How do I know I live in a rape culture?
I know, because I am a woman, living in this culture.
Today is the UN-designated International Day to End Violence Against Women (IDEVAW). So it was a bit galling to see this tweet in my timeline:
Rape culture isn’t a myth.
How do I know this?
I know it because every year, 85,000 of my sisters will be raped. That’s roughly 11 rapes an hour. In one city, my city, Bristol, there are an estimated 130 rapes every month.
I know it because of those 85,000 rapes, only 15% will be reported. And only 6.5% of those reported rapes will lead to a conviction. Not all of those convictions will lead to a jail sentence.
That’s just the UK. Across the world, 1 in 3 women will experience male violence in our lifetimes. That’s over one billion women.
I know it because, despite what Ken Clarke says, most rapists serve less than five years. I know it because friends who bravely reported their rapists to the police saw the men who committed this grave violation against them free within two, three years. Those men go back to work. They get on. The women survive with what was done to them.
I know it because whilst rapists walk within three years, a woman found guilty of sexual assault is locked up for eight years.
I know it because the severity of being accused of rape is treated as the equivalent of rape. Even though we know most rapists get away with it. I know it because we talk about rape as a one-off thing that happens on one occasion to a woman, and talk about an accusation of rape as ‘ruining men’s lives’. Even if that accusation is true. Even if that man or those men are found guilty.
We don’t talk about the impact of rape on a woman’s life. We don’t talk about her life at all.
Instead, we show empathy to the rapists. From the judge who gave a suspended sentence to the man who raped his girlfriend ten times, to those phoning into radio shows to back him up. Never mind her PTSD. Never mind her multiple suicide attempts. Never mind that his life isn’t ruined. Never mind that he chose to rape her ten times.
That’s how I know we live in a rape culture.
How else do I know?
I know it because it’s getting dark now and the safety advice posters are going up telling me not to drink too much, not to walk home alone, to restrict myself, to stop myself, to not live my life as freely as a man can live his, in case it makes me ‘vulnerable’.
I know it because if I don’t follow this advice, and something happens to me, then it is me who will be blamed for the violence. It will be me who will have to justify my behaviour.
I know it because if I follow the rules, and get a taxi, and the taxi driver commits rape, no one will believe it. In the case in that link, the John Worboys case, it is estimated he raped 100 women as the police refused to believe the women who bravely came forward.
I know it because men compare me to a wallet, a bike, an open window, or a laptop. They tell me that if I walk down the street, go for a drink, flirt with a man, talk to a man, if I do any of that then my vagina is unlocked. They tell me that if I have sex with a man once, then I’m already in the ‘sex game’ with him and he therefore has access to my vagina. They tell me not to use the word vagina because it’s offensive.
How else do I know?
I know it because violent men watch videos of my sisters being raped and then go on to commit violence against other sisters, and if we mention this we get called ‘prudes’ who hate sex.
I know it because I’m just supposed to accept the sexualisation of male violence and aggression, and if I object to it then it’s my problem, I’m a prude who hates sex. That I’m attacking ‘free speech’ but then, who cares about women’s free speech?
I know it because when men threaten to rape me online I’m supposed to ‘get the joke.' I know it because comedians line up on stage to tell jokes at the expense of rape victims. Not at rapists, at rape victims.
As Stewart Lee says, don’t mock the weak. Mock the strong.
I know it because I’m a woman living in a world where male violence is at an epidemic level that is killing women every day. I know it because I’m a woman living in a world where male violence is at an epidemic level that is raping my sisters every day.
And I know it because when I talk about this, when women talk about this, we are told rape culture is a myth. We’re told we’re making it up.
Now. Where have I heard that before?