I'm writing this blog in response to comments made by Nick Ross recently and I'm going to say right here and now that there should be a trigger warning to anyone who reads this. This blog is in response to this article (and in the coming days, I may well blog on this further Nick Ross controversy too). In this article, I will be discussing female rape victims only, as Mr Ross' comments centred on women.
Nick Ross, former presenter of Crimewatch, believes that there are "degrees of seriousness" to rape/sexual assault. Nick compares women going out whilst dressed "provocatively" to a bank "storing sacks of cash by the door," or to a laptop, left on the back seat of a car, in full view of potential thieves.
Rape is a crime that frequently goes unreported. This is for many reasons, one of the most prevalent being fear. The victim may fear that they will not be believed. It may be that the victim doing the reporting will be blamed for what happened. Unfortunately, attitudes within the media - such as Nick's - don't help to ease this fear. All too often, our society chooses to question the victim, rather than the perpetrator of a rape or sexual assault. Did she dress in a manner that left little to the imagination? Did she lead the man on? Had she been drinking? Was she walking alone, late at night?
What society fails to mention, is that not one of those questions has an answer that really changes the facts of the situation. If a woman says "no" to full, sexual intercourse, or if she is not in a position to consent (i.e. drunk, drugged etc) and the man continues to have sex with her anyway, that is rape. Plain and simple. Her outfit doesn't matter. Her actions up until the point of saying "no" (or becoming unable to consent) don't matter. Her alcohol intake only matters if she has drunk so much that she can't actively consent and the man has sex with her anyway. Her decision to walk alone doesn't matter. When a woman says "no," it means STOP. When a woman is too drunk to actively consent to sexual activity, you STOP.
The responsibility for rape lies solely with the rapist.
Unfortunately, Nick Ross is not alone in his views. It doesn't take much digging around online to find people victim-blaming, or defending rapists. Welsh footballer Ched Evans is currently serving a prison sentence, having been found guilty of rape. Ched is accused of taking a drunk girl back to his hotel room (along with a second, male friend) and having non-consensual sex with her. Only Ched Evans, the friend in question - Clayton McDonald - and the victim herself truly know what happened in that hotel room. Yet Ched's girlfriend, who is - somewhat shockingly and some would argue blindly - standing by him and protesting his innocence, frequently points to the victim's drunken state and her willingness to engage in sex. She argues that the girl has ruined Ched's life (whilst conveniently ignoring the fact that the girl's identity became public and the ensuing storm of abuse she faced from Ched's supporters caused her to flee her home). A jury convicted Ched Evans and he has twice been refused the right to appeal against his sentence, yet a quick stroll around Twitter will lead you to fans using the "justice for Ched" hashtag and saying things such as: "Ched comes out of jail in October next year, CANNOT WAIT! I miss him SO much!" That last tweet was written by a fan of the football club Ched played for. Because football is much more important than a woman being sexually assaulted.
Speaking of which, when a sixteen year old girl was violated whilst passed out at a party in Steubenville USA, media outlets were seen to be mourning the loss of the rapists' promising football careers, rather than showing sympathy for their victim.
So it's not as though Nick Ross is the first person to heap blame onto a rape victim, or to show solidarity with the person who carried out the crime, rather than with the victim.
Yet his voice is being heard, louder than most. And it's a voice that has no place being listened to. Any person who claims that a victim of rape or sexual assault may have "brought it on themselves" is clearly coming from an unhelpful place and we shouldn't be handing them newspaper column inches, or TV interviews. Because the fact is incredibly simple: I could be naked, strolling down a dark alley at midnight, drunk out of my skull and it would still give nobody - NOBODY - the right to lay so much as a little finger on my body without my permission. To assume that it somehow would be an invitation to rape, is to also assume that men cannot help themselves. That if they see a bit of flesh, they have to have it. Personally, if I were a man, I'd find that hugely offensive.
Now, if you've read this far and you're thinking "nope, I disagree with this woman; if girls go out, get drunk and wear revealing outfits, they're asking for trouble," then I suggest you click the "X" in the top right hand corner of your screen. Because this is where I'm going to tell you the story of something that happened to me on a night out.
I was around twenty years old and out for the evening with a former friend (the reason for the "former" will become clear). We'd gone to a bar for a couple of drinks, with the intention of heading to a nightclub later. After a while, a group of 3-4 lads came over to our table and asked if they could join us. One of them looked a lot like the lead singer of my favourite band and as shallow as it might sound, I thought "HELL yes, you can join us..."
It turned out that I wasn't the first to tell him he looked a bit like the aforementioned singer and the guy told me that he was a fan of the band, too. We chatted about favourite albums etc and after an hour or so, my friend suggested that the lads come with us to the club. Whilst walking down the street, the guy stopped and kissed me. I kissed him back. I thought I'd met someone who was good looking and nice and we had at least one thing in common. I was enjoying myself.
On arrival at the club, we discovered that my friend and the rest of the guy's mates had already gone in without us. The guy told me that one of the others had his wallet and he therefore couldn't pay to go into the club. He suggested that we go "somewhere quiet, just us," instead. I've always been a bit old fashioned and I wasn't quite sure that I wanted to go off somewhere with a guy I'd only known for an hour, so I told him I'd pay for him to get into the club and he could pay me back when he was reunited with his wallet. Needless to say, that was money I never saw again.
When we got into the club, I started looking for my friend and for the guy's mates. Spotting them on the dance floor, I suggested to the guy that we joined them. He agreed. Once on the dance floor, he kissed me again and I kissed him back. Again, I was just a girl, out having fun. And I thought I'd met someone nice.
That was when things changed. He took me by the waist and pulled me off the dance floor. He found a dark area and pushed me against a wall. He started kissing me much more roughly and I didn't like it. I moved my head away and told him to stop. He pinned my arms to my sides and told me: "You know you like it," as he started trying to give me a lovebite on my neck. I told him that no, I did not like it. He called me a prick tease and said that I'd "been asking for this all night." He then grabbed the hem of my dress (which, Nick Ross, was almost knee-length, so my "laptop" was definitely not visible to "thieves") and shoved a hand up between my legs. He started trying to pull down my underwear. I tried to push him away, but he was stronger than me - a rugby player, with a solid physique. I told him to stop. I said "no" in the strongest possible terms. He told me to stop fucking around and said I'd led him on by kissing him and now he wanted what was owed. He tried to grab at my breasts when I managed to push his arms away from my thighs. He used words like "this is going to fucking happen." At NO point did anyone interrupt, in spite of the fact that I was, by this point, in an obvious state of panic and distress.
Somehow - and I really don't fully know how - I managed to push him off me and I ran over to where my friend was on the dance floor. She was in the arms of one of the guy's mates and as I approached, they started kissing. I called her name and when she turned, I told her what had happened and said I needed to leave. She laughed and told me "I've pulled, Emma! If you don't fancy that one, find someone else."
The guy came back up to me and went to grab my arm again. I darted out of his way and spotted a security guy - a member of the nightclub's team of bouncers - heading upstairs to the club's upper level. I ran over and told him that a man had tried to force himself on me and I needed help. The guy had followed me and was busy making "she's been drinking" mimes behind me and laughing. The bouncer paid no attention to what I was saying, focusing only on what the guy was doing behind me. He laughed and walked off.
In order to avoid the guy getting hold of me again, I rushed into the ladies' toilets.
Thanks to paying for the arsehole to get into the club, I hadn't got enough money for a cab home by myself and - stupidly - I didn't want to call my parents for help, as it was late and I didn't want to wake them. So, knowing that my ex boyfriend was a taxi driver and it was the firm that he worked for that had dropped my friend and I into town earlier that night, I called his number, hoping he might give me a freebie, or at least agree to let me pay him for the lift back another time. When he answered, I told him what had happened. His response: "Typical you, getting yourself into trouble! I bet you're wearing a little dress aren't you? And if you kissed him, what did you expect?!" Then he laughed and hung up.
My friend and I had a cab home booked, but it wasn't due to arrive for another couple of hours. Thanks to not one, not two but three people laughing when I asked for help, I felt as though I must have been making a fuss over nothing and that what had happened was entirely my fault. I spent the rest of the night locked in a toilet cubicle, too frightened to come out, until my friend sent me a text saying that the cab had arrived. Before we got into the cab, one of the guy's friends told me: "Sorry about tonight. He gets like that after a drink or two. He's quite intense, that's all."
Basically, Sorry my friend attempted to force himself on you. He does that sometimes. Well that makes it alright, then.
During the journey home, my friend told me that me that I was making a drama over nothing. I felt so humiliated, so totally stupid for "letting" the events happen, that I continued to blame myself and never said a word to anyone for years.
I was extremely lucky. What happened to me was nowhere near as bad as it could have been and certainly not comparable with an actual rape. I wasn't raped and I was able to move on from what happened. But that incident isn't uncommon. I've spoken to friends and discovered that many of them have similar tales to tell. Tales in which they said "no" and were ignored. Tales in which nobody came to help. Tales in which they were blamed, or simply not believed. Tales in which the person responsible was defended by onlookers.
And that's the crux of the issue. The guy I met was entirely responsible for his actions. He chose not to listen when I asked him to stop. He chose to try to take things further after I'd said "no."
I was not drunk. I was not wearing a particularly skimpy outfit. But even if I had been, it would make me no more culpable. If, God forbid, that man had taken me out of that club and done God knows what to me, it would've been HIS conscious choice to do so. Nothing I said or did, nothing I was wearing, nothing I had drunk would excuse it.
Nick Ross says "rape is not always rape." Let's make it really, really crystal clear: If you're a man who has sex with a woman after she says "no," or whilst she's in a state in which she cannot give her consent, then you are a rapist. If you make excuses for that man and blame the victim, then you are a rape apologist.
If a woman wears a dress, she is not inviting rape.
If a woman goes out drinking, she is not inviting rape.
If a woman walks alone, she is not inviting rape.
To use Nick Ross' own analogy, if a bank stored piles of cash right by the door and someone stole it, that person would've chosen to do so. If a person left their laptop on the back seat of their car and someone stole it, then that "someone" is displaying the actions of a person who knows that what they're doing is wrong and does it anyway. It is no different with a rapist.
It's time we stopped questioning what a victim did to bring about her attack. It's time we started realising that "no" means "no" and that when someone ignores that, the only person we should be blaming is the person who chose to rape.