Sexual assault – some men are ‘like that’.
The reasons women need space away from men, why women are wary of men seem obvious to me.
As a woman, it is obvious.
As someone who has worked with vulnerable women and children, it is obvious.
As a rape survivor, it is obvious.
But this isn’t about me. This is about the data. The figures. The numbers which put men under a magnifying glass and show that they are a threat. The numbers are important, because the voices of women are dismissed as over emotional and scare mongering and, my personal favourite, hysterical.
This is about the 34,547 women who reported serious sexual assaults to the police in the year 2011/12.
34,547 serious sexual assaults on women
At this point in any discussion about sexual assault, the whataboutery starts.
‘But what about men? They get assaulted too’.
It’s usually either a man or a misguided liberal type whose first response to hearing that around thirty-five thousand women were sexually assaulted is to ask about men. Tempting though it is to roll my eyes and dismiss this massive missing of the point, it’s more useful to consider it and ask the question: who by?
Who did the men you are so concerned about get assaulted by?
I’ll give you a clue: the answer isn’t ‘women’.
99% of sexual offences are perpetrated by men.
Read that again. For clarity, this rises slightly to 100% when we are talking about rape because, in UK law, you need a penis to do that. 99% of sexual offences are carried out by men. If the whataboutery starts up again at this point, I’m afraid they do get an eye roll.
Yes, a tiny number of women commit sexual offences. Yes, that is a terrible thing. It in no way reduces the impact of the 99%. It makes me angry when these figures are met with dismissal.
It makes me angry that anyone, hearing those figures, would not respond with horror.
Women know that men are a potential threat.
If we manage to talk about these figures without anyone demanding that we consider the men who have been affected first, we will often be presented with the NAMALT argument.
Not All Men Are Like That.
Well, durr. We know! We also know that if someone is going to sexually assault us, it’s going to be a man. Because you know what? SMALT.
Some Men Are Like That.
And we’d like to not have to think about this when we are in particular, vulnerable situations, like when we’re getting counselling following a sexual assault or when we are in a rape suite in the immediate aftermath. Or just when we’re in the female public toilets.
Some of us ‘prefer’ female only spaces, for some of us it is the difference between accessing essential mental health services and becoming entirely housebound.
If you have been sexually assaulted, or raped, it leaves you in a limbo between before and after.
Before, I was someone with bodily autonomy.
Before, I chose who touched me.
Before, I was defined by the whole spectrum of my life.
And after? Well, you can imagine.
Many women reading this won’t have to imagine, because it’s happened to so many of us. But this is not about me.
It’s about the man touching his penis on a train, opposite a teenage girl.
It’s about the man who gropes women and calls them frigid if he doesn’t like their reaction.
It’s about the man who sees an unconscious woman and rapes her anyway, putting his hand over her mouth when she comes round.
You remember the 35,547 women? Did I say that was just the ones who reported it to the police? I didn’t?
No. I didn’t. Because the 80,000 women who contact Rape Crisis a year is just too big a number for my head to handle. That’s a whole stadium full of women who have been raped.
There is a huge discrepancy between the Rape Crisis figures and the police reporting figures. That’s not because 55,000 women were calling Rape Crisis for shits ‘n’ giggles. It’s because women don’t expect to be believed or supported if they have experienced sexual violence – only around 15 % of them report it to the police.
Those women just try and deal with what happened as best they can.
They work, or study or look after their children. They try not to fall apart. They try to look after their mental health, not always successfully. They might self-harm, they might need medication, they might attempt suicide, as around 15% of rape victims do. Knowing that, do you really need to ask why women want some spaces away from men? I don’t need to ask, I get it. It shouldn’t even be up for debate. But … this isn’t about me.
It’s about the woman with her feet in stirrups in the rape suite, having her vagina swabbed: she’d rather the medic was female.
It’s about the woman who needs counselling through PTSD after rape trauma: she’d rather talk to a woman.
It’s about the women who need refuge.
For those women, we need to fight.
Because it’s not about me or you. It’s about women and the tiny portion of the world we want to keep protected.