Sixteen years ago, when I was nineteen, I was date raped.
I have written about this before, very therapeutically, but I want to mention it again for two reasons; firstly in the context of Naomi Wolf's article in the Guardian about rape and shame and secondly because Rachel's post earlier in the week about forgiveness has made me revisit my feelings about it.
My experience was in no way as traumatic as that which many other women have experienced. When I speak about it I always feel that I need to explain that it was a date rape, as if that is a mitigation. I explain that we'd both had a few drinks. That I was in love with him - the whole story is up there under that first link if you want to read it, mitigations included.
But I was still raped.
After I had withdrawn consent - and I did vocally withdraw consent - he continued to lie on top of me. He continue to push himself inside my body. He continued to fuck me until he decided to stop, completely disregarding me - in this case, until he came. There was nothing I could do about it - partly because of my mental state and partly because he was bigger than me and heavier than me and even if I had tried to stop him, I stood very little chance of doing so.
That is what rape means for victims,whether it is associated with acts of extreme violence or whether it is a 'date' rape. You are powerless to stop them.
I WAS ashamed that I was raped. I DID feel somehow to blame. I DID feel that I 'led him on'.
I didn't. I really didn't. But I was so frightened that people would think that I did that it took me years to come to terms with it. At one level I couldn't believe that it had happened, because my rapist had previously been my friend.
It still affects me today. And this is where the forgiveness comes in. By forgiving him, I can forgive myself, for getting in to that position to begin with. I can stop feeling revolted and disgusted at myself, for being fooled by him, for being taken in and thinking he was a nice person. And I can stop feeling revolted and disgusted by sex itself.
Hundreds, thousands of other women must go through this.
It is not something we choose. It is not something we 'ask for' because we flirt, as 34% of people apparently think. We do not give implicit consent to a man because we go out with him and drink too much whilst in his company. We do not give implicit consent because we like sex and have been to bed with a few people in the past.
The British Crime Survey reckons that about 15% of actual rapes are reported to the police.
Only 5.6% of the nearly 13,000 rapes reported to the police in the UK last year resulted in convictions.
That is 728 convictions out of a possible 86,000 crimes.
I can forgive the man who raped me; for my own sake, more than his. I can, most days, forgive myself.
I cannot forgive a society that discriminates against and stigmatises victims of crime, that puts victims on trial alongside their attackers and makes the process of prosecution so painful that it is more preferable to let your attacker walk away than go through the process of seeing him brought to justice.
And I cannot forgive that 34%.
THEY are the ones responsible for those 86,000 rapes - because they are the ones sending out the message that actually, some women are asking for it.
Update: When I wrote this, I didn't realise it would generate quite so much interest, and I am both touched and moved. If you haven't already, please look at the 'support links page' and see if you can contribute at all. With thanks.