When I heard that someone I love was raped, I felt sick. Actually sick – to the point where I wanted to ask my friend to pull over so I could vomit into the rain-soaked street. I saw her beautiful little face crumbled with tears; her body neatly curled up in a protective ball, hidden in the corner of a sofa. My stomached knotted when I heard the use of the legally necessary, but completely sickening word, ‘alleged’. For the next two years that word was batted around over and over again to describe an event she remembers so vividly. It created an entirely brand new nausea, one that comes when the private parts of your life and body intersect with your public one, triggering unwelcome feedback from people that, quite literally, have nothing to do with it.
When we make the conscious decision to invite someone into our bed, or even just into our company, all promises of intimacy are only a possibility. After, and only after, we give our consent is sexual intercourse okay to engage in. Simply put: If you invite someone over that does not give them the right to abuse your body. It doesn’t matter if there’s chemistry, or if you’ve been flinging flirtations at each other for a while. When you’re with someone you enter a human contract, one that says we will not hurt one another physically and emotionally. To me, this is so obvious that we usually don’t need to add corporate documents. To others? Not so much. And so begins the battle of he said, she said. This happens to thousands of woman and men every year – all of their pleas for justice are botched by allegations of ‘hear-say’ and widespread doubt. Is it any wonder that victims suddenly change their mind about coming forward against their rapists?
Imagine someone really hurt you, be that physically, emotionally or both. They scared you and abused you; threatened your sanity and health. You’re told by the police or a judge that you don’t have to see them again, but everywhere you look there are remnants of that person. Over social media, through friends in common, at parties…After everything you’ve been through, do you feel safe anywhere? Do you trust anyone to protect you? After this girl’s assault, her ordeal was exasperated by having doubt cast upon her; not only by strangers, but also her friends. Although allegations and accusations of sexual assault and abuse cannot be proven definitively, I think a victim’s words speak for themselves. Court cases and trials that accompany these events are harrowing, drawn-out and often lack empathy. As well as subjecting yourself to the trauma of reliving that moment over and over, you also have a trained legal professional mercilessly punch holes in your story, ultimately trying to minimise your ordeal and persuade a jury that you’re lying.
The outcome of being raped is really down to a judge and a collection of strangers who gawk at you suspiciously as they try to siphon facts from fiction, and weed out lies from truth. Every time you shakily speak in court, someone is trying to trip you up. All you want is justice; recognition that what happened to you wasn’t your fault and it was wrong. Instead you’re left shrinking and doubting your own pain. To be clear, what happened to her is about more than someone I love being hurt. It’s about more than a systemic misogyny that controls the way female victims live and feel; more than how their story is controlled and coerced by paid strangers in fancy suits. It’s about a woman fighting for her freedom. It’s not about how much someone may or may not have drank that night, or what they were wearing. It’s not about flirtations and implications. It’s about a girl that said no to a boy; it’s about a young woman having her wishes ignored and body abused.
This entire ordeal has only highlighted the way our legal system continues to hurt sexual assault victims by failing to protect them from those they identify as their abusers. We live in a world where some places allow rapists to assert parental rights over children that were conceived through rape; binding woman, and their babies, to their attacks for a lifetime – something that subjects the victims to an unimaginable cycle of revictimization. Imagine that: The same man that violently assaulted you and abused your body, could also get the right to cuddle the baby that resulted from your attack. These woman deserve so much better. They didn’t choose to have their reputations torn, tattered and pilloried. They didn’t ask to have their characters questions as a tactic to win a court case. When will we realise that victims of sexual assault who come forward have everything to lose? Whether they’re single, married, mothers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters…they’re subjecting themselves to a plethora of abuse and doubt from strangers, friends and family.
The fact is, this person I love will never get a doctor’s note. She never have a video that shows the court and the world that she was raped. She will never be able to prove, beyond the power of her testimony, that she said no and that her abuser ignored the request. Even after the outcome of this case is decided, she will be saddled with years of trauma, shame and fear. All she can hope for, all any victim can hope for, is that the perspective of the court is one that sees the truth illuminated – and that a jury can look at what a woman is worth. Every time justice is swift and hammers a sentence down on an abuser, other victims begin to stand up. Nobody should be scared of losing what they worked for, or of being branded hysterical or difficult; of being targeted by hate or branded a liar. Their stories should be told and their words should reverberate, inspiring other victims to speak up too. It should never be a case of he said, she said; of inconvenience versus the worth of a soul being intact. It is a case of yes versus no; of right over wrong. And one day we won’t accept fear and shame as the status quo.
If they can’t say no, they can’t say yes.