It’s hard to have missed two huge news stories in the past few weeks. While this might be an uncomfortable topic, I want this blog to be honest and unflinching. We need to talk about Sexual Assault. Late last month the world was horrified to learn that a 16 year old girl had been recorded being gang raped by up to 30 men, it was then uploaded onto social media. As if this wasn’t bad enough, this week the media gaze shifted to the United States after a young woman had been raped while she lay unconscious behind a bin. The rapist was found guilty, but still the media focused on what he had lost. They focused on his athletic career and even his own father wrote about how his life had been ruined by ’20 minutes of action’, with no insight into how the young woman’s life had been changed after her ordeal.
This isn’t the first time this year we’ve been talking about sexual assault. Kesha is still battling the man she accuses of raping her and has been blocked making music unless she works with him. Lady Gaga stood up and wrote the beautiful song Til It Happens To You (above), performing it at the Oscars surrounded by fellow survivors of assault. With all this talk in the media, surely it has to get better… right?
It wasn’t until I came to university that I fully understood the extent of women being affected by sexual assault. On nights out girls were touched again and again, even when they said no. Guys would come up behind me and try and dance against or touch me, something I’m deeply uncomfortable with. They would shout remarks on my way home or try and grab me and then laugh. I know too many people who’s drinks have been spiked or who have been so drunk they could hardly speak, but were taken home by someone and had sex with.
The worst thing though? The worst thing is when you’re told that you’re making a ‘fuss over nothing’. When you’re told it’s sports night and they’re just trying to dance close to you. When you’re told that boys will be boys. When you’re told that when you launch someone across a dancefloor for touching you in a club you’re the one who needs to lighten up and get a grip. It’s still made out to be your fault. I was made to feel bad by other people for being angry that I’d been touched by someone and I didn’t want them too. I was pressured by classmates in my teens not to report someone when they thought it was ok to slap my butt and make comments because I was the only girl in class and couldn’t I take a joke? When I was 11 and the guys told me to go ‘suck it’ or when one boy pushed me up against a wall and was inappropriate, or when he beat me up my school didn’t care. We reported it but we were just kids this didn’t mean anything, he was just a naughty boy. So I just got on with my life and shouted when I got mad, every time I got told by someone in authority that I needed to ‘calm down’. Luckily that’s not how my family raised me.
It’s hard sometimes because you feel like you’re fighting a losing battle. If I tried to report someone touching me up on a night out, nothing would happen. When we read about women getting attacked in the media the questions asked are ‘what were they wearing’ or ‘why were they alone at night’. When we read about a man getting attacked (because don’t forget, they do too) it’s made into a joke about how they should enjoy it. Recently a teacher was arrested for raping her 13 year old student, people were saying how ‘lucky’ he was. It was rape, he was a child and he was groomed and raped. That’s it.
While I appreciate that this is a heavy topic, it’s been tearing me up inside, reading all these reports. I don’t want to demonise men, not at all. I do, however, want to contribute to tackling the way rape and sexual assault are seen in the media, because only then will be get more convictions, more education and more support for the women and men who have faced such a terrible ordeal.