Content note: This post deals with rape, and may be triggering for some readers.
It’s been an average week at Mamamia. I wish it hadn’t been.
Because in an average week at Mamamia, we receive hundreds of submissions. The number that come from women who have been raped is bewildering. Horrifying. Confounding. Shocking.
Is this really Australia in 2016?
They come from women who’ve been raped by boyfriends. By strangers. By ‘friends’. By acquaintances. By siblings and by husbands. When I search ‘rape’ in our submissions inbox, the number is so enormous my Gmail simply reduces it to ‘many’.
There is account after personal, violent account from women who have been assaulted. If they don’t blame themselves, someone else has been happy enough to do it for them. Because, you know, they were mostly sluts who were asking for it.
Is rape a female or male issue? (Post continues after video…)
I read these heartbreaking accounts through the prism of someone who’s been in the media for decades. I’ve picked through pictures so awful and stories so genuinely disturbing they can’t be published. But there’s something about the sheer volume of these posts that leaves me much more profoundly affected.
I think: Just how many women are there in Australia who have been raped? I’m a smart woman. I have lots of friends. How can I not see it?
I know what the stats say: 19 per cent of women have experienced sexual assault since the age of 15.
Want to know what that means in the real world? On 2012 figures, it means 1,696,100 Australian women over the age of 15 have been sexually assaulted. Reread that sentence. 1,696,100 women in Australia have been raped.
And based on what I read every day, I fear even that incredible, frightening figure is too low. How many Australian women, through shame or self-preservation, have never dared whisper the fact to a single living soul? How have these encounters – encounters that have rendered them rigid with fear, full of self loathing, ever suspicious – tilted forever their view of the world?
The stories submitted to us are as different as they are the same.
A 41 year old mother, raped when she was 16 and afterward dubbed the school slut:
"I woke up outside the backyard fence alongside a main road with a penis choking me. Then fumbling of my bodysuit trying to be pulled aside (not easy) and feeling someone trying to penetrate me with their penis. Being a virgin and extremely panicked they were not successful on that part.
Black out again.
Awake again to see several other boys standing over the attack watching laughing, egging on.".
A night that starts like this for a 14-year-old girl:
"The party was big, maybe 100 or more kids sprawled out across the tennis court, beside the pool and on the front lawn. My friends and I danced, drank rum and danced some more. Soon the alcohol kicked in and the dance moves became more loose and free. We laughed, we flirted and we were having fun."
And ends like this:
"I was found passed out on the grass by my friend with blood running down my legs. My bra and shirt in a disheveled mess. My suede skirt was stained with dirt, grass and blood and my arms and chest sore with bruises. I was quickly taken away in a taxi and whilst I was barely comprehensible or conscious my friend navigated our way into my house and cleaned me up. I was sore, I was sorry and I was full of shame. For what, I wasn’t sure, but I know I didn’t ask for it, didn’t want it and didn’t remember it.
... Before that Monday, I never knew your name, And you didn’t know mine. You just knew the girl in the blue Esprit shirt and caramel suede skirt bled all over you from my school and was an absolute slut. Soon, pieces of the puzzle were put together and a deliciously deceitful story was born, After that, every time we crossed paths I got to learn even more intricate details of that night. It was even better when you found a girlfriend and then she and her merry band of female friends joined in the party and also slut shamed for my own rape. Every. single. time. You were the hero. I was the slut. You were the victim. I was the stainer."
Women who have had that crawling sense something is wrong, that the men standing ahead as they go for a jog or walk the dog through the park aren't just innocent bystanders:
"Man 2 says “I see all these young girls walking their dogs. I wish you’d put me on a lead.”
Man 1 laughs."
College students forced to into situations where they see their abuser every day:
"Because my story was only “an allegation”, no action could be taken against him. No suggestion was given as to how I could avoid crossing his path, or how he could avoid crossing mine. While I understand that it would be rash to expel a person immediately based on an allegation, surely the possibility the victim is telling the truth needs to be taken into account by protecting them from contact with the accused?"
And always, always, the blame, and the self-loathing.
I spent so long – years actually - thinking I was a part of a drunken sexual encounter that just wasn’t great. I thought, ‘well I had too much to drink and I was flirting with boys’ (one, a friend from school and one a stranger to me). So when they came into the room I was passed out in, began to peel off my clothing and stick their fingers inside of me, it was my fault; I had given them the wrong idea. Maybe I didn’t make myself clear enough when I would come to and push them off me and repeat the word no over and over again until it was a bad noise stuck in my head for the better of the next year. Maybe they didn’t notice that I was slipping in and out of consciousness. Maybe, just maybe, they thought I was ‘playing along’ when I began to repeatedly hit one of the boys when he jammed his penis down my throat so hard and so deep that I thought I was going to choke to death.
A couple of years ago, a Reddit thread asked rapists why they'd done it. It's since been deleted, but reports of its content make for pretty sickening reading.
"... when we made eye contact...it was "that" look we exchanged. The..."I'd fuck you" look".
"I was extremely horny and already close to doing it, so I ignored her and did it. She realized what was happening and tried to clamp her legs shut, but it was too late and I was much stronger than her".
"She was a good friend. I was drunk and super horny ... So I thought if I could feel her I would know what it was to be with her. I grabbed her boob, over the shirt. I touched her lip and she moved her head. I stop dead thinking I woke her up, but she relaxed again. I started going upstairs but felt a sudden urge to lift her skirt. I ran my hand across her ass and between her legs. I was so drunk I turned on the light to get a better look, then quickly realized that it would wake her up and turned the light off."
I know this isn't what all guys think. I believe it isn't even what most guys think. But I'm troubled to my core to know it's what some guys think.
There's an an ad airing on television at the moment. It shows a little boy running out the door, slamming it into a little girl's face. She falls to the ground, and, as she's being comforted says, "It's just what boys do".
It's an argument advanced by that Reddit thread as well. "...the reality of the situation is that women have to be careful because guys are one way when they're hanging out and another way when they're horny or, worse, drunk and horny. That doesn't make what happened okay, but it is what it is."
Boys will be boys. Sorry girls, we just can't help it.
But slamming doors in faces isn't what little boys should do, and raping women isn't what any man should do. Ever.
I used to think it was complex. Power structures and nurture versus nature and economic disempowerment and so much more.
But now, I think it's actually incredibly simple. Decency. Respect. Treating people as you'd like to be treated.
I wonder if all those men - and they must number in the tens of thousands - who've raped women ever think about what they did. Do they feel shame or embarrassment? Do they talk about it with the mate who saw what was happening and laughed or joined in? Or do they recreate the awful reality in an altered universe, where the rape of a woman morphs into an encounter with a nympho who loved every minute of it? Or tuck the memory into the recesses of their brain, where slowly diminishes until it's simply forgotten?
We'll never know. But I do know this.
To the kids in the schoolyard who call a girl a slut: she isn't.
To the men who think porn sex is real sex: it's not.
To the girls who have been told if a boy is mean to you, he likes you: he doesn't. He's just mean.
To the men who buy someone a drink in the belief they're owed so much more in return: you're not.
To the idiots who think we're flattered when you scream at us like apes from your car: we're not.
To the victims who wonder if they should have dressed differently, taken a different route home, kept their eyes down, stayed away from the booze: you shouldn't.
And to all the women who have sent their stories, I'd like to say thank you. Many of them had been locked away for many, many years, and I can't imagine how hard it was to finally dredge through that dark part of your life, let alone share it with the world.
We haven't been able to publish them all.
But I hope the act of writing them brought you some kind of peace.
If you or a loved one has been sexually assaulted, Mamamia urges you to contact 1800 RESPECT or visit this website.