It’s been a good month for feminism – rapey ‘comedian’ Dapper Laughs imploded under the weight of his own misogyny, notorious pick up artist Julien Blanc has been refused entry to the UK, and now Sheffield United have finally come to their senses and sent Ched Evans off to enjoy the rest of his sentence. It would be easy to kick off our sensible shoes, lay back on our laurels and enjoy the fact that the world suddenly seems to be waking up to the incredible notion that women have a right to bodily autonomy. Except that the rape conviction rate is still falling, and most rapes never even get reported, let alone end in a conviction. The world of Twitter and Facebook is alive with people (men) crawling out of the woodwork to debate the innocence of an unrepentant sex offender, with scant regard for the welfare of his victim who has had to change her identity and leave behind everything she has ever known.
I think about Ched Evans’ victim a lot. I think about how every article she reads questioning the validity of her story, every link that posts the CCTV footage of her walking (too steadily apparently) into a hotel with Clayton McDonald and every man arguing on Facebook who thinks that football is more important than a woman’s right not to be raped, is just one more twist of the knife. I hope for her sake that she is not reading the newspapers, but I should imagine the ensuing media storm has been difficult to avoid. Ched Evans’ victim is not alone however – she was just unfortunate enough to be raped by a high profile footballer. A high profile footballer who joked with the police that he could have any woman he wanted because he was a footballer. Another rich powerful white man with a sense of entitlement, mistaking his success for a licence to have sex without consent. A man who in his arrogance did not think to lie about having had sex with his victim but boasted of his exploits instead because, you know, he was a footballer, and sex was his right.
After the horrific findings of Operation Yew Tree you’d think we might have learnt something about powerful men and the way they operate. Powerful men believe that they have a right to do whatever they choose. They think that because they are rich and successful they are untouchable and often they are. They think that because they are untouchable they can in turn touch whoever they like because they have a sense of entitlement and women’s bodies are not their own. Our bodies have been pornified and commodified to the point where they are in danger of becoming disembodied. Women’s bodies are not only objectified but they are almost boundless, infinitely violable by violent men.
This view of women as objects , “birds” that can be “got”, put into a taxi, taken to a hotel room and then passed around to your mates is reproducing a culture of impunity where men who rape do not even recognise their actions as criminal. This view of women as objects means that an unconscious woman can be hauled around a university, raped multiple times and then blamed for ruining the bright sporting futures of her assailants. This view of women as objects means that men feel they have the right to debate whether or not a convicted rapist is really innocent because they are more comfortable with the idea that his victim must be lying than they are in acknowledging that these crimes happen every day.
Rape continues to happen every day and if you are a woman reading this, then it has probably happened to you. Most of the women I know have told me their story about the time it happened to them and they chose not to report it. They chose not to report it because they didn’t want to have to defend their sexual history or reveal the detail of the underwear they were wearing when it happened, in a court of law. They chose not to report it because they knew that when it comes down to her word against his then most of the time, society chooses his. And they chose not to report it because despite the fact that it is estimated that only between 2 and 10% of rape allegations turn out to be false they know that they will not be believed.
Women are conditioned to accept male violation of our bodies from a young age. My first experience of what I can only term a sexual assault, happened when I was 9 years of age. I found myself being held down on the pavement by a boy and his friends while he put his hand inside my dungarees, urgently seeking the softness of my cotton knickers. When I remembered this incident recently it shocked me. It shocked me because I realised that at the time I hadn’t even thought that this was anything unusual. I didn’t go running home to my Mum to tell her what had happened because there was already a part of me that thought it must have been my fault and that it was just the sort of thing that boys did. It didn’t even feel particularly extraordinary and it is only when I look back as an adult that I recognise it for what it was.
Sexual assault is such a normal part of female experience that most women don’t even realise that they have been the victim of it. We have all had men rubbing their erect penises in our backs in the anonymity of a big crowd and we have all learnt not to say anything and move away. We have all had men grabbing at us in nightclubs, touching our arses, and groping our breasts. I have never challenged anyone ever – just kept my mouth shut and left the area for fear of “causing a scene”. My silence and my fear of male sexuality has meant that I have let men get away with things they should never get away with. But enough is enough. Society needs to start challenging the normalisation of sexual violence and assault so that our young men begin to realise what is and isn’t appropriate. And I don’t mean just the women – men you need to get on board too and call it out when you see it. Until we do something about the rape culture that is still alive and well in our society then there will be more men like Ched Evans and more victims who continue to be blamed for the crime of being drunk.