A lot of electronic ink has been generated this week talking about the story that 3 Welsh Parliamentarians anonymously admitted that they had been sexually assaulted and hadn't reported it. A separate survey of students, also conducted by Amnesty International, showed that 34 percent of the 700 students surveyed believed that "a woman was totally or partially responsible for being raped or sexually assaulted if she was drunk or had been flirtatious." Under normal circumstances, I would use this sentence to summarize the shock evinced by people and the unsubtle implication that these (relatively powerful) women - without anyone knowing the circumstances or the timing of their sexual assaults - should have reported it, and then I would leave it be. But it made me recall the times in my life that people I cared for disrespected my decision not to report mine, so I figured it was about time to throw down the gauntlet.
My sexual assaults (yes, it's now happened twice) are not a political peg for other women to hang their hats on, and I should not and will not apologize to anyone for making decisions that were best for me. My body is mine - it doesn't belong to Feminism anymore than it belongs to the men who sexually assaulted me - and what I choose to do with it, or about it, is supposed to be my choice. To be told, subtly or otherwise, that my choices are invalid or anti-feminist is demeaning and condescending and in violation of the whole concept that feminism is about giving women choices and letting them make them.
I was sexually assaulted when I was 17. Without getting into the gory details, I was out on a date with an older guy, I was in a foreign country, I was comfortable with what I was doing (making out) until I wasn't anymore, and then he decided that it was a little late for all of that. My mind and, to a degree, my body, clicked off in the minutes that followed, and I guess most of my memories of it now involve the humidity that night, the dark, hearing his roommate snoring in the next bed and both hoping and fearing that he would wake up, and the rapidity and ease with which I began to immediately deny and justify what had happened to me. He drove me home and kissed me goodbye, and I never saw him again.
It took a couple of years before I stopped saying that I'd just had sex when I didn't want to.
Could I have reported it? I guess. On the other hand, I was 17, in a conservative country where I didn't speak their language or the (completely different) language of the man involved. I had 2 more days in the country. And the thing that I needed to do was not to tell the friends with which I was staying, and try to go to the police and explain and/or be castigated for going to his place, or making out, or having some sangria (or telling him I was 18), I needed, desperately, to deny it. I needed for that night to not occupy the place in my mind that it would've occupied if I could have called it by its name. I needed time, and healing and knowledge and I wasn't going to get that from a foreign police station or the legal need to revisit it constantly.
The first time I really told someone, he said I was making it up, obviously, since I didn't report it. Of course, he didn't say it to me, not then, he said it to the girlfriend who came after me, who threw it in my face when she next saw me and told some other mutual friends that I was making it up for the sympathy. (Lisa, by the way? Fuck you. I'm glad he got so stoned he puked on you at that party.) In a Women's Studies class later that year, I didn't admit to it even as we went around a circle and talked about our experiences with sexual violence because the mood in the room was definitely of the tell-for-the-good-of-the-Sisterhood variety. Several years later, during a fight with a boyfriend in which I told him he had to stop speaking to me in a certain way or else, he said, "Or else what? You didn't report your rape, what are you going to have the backbone to do to me?" I hung up the phone.
Legally, I can't talk about the second assault yet. Suffice it to say, it was far from a date-rape scenario and it was reported and the legal processes were as emotionally traumatic as the assault itself. Had I known how the system really worked, despite the fact that it was a stranger, I don't know that I would've reported it, had the situation not obliged me to involve the police in the first place in a state where you don't get to "choose" to press charges. What I eventually chose to do after weeks of increasingly disappointing meetings with prosecutors that left me feeling judged, crying, frustrated and angry, was to get myself a lawyer to represent me to the prosecutors, whose salaries I pay with taxes...and who should be representing my interests. It was far from a pleasant experience, and it makes me even more certain that I made the correct decision for me the first time and solidifies my position that it is not for me to decide or judge the reporting decision for anyone else.
See, the thing is, it's great to say that we should do this or we should do that for the sake of women everywhere. But no one - and especially not other women and supposed feminists - has the right to tell me or any other victim of sexual assault that being victimized and being traumatized leaves us responsible for making the world a better place (as though that's what's accomplished by reporting a rape, actually). We all have a responsibility to try to prevent them, to create a world where they are much more of an exception than the rule, where drunk girls or slutty girls or drunken slutty girls don't have to explain their behavior to anyone - regardless of whether they have been assaulted, or after having been assaulted - and where victims don't have to explain to non-victims the choices they made. My pursuing the prosecution of the one made no more difference in the world than not prosecuting the other. But maybe my talking about them both, maybe helping to ease the stigma of it for other people and create a space where I don't have to be ashamed of being a victim (or of how I chose to deal with that) will.
Assembly Survey Reveals Unreported Rapes [Independent]
Sleeping Around: Are Women Still Afraid To Report Rape? [IndyBlogs]