When Germaine Greer was 19 years old, and a student at the University of Melbourne, she was raped by a man whose name she cannot remember.
He played rugby and was a pillar of the community – but at a barbecue one night in 1958, this man beat her with his fists, slammed her head against a car door, demanded she repeat sexually degrading phrases after him, and both verbally and physically humiliated her.
Through gritted teeth, she recalls saying “No,” and when that was ignored she simply said, “Be quick”.
This was 60 years ago.
She remembers that when he let her out of the car, at first she could not stand up. He had been been kneeling on her thighs in order to force them apart.
“What’s the matter with you?” he asked as she lay there.
She thought silently to herself: “You are mad”. Did he expect her to skip from the vehicle in which she’d just been raped? Probably.
Eventually, she staggered out of the car and began “wandering the street”, at the same time her rapist returned to the party they’d both been at, Greer told Mamamia.
You can listen to my interview with Germaine Greer in the Mamamia Out Loud or No Filter feed. Post continues.
“I thought everyone would be able to see what happened to me,” she said.
Injured and embarrassed she stood by the side of the road, and when a car edged towards her she didn’t even hail it.
Inside were a man and a woman, who asked where they could drive her to. Her answer was simply: “home”.
“I hadn’t thought about it very much lately,” Greer said, “it’s a long, long time ago, but I think now if there were five men in that car that might be the last you ever heard of me. I was a wounded creature…. they probably would have attacked me.”
Thankfully, that was not the last we heard of her. Germaine Greer would go on to become one of the most influential voices of the 20th century, and one that would become synonymous with second wave feminism.
Following her attack, Greer said she made a decision.
“It wasn’t going to be my narrative, that I was a rapee. I wasn’t going to elaborate on it or dwell on it…”
She didn’t report her rape.
She’d run away from home. She lived with four men. She’d danced with him at the party. She knew enough about law to be certain she had no chance.
Her rapist would go on to rape again. This time, his victim would be a woman who was engaged, and who decided to pursue criminal charges. But the day before she was due to appear in court, she decided not to go through with it – for reasons that Greer explores at length in her new essay On Rape.
Conviction rates for rape, a crime that represents the worst nightmare of women worldwide, are shockingly low. And, according to Greer, they’re not going to get any better. At least not within the legislative system that currently exists.
She doesn’t have all the answers – but she certainly has some provocative questions.
Is the burden of proof in a courtroom too great?
What has gone so wrong with boys and men, that their sexuality might be so inextricably intertwined with violence?
What do we do with men who rape?
And what sort of retribution and justice does a victim need?
Perhaps by fuelling the conversation, and verbalising the unsaid, we are inching that much closer to finally landing on some answers.