This post discusses sexual violence and attitudes towards it, please take this as a trigger warning.
As I (reluctantly) hurtle towards the completion of my Masters, existing only through some form of anxiety induced coma, my psychology dissertation has been taking up approximately 400 hours of my day. In the process of completing this, I have come across some rather shocking and frankly quite dank areas of the wonder that we call the internet.
One area I've been studying is the utilisation of writing mediums to share stories of sexual violence, potentially as a method of reclaiming lost power. So, I had to ask myself, as I was up to my elbows in books with gloomy titles like Forcible Rape, why do we turn to writing about our experiences in our masses? Could it be because there is still such a strong undercurrent of shame attached to this subject that the distancing we achieve by writing and casting it out into the ether is the only way we feel able to discuss an issue, still taboo, still laden with fear and that loaded word: shame. Perhaps Roland Barthes was right in his proposal that author and creation are indeed, distinct, and we only allow ourselves to purge our truths given the intrinsic distance from our writing ensuring we still feel safe.
Now, I'm not saying I have any answers here, come back to me after my dissertation is due (and bring gin), but when I absorb the graphic details of these violations, as I encounter articles formulating excuses for perpetrators, when I read comment sections overwhelmed by victim blaming, or when I discuss my project with people and see their faces contort awkwardly as they attempt to redefine 'what's really rape'; I see it. I see Brock Turner and his excellent swimming, I see Ched Evans and his career as a Championship striker, I see the 'promising futures' of the Steubenville rapists. Then I see girls like Audrie Potts and Rehtaeh Parsons taking their own lives after the online abuse they received due to being assaulted, at a time when they were just trying to survive the aftermath of their attacks. If you're thinking to yourself that that last point didn't make sense, you're right. When a society contains within it forces that choose to persecute the victim and excuse the perpetrator, what in the world is supposed to deter people from offending?
With outspoken celebrities like Milo Yiannopoulos and his 338k former Twitter following spout a rhetoric denouncing the existence of rape culture, when students at universities in the UK stage protests rather than going to consent classes, how can we expect engagement in a discussion that encourages and allows shame to fall upon the right people? The dangerous narrative of fictitious blame by picking apart a victim's appearance, sartorial freedom, sobriety and sexual history only serve to further alienate them from their unwavering right to seek justice and support.
In 2012, over 80% of sexual assaults were not reported. I can attest that fear of repercussions is a huge factor in whether to take allegations like this forward, and the survivor is left to internally battle bitter regrets, wondering if the person who caused them harm is out causing someone else the same kind. And again, internally shouldering some misplaced blame for this.
A desire to speak out about experiencing assault is clear; countless blogs, articles and books exist for this very reason. Writing may help empower the survivor, to rationalise in a more objective form what happened to them. But a deep fear of consequence prevents many others from feeling able to even write about it.
Though it may feel as though society is moving forward, that rape convictions are increasing and that young people are educated on consent more than ever, there is still an insidious force lingering within our fundamental societal constructs, projecting misguided shame and even potentially contributing to the perpetuation of minuscule rates of reporting violent crime and sexual offences.