Be young and shut up

A blog about student activism.

Calm down, dear, he didn’t jump out from behind a bush

with 3 comments

This post comes from an anonymous contributor. I found it very moving, sad, and it also made me really, really angry. Everyone should read it. Warning: contains descriptions of rape which might be triggering.

Last week Ken Clarke and now Roger Helmer belligerently refused to back down on the statement ‘no it is not’ when asked whether [all] rape is rape. Ken Clarke talked about ‘serious rape’ ‘when a man jumps out from behind a bush’ as opposed to (‘less serious’) date rape. The reaction to his comments became confused, because he sloppily conflated sexual crimes with physical crimes and aggravating circumstances. It is clear he hadn’t put much thought or care into considering what the real issue is. Ken’s clarifications subsequently centred on stating that he holds the views of ‘any reasonable person’ on rape, and that he didn’t understand the hyperbole.

Which doesn’t suggest Ken has subsequently developed a clear view of what rape is, how it works or what the problem is. Nor that public debate has been enhanced as a result. So it seems to me, as a rape survivor, that the moment is ripe for me, having experienced it, to say what rape is, what the problem is and what the impact is.

Three years ago during a conversation (characterised by my stupid bravado and suddenly followed by a lowered gaze, a hot sensation on my body and a stiffness in my chest), I told someone a woefully crass, humourised story of a bad experience I had had with a boy. My conversational partner replied in a mature and straightforward manner ‘so he raped you’. I was 28 years old and it was eleven years after the event.

Lets start there, with impact then. I told no one for 11 years.

Immediately after it happened I left his bedroom, went home and went to bed in a cool manner. I was 17, in a new city and very, very far from home. The next morning I went and told my friends what had happened.

I didn’t use the word rape. I just told them we’d been petting and he’d started to try and push his penis inside me, even though I had told him before I’d entered his room, that I didn’t want penetrative sex. Initially I tried to manage the situation. I wasn’t afraid of him. We cared about each other. I told him between kisses to calm down and I didn’t want that . . . I was very surprised when he started it up again. I offered oral sex instead; trying to manage the difficult situation suddenly comprised of his new expectations, which went against our explicit, prior negotiations.

Moving from the notion I was in bed with someone in a close tender relationship, to one where I was just about pussy, was not fully dawning on me and I was trying to manage it away. I was 17 and I knew how I should be treated. No means no after all. All normal people, except rapists (hiding behind bushes etc), knew that. I assumed.

He started it up again. I was telling him no again when he succeeded in penetrating me. I was incredibly shocked and angry and left a few minutes later. I still can’t fathom why he really did that.

The next morning I met with four friends. We were 16, 17, 18 years old-ish, all in a new city, far away from home. My two girlfriends were as stunned as I was. None of us could believe it or take it on board. I’d said no. Why did he want that? No one used the word rape.

One of my male friends took a different tack, he asked me: where are your bruises? Did he hit you? Then what are you complaining about? I protested ‘but I said no’.
And they both laughed at me.
They laughed at the notion that my ‘no’, had any bearing on anything.

The impact of this experience and the meaning assigned to it by others was that I had the truth – that my ‘no’ is meaningless to anyone in this world – pushed inside my body.

I also had the truth that other people decide what I should make of my experience or not, pushed inside my soul. In an isolated split second that extended over 11 years, I learned that I couldn’t expect anyone to listen to what I want and if I do, I invite ridicule. This didn’t only affect my sex life.

This ridicule: What no fist fight?! What are you complaining about? is why I didn’t ever tell anyone, ever again. Effective stuff – ridicule. In fact, someone else had to tell me. I now know that penetrating someone when they have not consented is a crime against autonomy and dignity. This is rape. The world we live in has a profound difficulty recognising this though. When the prominent french journalist Jean-François Kahn describes the attack for which Dominique Strass Kahn will stand trial, as only “an imprudence… the skirt-lifting of a domestic”, he is failing to recognise that on a human and spiritual level we ought to allow all persons to decide with whom, how and when, other people engage with them sexually. He also doesn’t realise that his imagined version of events, would thus also constitute a violation of the plaintiff’s sexual self-ownership.

Imposing sexual exchange is a violation of autonomy and personhood. Unfortunately though, this is not a standard which is upheld in our society.

The problem is that various notions combine to constitute very different standards of sexual self-ownership. These include ideas that a person’s clothing affects whether their ‘no’ is 100% valid; or that prior sexual experience affects whether their ‘no’ is 100% relevant; or (specifically Mr Clarke) that the status of the aggressor holds any bearing on the truth that an individual is always, inalienably, 100% in ownership of their body and that operating otherwise is a violation (Mr Helmer).

These attitudes e-n-a-b-l-e the sexual victimisation of women and Ken Clarke, as the representative of the State and its justice policy, was carelessly premising his statements on them.

Unfortunately, the hurt and destruction of personhood experienced by the victim is the same, even if she takes some of these cruel attitudes on board, and tries to dismiss the seriousness of her experience, to get in step with wider society. I can tell you this from my own experience.

Sometimes, its just outright cowardice, and not wanting to be unpopular, which prevents us from naming and condemning sexual violence. Nine months before I was raped, my ex-boyfriend’s flatmate had cornered me in a room alone, put me in a head lock and covered my face so I couldn’t breath, before forcing a bottle of poppers in my face, saying , ‘I’m going fuck you up the arse’. Perhaps because I managed to getout of that situation, my boyfriend (who I loved)’s response was limited to, “but he’s a nice guy”…

I’d guess that also contributed to me being vulnerable to my two male friends’ dismissal nine months later. It wasn’t the first time such things weren’t taken seriously, after all. I learned through these experiences that I couldn’t expect sympathy or outrage. I stopped expecting anyone to care at all actually.

Rape is a crime against love. It happens within families, in homes and in beds. Not just in dammed bushes. Its location and prevalence is a big challenge for our society, which we need to face up to, without immaturity or dramatic, hollow expressions of horror. That is hard, I know. I made fun of myself and my own rape for 11 years. It’s easier to go with the flow. Everywhere bill boards and pop songs encourage us all to leer at one another like products and be cool, casual, sexy and up for it. I know, on a deep level, what it is like to have that blind spot.

However, this crime and these attitudes affect our society and the possibilities within it for love. If legions of women are walking around knowing what I know about relationships and sex, and knowing that Ken Clarke (a.k.a The State) agrees and that nothing is going to change any time soon, what does this mean for the possibilities for our relationships, our families and for women?

In my case, the dreary truth is, it means that the next time a man didn’t like hearing ‘no’ I just gave up – after all he was my boyfriend. I was already sexually involved with him. What could I expect? This is the sad expectation, upon which my relationships were premised for the next eleven years, and which will run through our society and families, limiting the chances for love, if we don’t _face_ up to what and where rape is.
Further reading:
‘Real Rape, Real Pain: Help for women sexually assaulted by male partners’ by Patricia Easteal and Louise McOrmand Plummer
‘A Deafening Silence’ by Patrizia Romito on the social means through which sexual violence against women is persistently minimised and victims are shamed into silence.

Do something:


Written by CakeCakeCakeCakeCake

May 26, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. Thank you for this. It has been very helpful to me.

    The Goldfish

    May 26, 2011 at 8:18 pm

  2. […] way too much apologism for people who are violent, including sexually violent people. Read these blog posts: Sexual predators are not welcome. People, often women, do not try to get rid of people […]

    • This blog has really opened my eyes.I also didnt know what was classed as rape and thought it was only rape when violence was involved…but now I know that the act itself is violence against the soul and shouldnt be taken as something that just happens.

      Thank you so much.


      May 12, 2012 at 11:27 pm

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