We need to protect the victims of rape


*Spoilers are included* 

The rape scene in last week’s Game of Thrones started a nationwide conversation about the depiction of rape on television. It was shocking as Cersei was tearfully forced into sex by her brother, next to the cold corpse of her dead son, whilst racked with sobs.

It is positive that everyone recognised that for what it is- a woman being violently robbed of her freedom to say no, and that the majority of people were disgusted by the scene. However, the public and our society don’t always have such a sympathetic view towards rape victims.

We sympathise with the male perpetrators, whose ‘lives are ruined’ by the accusations and many want to grant the men anonymity, another step towards how we protect the accused over the victim. In a crime with a high level of perpetration (one in four women will be sexually assaulted in their life) and a low level of prosecution- only fifteen percent of victims go to the police, and out of those who do, less than half get prosecuted. The statistics showed that just one major sex crime in 38 leads to a conviction for the offence. Despite this, we still question the women about whether they were drunk, and what they were wearing at the time. Thirteen year olds have been told by judges that what they were wearing ‘provoked’ their attacker, and young women raped on nights out have been blamed because they were drunk and less able to fight an attacker off.

In a way, we still have a view of rape as a punishment for wayward women. It’s been used as a tool of terror in wars, a form of domestic violence and control and a way to ‘cure’ lesbians of their homosexuality. Even in our culture, this is reflected when people wrote online that they were happy to see the ‘bitch’ Cersei get her comeuppance. The punishment rape of female villains is also even used in children’s fiction, with critics of Harry Potter pointing out the allusions towards the alleged rape of Professor Umbridge.

When we say that women who go out in short skirts and get drunk ‘had it coming’ and blame them for the fact that they got raped, we are punishing them for not conforming to our societal standards for how women should act. There can be no other reason when the vast majority of rapes happen to women wearing their everyday clothes, by men known to them, whilst they are sober. Twitter user @steenfox did an expreriment where she asked women to tell her what they were wearing when they were raped and hundreds responded- it was galling. The majority of women were wearing jeans, tracksuit bottoms, or heartbreakingly, their childhood pajamas. Through a veil of false concern, we snidely tell women that it was their fault for being attacked, their fault for being too loud, too drunk, and for wearing clothes that were too revealing. We punish them by not bringing their attackers to justice and delegitimising their struggle.

It’s all very well being sympathetic towards Cersei, and it’s encouraging that not everyone watched with vengeful glee when the weeping mother was taken against her will; but we need to bring this sympathy into our everyday life. We need to be as sympathetic towards the real victims of rape as we are towards fictional characters- we owe them that. Until we start protecting the victims of rape instead of the perpetrators, we are failing them. After all, there would still be rape without miniskirts and alcohol, but there would be no rape without the rapists.

11 thoughts on “We need to protect the victims of rape

  1. Good points in the article but sadly I don’t think everyone thinks Cersei was raped, and I think less people care because they had previously slept together and because she’s so horrible. GRRM didn’t even seem that bothered by the seen and neither did the directors, none of them saying it was a rape scene either. Yet when I watched I couldn’t see it as anything other than rape. Unfortunately for me that GoT episode didn’t show widespread backlash and thus support for the victims/survivors of rape but rather showed the confusion, victim-blaming and sexist attitudes around it. But I still agree with everything else in this article.

  2. My experience of university of York feminist’s facebook page:
    Why am I writing this anonymously in an article? Because that facebook group straight up intimidates me; I’m scared to post on it, let alone to criticise it.

    Before you start thinking I’m just pathetic let me explain. Any discussion of sexism and the intersectionality it invites involves dealing with very sensistive topics, specifically those involving race/racism and sexuality LGBTQ. This just comes with the territory so you can expect there will be heated discussions, disagreements and hurt feelings, it is inevitable. My problem is that the attitude of those who most often comment on the group is to critise and call out those who, normally through ignorance/lack of education, phrase things inappropriately, or worse they actually threaten people who are trying to think through their ideas ‘I will come down on you like a tonne of bricks’. This is hardly useful for productive discussion.

    Furthermore, people on the group are so obsessed with using the correct terms that someone can write a whole paragraph expressing their view, or may even link to an article, but because they use a phrase which isn’t favoured by the group their whole point is dismissed. For example, someone linked to an article which used the term rape victim. In response one member ignored their whole argument and the thoughts they had expressed and left the catty comment “victim”?? Survivor. It is fair enough to correct people’s usage but there are better ways to go about it, the typical way it is done on this facebook group is via shame and calling out, why not just say ‘good article but I am uncomfortable with the use of the word ‘victime’ since xyz, for reasons abc ‘survivor’ is a less problematic term’.

    And that takes me to the most problematic part of the group and how it is run. Many people on the group either start discussions by asking questions, or interrupt discussions by doing so. These questions will call into doubt the usage of some term, say, or question something strongly held by feminists. I understand that often these questions seem very basic to those who have read a lot of feminist discourse, and more than that are frustrating because discussion cannot continue until people educated themselves. However saying ‘find out for yourself’, ‘you’re an adult look it up’, and ‘I don’t have time to explain everything to you’ shuts down conversation rather than allowing for it. Most of the time when people ask these questions they are not doing it maliciously but rather are asking out of genuine confusion or concern. And moreover, it is essential for anyone to constantly question their views if they want to always be right. Snapping back quick remarks like ‘educate yourself’ shames the person who asked the question and wants to get involved, and effectively turns their back on them- you’re not educated enough to join in this conversation, come back when you’re smarter. They were asking for help, if you turn your back on them where else will they go? It’s like when people feel like they are not fit enough to go to the gym- that makes no sense. So gym workers/feminist group please stop reinforcing that attitude.

    This kind of discourse is so frustrating and to me makes the whole group seem to be about showing off knowledge and bragging about how much research that individual has done. Well done me, I have read 100 feminist books. This ends up making the group very exclusive. And yes it is extremely annoying to be constantly repeating what these persons have come to see as ‘basic’ facts of feminism, but surely they recognise that while basic to them they are not to most people. The group goes on about privelege so much and yet fails to recognise their privelege of being so informed and clued up about these issues.

    Ultimately, the group is an intimidating and scary place which is not conducive to fruitful discussion, increased awareness or any actual personal or university wide bettering.

    I’m bored to tears by the ‘infighting’ comments about feminism, but when I see such dismissive and superior attitudes as those expressed on the group it is hard for me to see what these people think they are doing to actually help spread the conversation. Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to not be sexist (or racist or homophobic) but if people are asking it’s normally because that is something they are striving to do so. Excluding people or shaming them for not already knowing just undermines everything they are attempting to do. Feminist discourse should not be a vanity project but an actual tool for increased knowledge and change.

    And yes I am sorry this is anonymous and written as basically an open letter, but I’m too intimidated and scared of the backlash I’d receive if I just sent this as a private message to the group leader. I am not trying to shame you all but just let you know that a lot of people feel the way I do; we try to engage in positive change and instead get pushed aside for not doing it well enough. This is plea for help and a plea for change. Maybe it does suck for you to explain everything over and over but you know what sucks more? sexism. And isn’t removing that sort of the point?

  3. @anon

    Going by most of the cases I’ve seen in that group, “it’s not my fucking job to teach you- look it up yourself” tends to be the last resort in discussion. It only really comes up when the party making the enquiries is so singularly obnoxious and reluctant to listen that people give up.

    You can’t expect people to have unlimited patience for these kind of things.

  4. Anon:

    In the description of the facebook group you are talking about it explicitly says that it is not the purpose of the group to host discussion or educate people. That is what the events that the university feminist run are for (within reason). If discussion occurs on the group then that’s ok, but it is not obligated to host discussion.

    I do not understand why you hate the idea of having to learn about something before you talk about it. That’s what most of the people on the group had to do. It’s not that hard.

    In future, if you say something on a feminist group and people who you admit know more about it that you are hostile, how about you think “Oops, this doesn’t sound good. Should probably back off and go and find out about this.”

  5. Update from the UOY feminists page: A committee member has posted a response to this comment that goes no further than requesting that people shouldn’t complain anonymously or publicly, anon has been called a bastard for expressing their opinion and a spirited witch hunt is happening to try and uncover their identity, presumably so that anon can experience the backlash that they were trying to avoid by being anonymous. I’m kind of disgusted by the groups response, but, like anon, am too intimidated to post there. Lots of the criticism of anon’s post seems to centre around the fact that they’re male and therefore that they are being an apologist for sexist comments from men that have appeared on the group (I don’t know if this is true or not), but I’m a woman and I find it just as intimidating.

  6. I am a woman and I have undergone sexual assault before. But can I just stress STRONGLY that I believe the accused should remain anonymous? What happened to innocent before proven guilty? Of course, they should be named if found guilty but sexual crimes carry a great stigma to them which can be much harder to lose once you have a reputation. It’s almost as though if you’re accused of it (falsely) you’re just as guilty.

  7. I was kicked out of the York Feminists Facebook group without warning because I got involved in a discussion about rape culture- I think I was kicked out because I asked for evidence to back up peoples’ claims to the existence of rape culture, but I’m not sure- no one told me why. All I will say is that is dangerous for any group to particularly averse to criticism or scrutiny as then their ideas and theories will inevitably become biased and/or incorrect.

  8. My goodness, such whining!

    Yeah, going on the group and insisting that rape culture doesn’t exist is completely against the guidelines of the group. There is plenty of evidence for the existence and severity of rape culture. Nevertheless, the group’s policy on not being obliged to educate or host critics of feminist thought is designed to avoid people being upset, and to avoid having to ‘win over’ the hordes of arrogant young men who insist on believing that they know best.

    I suggest that your ‘concern’ about the impact this practice will have on the movement is disingenuous.

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