Posts Tagged fear

Why it’s hard to speak up about rape – and why we should do it anyway

Tonight I’ve been reading Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I watched the film – starring Kristen Stewart, any Twilight fans – a couple of years ago but in a moment of serendipity spotted it on Hodder’s bookshelves earlier today. It’s the fictional tale of Melinda, a fourteen year old girl raped at a house party, and it describes how she descends into a mute shadow of her former self, before very slowly starting to heal, and speak out.

I have a publishing nerd habit, where if a phrase sticks with me in a book, it gets a post-it note on the page so I can find it again if ever it’s on the tip of my tongue. Sometimes you find a character in a book or film that says something, and – to borrow from the fat old teacher in The History Boys – it is like a hand has reached out and taken yours, because the character is finally putting words to something you’ve been trying to describe for years. I have joyous lines from The Time Traveller’s Wife that talk about the immediacy of love, a whole passage from Wuthering Heights that talks about despair. And from Speak, now I have this:

“I just want to sleep. A coma would be nice. Or amnesia. Anything, just to get rid of this, these thoughts, whispers in my mind. Did he rape my head, too?”

The answer, of course, is yes. And I suspect it’s one of the many reasons we don’t often talk about rape – because those thoughts are swirling around in our heads so much of the time, and who wants to think about it more than they have to? After all, that’s the very reason I took a sabbatical from this blog – I was talking about it, and that made me think about it more, and then I talked about it more, and round and round those thoughts swirled.

And let’s not pretend that it’s only your head that gets raped. Your close friends and family are raped in some way, too – thoughts force themselves into loved ones’ heads unwanted, and won’t get out. When I first told my mother, she would wake up panicking that I wasn’t safe. My father later rushed headlong out of the cinema when he realised they were about to depict a rape scene, because he didn’t need anything making his imagination more vivid.

It seeps into the wider world, too. Even if you don’t know someone who’s been raped – and believe me, even if you don’t realize it, you probably do – distant women’s experiences have made you fearful too. Rape is consistently polled as the event or circumstance that women are most afraid of. And of course we know why. Every woman has at some point realised that – providing she’s not an Olympic weight-lifter – if a man wanted to physically or sexually abuse her, there’s nothing she could do about it. This is discovered in lighthearted circumstances, perhaps having a drunken arm wrestle or a tickling match. And discovering that you are, in a very real sense, powerless, somehow fractures that optimistic lie we were told growing up: that women and men are equal. I’m as big a feminist as they come, but one has to confront the reality that there are physical differences that will not be leveled out.

So how do we, our friends, our family, and even those ‘untouched’ by rape ever summon up the courage to leave the house? Simply because those damaged men are not the majority of men. The world is full of men who would protect you rather than harm you. And those that have harmed you? If you stay indoors, they win. And they don’t deserve to. And – hard as it is sometimes to force the words out from a throat that seems to get ever more constricted – if you stay silent, they win, too. So speak up.


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I haven’t talked about anger much yet. I’m going to talk about it now. The following isn’t pretty, for which I apologise. I promised that this blog would be a truthful account of the aftermath of rape, in all its rationality, terror and bravery. This is me in all my ugliness – but it is the truth.


It took me literally years to realise how angry I was at my rapist. Since starting to address it, I had become so focused on getting back to normal that I hadn’t dealt with a huge ball of feelings that was still inside me, these feelings which marked me out as completely un-normal. It suddenly all tumbled out of me on the last night of my final university exams. I shook with rage – I mean, I was the angriest I have ever been. I shook for hours, into the early hours of the morning. And, as ever, I cried – not pathetic weeping, but loud and angry and fierce tears that burned my face and felt good.

At the time I found it quite difficult to separate out all the reasons for the anger I directed at him. Gradually those reasons have become clearer. I don’t think about the anger much, but sometimes it comes to me again – like it has today – and it consumes me.

I have a fantasy that I have never shared with anyone else. In this fantasy, that man, that Mark, lies in the centre of a darkened room, curled up and naked. He is defenceless, and he is pathetic. And I am circling around him, taking measured steps, as I hold my head high and pull my shoulders back. I am strong. I walk around him, telling him why I am so very angry at him. And with each reason, I kick him hard in the stomach with grim pleasure, and he moans in pain. I enjoy that.

You took something monumental away from me. I will never be able to know what sex could be like without the hang-ups and memories that you gave me. My experience of sex has always, and will always, be affected by your selfishness. Kick. You have made it more complicated for me to have relationships, because I require an understanding and patience from partners that goes beyond the norm. Kick. You have hurt my family, and forever changed how they see me. When you attacked me, you attacked them. My mother wakes up in the middle of the night frightened for me, and you did that to her. Kick. I spend every day more afraid than I should be. Four years on, I take circuitous routes or stay on buses and trains longer than I have to just to avoid streets and alleyways I distrust. Kick. No matter how enjoyable sex is, it is nevertheless always accompanied by a feeling of fear, that feeling of being invaded. You did that to me. Kick.

And you made me this person. This person who could delight in the pain of someone else, even if it is only you. You made me someone who hurt a boyfriend I loved. You made me a person who, for a while, forgot how to respect herself. You made me weak. I kick you, and I spit on you, and I stamp my foot on your face until I break your nose and I see your blood run down. I hate you.

I never used to hate anyone. Kick.

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