records suggest that perpetrators of rape, in descending order of prevalence, are: acquaintance, parent, relative, ex-partner, sibling, partner, stranger. Yet, as Learmonth highlighted, rapes by strangers are far more likely to be reported to the police.
For Learmonth, a huge part of the reason for this reluctance to report lies with the culture of blame surrounding rape. One in three people in the UK still believe a woman is at least partly to blame for being raped if she had previously flirted with her attacker. One in three. Would you report it, if it happened to you? I’m not sure I would.
Last week Mumsnet launched their rape awareness campaign, We Believe You, with the results of a survey of Mumsnet members. The campaign, using the Twitter hashtag #WeBelieveYou, aims to tackle myths about rape which make many women reluctant to report these crimes.
Inspired by this campaign, an important and heart-breaking hashtag appeared on Twitter. #ididnotreport saw an overwhelming communal outpouring of experiences, with many women speaking out about occasions when they did not report rapes or sexual assaults.
The following are just some examples of the hundreds of tweets. Please be aware that this content may be triggering:
- #ididnotreport being assaulted at the age of 10 because I had already started to pick up on the message that girls shouldn't be out alone.
- #ididnotreport the boy who took me on my first date.
- #ididnotreport the man who anally raped me. I didn't think it was real rape because he hadn't ejaculated. Besides, he was my boyfriend.
- #ididnotreport the man who groped between my legs when I was in travelling alone Rome aged 16. [sic] Still blame myself for getting in his car.
- #ididnotreport inapropriate [sic] behaviour by male classmates at school...thought I'd be seen as uptight and didn't want the attention...
The recurring theme of so many of these tweets was a fear of not being believed, or even a fear of being blamed. The tweet that most stuck with me was: “#ididnotreport because the first thing someone asked me was what I was wearing. It was an orange bikini. I was 12.”
It’s wonderful that Twitter exists as a medium for sharing these experiences but I find it appalling that, in 2012, it’s still necessary to point out that rape is never the victim’s fault. Judging by some of the misogynistic comments that cropped up on that same hashtag, these things still need to be said.
Most distressingly, one male Twitter user in his mid-20s started replying to comments on the #ididnotreport hashtag, claiming that sex should be “expected” within relationships and that, if a woman fails to submit, her boyfriend or husband should be able to use force to claim their natural “right”.
With views like this around, it’s hardly surprising that so many women feel reluctant to speak out. In fact, it’s particularly understandable given the horrifying report that a 29 year old mother of four last week failed to quash her conviction for falsely retracting rape allegations against her husband.
According to the report in the Guardian, “The Welsh woman was jailed for eight months in November 2010 after she admitted perverting the course of justice for retracting accusations that her husband had repeatedly raped her. He had been charged with six counts of rape but the case was discontinued after she changed her position following, she says, extreme pressure from her husband and his sister. She was charged after later telling police it was the retraction that had been false.”
To all those people who tweeted #ididnotreport, to everyone who didn’t feel able to tweet, and to all those who have found the strength to report their attacks and tackle the criminal justice system, remember this: #WeBelieveYou.
CRASAC’s helpline is open Monday to Friday 10am – 2pm and Monday and Thursday 6pm-8pm. Telephone 024 7627 7777.
Elsewhere in England and Wales you can contact Rape Crisis on their freephone helpline 0808 802 9999, open 12 – 2.30pm and 7 – 9.30pm.