Saturday, 20 August 2016

Intersectionaling Feminism: How Do You Solve A Problem Like Rape? My Own Oral Rape Story.

"Rape is not just a women's issue. It's about men who stop behaving like human beings and start behaving like animals". Anon.

"Rape is rape". It's a common battle cry heard on campuses, feminist societies and domestic abuse centres across the UK and beyond. Yet sometimes it can feel as if "men" and "women" have entirely different understandings of the concept of rape. A recent example of such cultural difference concerning understanding of rape has come out as a result of a Turkish ad being disseminated at airports in Istanbul and Ankara warning Turkish families not to travel to Sweden because it has been deemed to have "the highest reported number of rapes in the world". Interestingly this marketing campaign was triggered after the Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström accused Turkey on Twitter of allowing legalisation of child sexual activity (under the age of 15) since the attempted coup against Erdogan and that children "need more protection, not less against violence and sex abuse". Many pundits have then used comments to highlight Turkey anchoring towards Islamification because of numerous incidents in Iraq and Syria where child brides are being given to terrorists as prizes for fighting against "infidels" because of guarantees over their virginity. Now, Turkish tweeters, particularly men, have bombarded Twitter with hate tweets using the hashtag #DontTravelToTurkey stating Sweden is a country full of paedophiles and rapists (despite the fact the age of consent is 16, the same as that the UK) because of those rape figures being equivocated with a rise in refugees from Syria and other Muslim-dominated countries.

What Turkish men may have failed to understand was that reporting rates might be higher in Sweden because women who experience rape are more likely to report it because they are more self-aware of what constitutes rape under Swedish legislation. The Swedish justice system has come under attack at times for allowing victims of rape to report the crime to officials due to "trivial reasons". For example, Julian Assange was accused of "two counts of sexual molestation, one count of unlawful coercion and one count of lesser degree rape or mindre grov våldtäkt"  by two different women during a visit to Stockholm in November 2010 and his defenders have stated that local authorities had fabricated the charges to try and trap him for his espionage activities under WikiLeaks.  Assange still continues to deny the accusations made against him to this day and so those women have not received and are unlikely to receive any apology for what they claimed had happened to them.

Now Sweden also prohibits prosecutors for disclosing information about sexual assault cases so we don't know what the main reasons behind prosecuting him were for, but according to feminist lawyer Jill Filipovic, Assange molested these two women because he disregarded their wishes for him to conduct protected sex - "one accuser told him to wear a condom but he penetrated her without one, whilst another saw that the condom Assange was using broke and he refused to replace it". A minor issue for some, but in Sweden condom use is predicated on consent, so if Assange refused to comply with their request for him to use a condom, he has at the very least committed a form of sexual assault. Besides, if you were going to have sex with a stranger without knowing their medical history and you asked them to put a condom but they refuse and then penetrate you anyway, does that not cross the consent boundaries? Regardless, the Assange case does highlight the complexities of Swedish (and UK law) when it comes to considerations of sexual consent and what the specific difference between unlawful coercion and lesser degree rape may actually be.

My Personal Experience of Rape:

Now in the UK we still continue to see increasing rates of rape incidents being reported and yet many still feel unable to speak out about their experiences, especially in the first initial hours and days of occurrence. I'm one such person who could not speak out about what happened to me, mainly because I never thought I'd be believed by the police in the first place because of the nature of the incident and even if the case had gotten to court I thought they'd use the fact I was a queer gay man (at the time that's how I was perceived) and had been wearing "inappropriate clothing" (leggings or hot pants and a glitter tee) for a University of York night out would go against me.

To those who don't know my story here it is:

I was walking home from Ziggy's nightclub in York on an early December Wednesday morning in 2009 (around 3am) on my own in a glitter tee and black lurex leggings as I usually did whilst I was partying after writing my English essays. I was alone, mainly because I didn't like paying for taxis when I knew I could walk to my Uni flat in an hour and I was completely sober because I never drunk on a night out in the city as I was very security conscious. I usually had a rape alarm keyring on me but I'd stupidly left it at home that night and I thought as I was the way I was (not exactly Katie Price, more Jane Austen) I'd be OK. I was walking across the fields just near my old college (of Goodricke) when I was abused by a tall, blonde white man, a stranger I'd never seen before in the area. He looked like he was in his late 20's/early 30's I think. He was so strong he had me forced down against the tree, blocking my way out with his flies undone before I could try and push him to get away. It all happened in a flash. I can remember the rancid taste left in my mouth after he'd finished penetrating my mouth as he pushed me to the side and ran off. Nobody saw what happened.  I laid there frozen for about half an hour wondering what the hell I was going to do. I managed to get myself up thinking I needed to get myself to the shower; I needed to feel clean, I needed to feel SAFE. I got to my flat dishevelled and unnoticed, unlocked the door, grabbed my soap and went into the shower and when done I put my nightshirt on and ran to my bedroom and locked the door. I didn't have any seminars or lectures at the time as it was my final year and it was research week so I just kept myself in the bedroom for pretty much two weeks. I didn't feel like I wanted to speak to anyone. Whenever my friends rang I would just say I was OK and listened to them talk about their seminar or home life. When I saw my flatmates in the kitchen (very rarely because everyone was busy doing their research and finishing essays) I didn't want anyone to notice that something had happened to me because I knew they may start asking questions and I just wasn't ready to talk in case I was accused of lying. I did meet one best friend twice during that time but I put my happy face on and fronted it.  Being perceived as an "effeminate gay man" it seems like its part of the course that you're meant to like giving blowjobs and that having sexual encounters with strangers is seen by some who are gay as "exciting". Plus not being able to fend off a guy is seen by some men as being "inferior/insecure" and hence my fault. I hate gender stereotyping; it is the bane of my existence and the sooner they are all debunked the better in my view. Anyways I clammed up and lived off the chocolates, crisps and sweets that I'd luckily bought on the Monday before rather than risk spending an hour cooking in the kitchen. When Christmas came round, I couldn't wait to get home, back to somewhere I felt safe. Yet I never told my parents anything at that point, other than discussing the new clothes I bought or the essays I was writing. I couldn't bring myself to talk about the experience until I told my parents in July 2015, when my Mum had asked me why I hadn't got a girlfriend if I wasn't having sex with men. In a way she and my Dad never really accepted I fancied men and had hoped it was a phase but when I told her about what happened to me at York it came pouring out like a broken water tap. I was shocked that she even had to ask me at the end whether I was "telling the truth" but from my experience of reading survivor stories that seems to be the norm with those who are brave enough to report their experiences of rape when it happens to them. Now I want to be more vocal about my experience in the hope that it helps to dispel the ignorant opinions made by some that rape by strangers can only happen to women or that oral penetration cannot constitute a form of rape. I hope to be a visible survivor but I know I must care for myself. I've still got to work through my anxieties. But I'm getting there slowly. I could be in a much worse place than I am now but I am lucky to have a safe roof over my head, even if my parents are still struggling to get their heads around what happened to me. I try and not be a burden to anyone but it's hard sometimes to keep that smile going. It's emotionally draining. But I know I must keep striving for a better life and a better world for everyone. I'm not going to let that man destroy my confidence any more.

What can Intersectional Feminism do to help reduce rape rates whilst encouraging rape victims to come forward:

As a non-binary trans person I believe that we need a joined up gender approach to opposing rape crime and trying to combat the ideologies that may fuel men (and some women) to commit an act of sexual violence against a fellow human being. I think that part of an undeniable problem is that men, women and non-binary people are never really taught at secondary school about what constitutes sexual consent, what constitutes sexual assault or rape or what to do when you have become a victim of sexual assault or rape. I can remember having a sex education lesson where a young rugby player in my class was proud to say jokingly that "If You Get Three Nos it becomes a Yes" when it came to oral sex. Some teenage boys were openly bragging about "taking virginities" while their friend/girlfriend/boyfriend was drunk, asleep or unwilling to consent. In fact going out on a date was seen as consent for sexual activity by some  guys desperate to lose their virginity. I've even heard of teenage boys talking about wanting to seduce or rape a female teacher so they can lose their virginity even though they are aware that such actions could lead to that teacher being arrested for grooming offences. It's all a part of the  Machismo element of "bromantic culture" that is still held up to be an ideal of manhood; that somehow only those that instigate sexual activities are to be celebrated and held up as being a role model to aspire to. You see it perpetuated throughout Ancient and modern history, from the Zeus model of tricking women into having sex with him by metamorphosis to the idea among some Christian men that "raping a lesbian will make them heterosexual". No rape alarms are given out actively to men, apart from some very liberally progressive universities such as my own University of York. There's no discussion of rapes that happen to men by men and women in sex education lessons. Most people still think oral penetration is not a form of rape because the consequences are "less" than that for anal or vaginal sex. Yet evidence shows that you can contract STDs including HIV from unprotected oral sex.

Intersectional feminists like myself believe that we as a society have to understand that we must fundamentally address rape ideology at its festering source. Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) as being promoted by charities such as the Terrence Higgins Trust and the PSHE Foundation know that rules concerning consent has to be taught in such a way that it becomes second-nature by the time teenagers think about engaging in sexual activities. We need to teach students that oral rape does exist and that they must not be afraid of reporting any incidents of rape or sexual assault to the local police force, regardless of whether they may think it is trivial. If a person refuses to wear a condom or take protection and then goes on to have sexual contact with you, that is a form of assault at the very least.

Figures from the  Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales the first ever jointly official statistics released by the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office in January 2013 found that
approximately 12,000 men and 85,000 women have been raped in England and Wales alone every year and 500,000 adults are sexually assaulted. Only 15% of those who experience sexual violence then go on to report the crime to the police.

Therefore rape charities in the UK need to show that they care about male victims of sexual assault and rape, especially if a woman they know has perpetrated that crime. UK charity Rape Crisis for example, has stated that 95% of its service users are female, despite the fact that the figures quoted above show men may be in need of support services. Why is it the case that only 5% of users at Rape Crisis are male? Are too many men afraid to speak out? Can they feel they can't relate to female psychologists/nurses asking them about their experience? Is it because they believe rape charity services are only available for cisgendered women?

There are very few cases mainstream media reported of men being raped by other men (other than the child sex abuse carried out by monks such as Philip Temple who had previously been protected from prosecution under Catholic monastic law) let alone men and boys being sexually assaulted by girls and women, women being sexually assaulted by other women and non-binary people being assaulted and raped. Quite rightly an emphasis had to be placed on increasing awareness of rape support services for women because the numbers of women being raped are far higher than men. It is right to wonder though whether some male victims (especially gay, cross dresser, queer or trans) have been left behind in discussions of rape victim provision and prosecution? Do male rape charities need to be established to help fill the void or do existing charities need to do more to show these men that their door is always open and that they will be given the same opportunities to be believed by police that should be shown to female victims?

Issues related to sexual violence and rape are tense within the feminist community. I know as a trans woman that trans people are subject to both just because their perpetrators feel the need to try and project their will onto them. For trans men who identify as heterosexual or gender-fluid individuals who may happen to have a vagina, being penetrated by a man to try and see whether they are "still all woman" occurs regularly and I could not even begin to imagine what that feels like. In some ways I feel the stranger that orally raped me was just trying to "get his end away" and use me like an object to discard when his fun was over. I'm not even sure whether he knew I was perceived as being a man or believed I was a man biologically or if he even cared. The reason why a joined-up approach to fighting sexual violence is essential is because every sexual assault, every rape that happens is an attempt by the perpetrator to gain power. That is why it's important to say "rape is rape". There are absolutely NO excuses for violating a person's space without consent.