Why are we so afraid to call it rape?
Rape culture is very real and very dangerous—but Orange is the New Black isn’t afraid to tackle it. In the latest season of the hit Netflix series, we see conceptions of rape addressed—and reformed—through the characterisation of inmate Tiffany Doggett.
Doggett was raped last season by a commanding officer at Litchfield Penitentiary—a man who was supposed to be responsible for her safety. Instead, officer Charlie Coates took advantage of her and raped her: but it wasn’t how we usually see rape represented on screens. Doggett wasn’t screaming. She wasn’t frantically trying to beat him off. But we could see from her face that she desperately didn’t want to be there. It doesn’t matter if she didn’t fight tooth and nail to stop him—or even if she didn’t tell him: it is still rape.
This season, Doggett confronts Coates, making sure he’s not raping anyone else. But here’s the kicker: he didn’t even know he’d raped her. “But I love you,” he insists. “It’s different.”
“But it didn’t feel any different,” Doggett responds.
It didn’t feel any different because it isn’t—rape is the unwanted penetration of oral, vaginal or anal cavities. So, why are we so afraid to call it that? We live in a society where we’re so focussed on blaming the victim: what did they do to provoke it? What were they wearing? Were they drinking? Had they slept together before? Were they in love? Where they in a relationship? Why didn’t they yell for help? People voice these questions as if any of these factors negate a heinous crime. Newsflash: it doesn’t.
One in six women and 1 in 33 men will be raped within their lifetimes. One in two transgender persons will be sexually assaulted, as well as 44% of lesbian women, 26% of gay men, and 61% of bisexual women and 37% of bisexual men. This is a major problem—yet instead of tackling these issues, we’re too focussed on blaming the victim.
As a woman, I’m afraid to walk home alone at night—even though my bus stop is only 500m away. As a woman, I am afraid when a group of men walk towards me. As a woman, I make sure I’m not too drunk to keep my wits about me. I make sure my dress isn’t too short. I make sure I don’t lead anyone on—and even then, I’m not safe.
Doggett was raped in a prison environment meant to protect her.
Our actions do not give another person permission to so much as touch us. Even if I walked down the street naked, I’m still not “asking for it”—because my body is mine, and every human being deserves that right. But some people still don’t seem to get the concept of “no”.
Maybe you loved them. Maybe you knew they were horny, so you just let them do it. Maybe you did try to stop it, but gave in because it was easier than fighting. Maybe there were tears in your eyes, as you stare at the wall, wishing you were anywhere else. Maybe you cried when it was over and they were asleep or gone. Maybe they did love you. But then, maybe they didn’t. Maybe it was a cruel and vicious crime—and actions or intentions don’t change that.
As women, we’re so programmed to feel like we have to please our partners—even if we don’t want to. But love is not an excuse for rape: nothing is. And this line of thinking, this notion of “oh, you can’t call it rape after it happened” is absolute bullshit, and a massive cultural problem. Maybe you were too scared to speak up—maybe you’re too afraid to confront in your own mind what it was, and only realise what it was later. It is “not making it up” to get someone in trouble—because only one in six rapes are reported, and only 17% of rapes are actually convicted.
Rape affects every facet of your life. It restricts your sexuality. It restricts your chance at future relationships. You lay awake, crying and reliving those moments. You flinch at every rape joke, or mention of sexual assault. This is not okay.
But we live in a society that would rather blame the victim than prosecute the victim. But it is not the victim’s fault—it’s the rapist’s fault.
Rape is an unforgivable crime—and we need to stop sugar coating it.
Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz graduated last Tuesday, but unlike other students, she walked onto the podium to receive her degree carrying a mattress—the mattress she was raped on.
The incident was alleged to have occurred in her sophomore year in 2012 by one Paul Nungesser. As part of her senior art thesis, Ms Sulkowicz carried that mattress around with her in protest until she graduated, or Nungesser was expelled. Sadly, it was the former which came first.
Ms Sulkowicz’s senior performance project entitled Carry That Weight is powerful, empowering and devastating—a visual metaphor for her pain.
“The past year of my life has really been marked by telling people what happened in that most intimate and private space,” she told Columbia Daily.
“I was raped in my own dorm bed, and since then, that space has become fraught for me. I feel like I’ve carried the weight of what happened since then.”
Ms Sulkowicz filed a complaint against Nungesser in April 2013. Two other women also came forward with similar accusations (though they wished to remain anonymous). Despite this, Nungesser was found “not responsible” in Ms Sulkowicz’s case. Even when a further complaint was launched against the University, as well as with the New York Police Department, nothing changed. In fact, Nungesser has called her performance as a very public, very painful act of bullying.
Many people have been vocal about their support for Ms Sulkowicz, but many more have inundated the internet with dissent, disgust and disbelief. Various articles attack Ms Sulkowicz, some claiming her ordeal is utterly fabricated. In one instance, even Ms Sulkowicz’s Facebook grammar became a source of ridicule. Meanwhile, Nungesser is often characterised as the victim with strong feminist beliefs—because a feminist couldn’t possibly commit a crime.
Proving a crime is important. But how that crime is reacted to is equally important.
The backlash that one woman standing against rape has received is disgusting. This is why most sexual assault crimes are not reported by both male and female victims.. People who have experienced sexual assault are less likely to come forward over fear of ridicule and backlash. Even if somehow miraculously their case manages to reach the courts, they will have to re-experience the trauma through meticulous cross-examinations and confront their attackers.
Rape and sexual abuse is a major issue in our society. Here are some Australian statistics from the Centre of Abuse and Sexual Assault to put it into perspective for you::
- 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men will be sexually abused before the age of 16.
- Only 1 in 6 reports of rape to the police are actually prosecuted.
- 1 in 4 children will experience family violence
Furthermore, according to the Australian Government:
- 57% of women will experience some form of sexual abuse within their lives.
- 75% of male victims and 87.7% of female victims knew their attacker.
In another study by the Australian Government, young males represented the highest portion of male victims—particularly those aged 0-9, and that males aged between 10-14 have an 86 in 100,000 chance of being abused.
These are our men and our women. Our young girls and young boys. And they’re at risk of such an unspeakable thing. This needs to change. Victim blaming needs to change. Prosecution rates of offenders must increase. Education programs must be further instituted into schools from an early age—the cycle of violence and abuse must stop.
So, what can we do about it?
Solutions to curb sexual abuse and domestic violence can be viewed from the same lens, after all, their core is the same: abuse.
Australian of the Year Rosie Batty calls abuse “family terrorism”; and she’s completely right.
“Let’s put it in its context: this is terrorism in Australia,” Ms Batty said.
“If we look at the money that we spend on terrorism overseas, for the slight risk it poses to our society, it is disproportionate completely.”
“Let’s start talking about family terrorism. Maybe then, with the context and kind of language, we will start to get a real sense of urgency.”
Feminist philosopher Claudia Card’s theory of rape as a terrorist institution melds perfectly with Batty’s ideologies. In Card’s 1991 “Rape as a Terrorist Institution”, she explains that rape is used as a deterrence, just like deterrence from a crime is a punishment. Only in this case, the major task of rape is the subordinance and subservience of men to women—abuse can be viewed in the same way.
“Like other terrorisms, rape has two targets: ‘bad girls’ and ‘good girls’, those who are expendable…and those to whom a message is sent by the way of the treatment of the former,” the article reads.
“As reward, they [good girls] are granted ‘protection”. Though Card explains this “protector” may be even more dangerous than a stranger—statistics of victims knowing their abuser significantly support this idea.
Card’s ideologies are somewhat outdated, and also need to include the perspective of male victims, too—but her ideas are still completely valid. For women, abuse sends a message that she is not welcome; that she must tread carefully in life so as to not anger another and risk abuse. For men, due to the stereotypes that men must be strong, it sends the message that they must be quiet, conform or risk further abuse or ridicule.
Our very own legal system impedes productivity in terms of prosecuting abuse. Our adversarial system of innocent until proven guilty often lacks the ability to gain justice; abuse and rape is incredibly difficult to provide evidence for. For crimes to be prosecuted, they must also include two elements: the mens rea (the guilty mind) and the actus reus (the guilty act); if one party believes they are entitled to abuse another, or genuinely believes their actions genuinely aren’t abuse, it becomes very difficult to prove the crime.
A more proactive response is needed to the issue of family and interpersonal terrorism. Rosie Batty believes positive results can be achieved through the federal budget committing more money to long-term prevention and awareness procedures—particularly more Legal Aid. Crisis centres and hotlines must also be funded. What’s the point of having facilities if no one answers the phone? If there’s no room to house victims? If victims cannot afford a lawyer?
The fact of the matter is that things, as they are, clearly are not working. So what are you going to do to promote positive change?
Speak out Australia.