Rape is hard to talk about. It’s hard to even report in the first place. But when a woman rapes another woman, the conversation changes completely — or worse the accusations are dismissed.
How can that happen?
Maybe it was a bit of lesbian fun gone too far.
It’s probably just a girl fight.
Women aren’t violent like that.
But it does happen. The violation and the trauma that ensues for the victim is very real.
“I was talking about my boyfriend, she was talking about her ex-boyfriends, so I stayed up because I thought it might be a good opportunity to have a girl’s chat, as girls do,” one victim of female perpetrated sexual assault told the SBS.
The assault happened when she was visiting New York and staying in a private apartment. “As I lent over to change the song, she came up behind me and put her arm around my waist and her hand down my shorts.
“I’m pretty sure my exact words were, ‘I’m not comfortable with that’.”
A short time later, this survivor woke up to find her shorts off and the female perpetrator sexually assaulting her.
“I completely shut down, thinking ‘I’m not dealing with this’. It was degrading and I felt violated.”
When a woman (straight or gay or anywhere in between) is raped by another woman, the conversation and dialogue around this assault is not so clear, open or supportive.
“Because many people define rape as penetration by a penis, woman-to-woman rape is not acknowledged or taken seriously,” a representative from the Santa Fe Rape Crisis and Trauma Treatment Center told Curve Mag.
This is difficult to reconcile, because the victim’s experience is just as violating, harrowing and life-altering. These feeling are also likely compounded by the isolation and loneliness that comes with an under-reported, underrated, offence.
“When we talk about healing for [heterosexual assault] survivors, there’s this element of knowing that other people have survived and healed from this experience,” Laura Palumbo, Director of Communications at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, told Broadly. “Survivors of [non-heterosexual assault] don’t have access to narratives of what it is like to heal, nor do they receive public validation, nor do they have spaces where their experiences are honoured.”
Project Consent looks at how dancing is not an invitation for sex. Post continues below.
According to a research by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, a majority of female sexual assault cases remain unreported. From what is reported, female sex offences makes up just under 5% of all sexual assault cases. And half of these female rapists co-offended alongside a male.
Realistically, the number of assaults from females could be much larger. A study conducted in 2005 by the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault found one in three lesbian participants had been sexually assaulted by a woman. But when this type of abuse is reported, the response is not always supportive.
“Often times, women in abusive same-sex relationships tell us that even when they do call the police, they are treated dismissively,” Caitlin Kauffman, community outreach coordinator for the San Francisco Bay Area Women Against Rape, told Marie Claire. “‘Women aren’t violent.’ ‘This is just a girl fight, this is a waste of our time,’ is a common attitude.”
In order to help and support victims of assault like this, our language around rape needs to change. It’s important for victims of sexual assault – no matter what the gender or background of the perpetrator is – to feel validated in their trauma, and included in that narrative of survival and healing.
Certainly, the majority of sexual offences are perpetrated by men. But this does nothing to detract from the trauma and violation that is felt from the rape by a female perpetrator.
“Sexual assault is a crime of power and control, and of invasion of another person’s space. The tool is the sexual act,” Karen Willis, from the NSW Rape Crisis Center, told the SBS. “We need to remove the sex from discussion about sexual assault. It’s a crime, and the outcome for the person who has experienced it is trauma.”