We still live in a culture that blames women for their attacks. In a recent London based survey, over 70% of those polled said women were partially to blame if they were drunk when they were attacked, or got into bed with their attacker. Less than 20 years since marital rape became illegal, there remains this culture that if a woman gets into bed with her attacker, she is culpable.
The reality is that no woman is responsible for her rape. The rapist is fully and ultimately responsible. Whether the woman is drunk, wearing a short skirt, walking home on her own, has a sexual history with the rapist, has a sexual history full stop, none of these things matter. What matters is that the rapist is to blame for the rape.
One theory suggests that women blame other women as a way to comfort themselves that the rape victim ‘didn’t follow the rules’, that if you ‘follow the rules’ you are safe. There are no rules I’m afraid. The only rule in place is the one that tells men not to rape.
Consent still, unbelievably, continues to be a thorny issue. As does the pervasive belief that stranger rape is “real rape” and date rape isn’t “violent rape”. All rape, by its very definition, is violent. There are no degrees of nastiness here.
The restrictions of women’s freedom continues to be an issue. When there are attacks on women that make the news, the response remains the same. Stay indoors, don’t drink, use the buddy system. At Christmas, posters all over the country warned women about the dangers of rape by telling them to restrict their freedoms. But those who are guilty of rape, those who are to blame, they continue to have their freedom. Posters urged women to take licensed cabs rather than unlicensed mini cabs, as black cab driver John Worbouys continued his attacks and his victims continued to be ignored and dismissed by the Metropolitan Police.
So what can we do? Well, the aims of Reclaim the Night are to educate about consent and violence against women. To educate and eradicate the myths that surround rape, to eradicate the belief that women are to blame if their drunk or have a history with the attacker, to educate and eradicate the belief that men can’t stop once they’ve started, to educate and eradicate the belief that only stranger rape is real rape. To educate about respect and consent in relationships. To educate and empower men and women about their sexuality and relationships.
We aim to bring justice to victims, to improve the conviction rate so that those who are guilty of rape pay for their crime, to ensure that women are believed.
And we aim to support the services in Bristol that are helping victims and survivors of sexual assault every day – rape crisis, the SARC, One25, and many many more. These services are vital to the women in Bristol, and yet are always under threat due to lack of funds.
I recently had a response from 10 Downing Street regarding a petition I signed to improve funding for rape crisis centres in the UK. They happily informed me that they would be providing £1 million for Rape Crisis and Survivor’s Trust. Nationally. £1 million for the whole country. A country where, according to the Haven Survey, 1 in 4 women have been sexually assaulted. We live in a country where rape crisis centres are not in every city, where many many women have no where to turn to after they have been raped where they will be listened to and believed. With a paltry million put aside to provide for these services, this isn’t changing any time soon, Clearly, women’s freedom and safety is not high on the government agenda. But it is high on ours. That is why we are here. That is what we are fighting for.