Why we have to talk openly about it

Pretty much every woman I know has experienced sexual harassment, sexual assault or rape.

I have.

All three. More than once.

I didn’t talk about it. We don’t do we? Sometimes, we can’t even label it. It’s too hard and it goes against the socialisation we have had since birth. It’s just part of being a girl.

I reject that.

The way I am going to reject that, is by talking about it. Openly and honestly.

As girls we are taught that we are responsible for other people. Their feelings, their needs and all too often their sexuality, is somehow our responsibility. I reject that. Men are entirely able to take responsibility for themselves. It is insulting to men to suggest otherwise.

I had a private conversation with a woman I had been at school with thirty-five years ago. She had mentioned being sexually assaulted by a sporting celebrity. The conversation tentatively moved on to the sexual assaults we had both suffered at school, and the boys who committed them. Thirty five years later we finally speak about boys who invaded our vaginas with no thought , no consequences and no conscience. They possibly don’t even remember, who knows? But we do.

We remember in slow motion, every detail, the physical reality, and the emotional reality. The total violation of our identity. And we were silenced by shame, by knowing that even if we were to be believed, it’s just boys being boys.

I worked in an environment, where I had to change my clothes. There was a private space to do this. I cannot tell you the number of times some man has walked into that space, without knocking, and always, every time, saying, “sorry love, I didn’t realise you were getting changed”. In a changing room? Really? Of course they did! And that’s why there were no locks on the doors.

Having our boundaries screwed over by society, over and over again. Male entitlement and ownership of our bodies, confirmed, over and over again.

I remember deliberately straining to see the TV over his shoulder, and saying “fucking get on with it then.” I didn’t give it its name. Its name was rape.

Secrets & Lies: Did he or didn't he? And why is nobody talking about what he did?

His weight on top of me, I couldn’t move. The determination to watch the telly was my way of telling him I wasn’t there, wasn’t engaging, would watch the telly while he used my body for his own ends. My mind was not his, it was still mine. I was still in control of that, and I wanted him to know.

I call it what it was now, but again, it took years. It took time, and it took counselling. The desperate irony that this man worked with sex offenders, just added to my grief.

It was RAPE.

These are hard words to say out loud. But, that is what I believe we must do. We must use these words. We must be matter of fact, and not feel in any way responsible, for the way other people feel about us using them.

If there is any good at all to come out of the Savile case, and the Trump case, it is that these subjects are out there. The more of us who say, that happened to me too, and take back control and ownership of our own bodies, individually and collectively, then the exposure of those men will have had a positive outcome.

One comment on “Why we have to talk openly about it

  • 20th October 2016 at 03:18

    Five times. Or, rather, five rapists – I was married to two of them, so more than five instances. (Most of the sex in the marriages was good and consensual but, after that has happened, you never get the same feeling back.) Reading your powerful post, Rachel, I realise how lucky I am that my rapes were named. The first two times my friends named it for me; the others I named for myself. The first rape was my first sex. It was what we’d call a date rape; I was pretty naive but he couldn’t possibly have thought he had enthusiastic consent! When he realised he was my first, he fucking apologised. Said he wouldn’t have done it if he’d known – which even I could see meant he knew exactly what he’d done.

    Sexual assaults: too numerous to mention. From being drugged by a serial offender (I have no memory, the police told me) to escaping an armed rapist, via all the usual commuter molesters, bus-stop chancers, drunken twats in bars, and dates who “got the wrong idea”. Sure they did – if they thought happy sex involves pinning your date down or sneaking up on her, they definitely had the wrong idea!

    I’m not afraid. I’m not even particularly angry. Perhaps it’s because I did talk and it was named, I don’t know. You’re right that we must talk far more, and more honestly.

    I’m saddened by our cultural acceptance of all this – and the rampant sexual torturing of children, and even more pervasive rape-like porn. I’m weary of asking men to notice and to say something. If one in 17 men is a rapist, what are the other 16 doing? Why are they still laughing at rape jokes, not saying anything about “asking for it” comments, letting “give her one” remarks pass for normal? When a girl was raped in my Tube carriage, how come it was down to me to help her while other men pretended to read?

    Not all men … not all men but far too many men. The rapist among the 17 thinks that what he does is okay, because the others talk like they do it too.

    We need women to speak out, for ourselves and for each other. And we need men hearing us, speaking out in support.

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