Why is it that we hear about rape, but hardly ever hear about the rapist? In this interview, one woman shares her insights into sexual violence in the place where it is most common: between intimate partners. Please note that while she focuses on the most common form of sexual violence, the one against women, she does acknowledge that boys and men do experience this sort of thing too.

When Western society took notice of the so-called “Indian Gang Rape” last November, they were quick to reply with disgust, condemnation, but they also replied with a racist, colonial attitude. It seemed that German media somehow used this case in order to portray their society as, yet again, so much better; the men here are so much more “civilized”, the women here so much more safer. But is this really how it is?

Do you remember Steubenville, the Ohio town in which several local football players drugged, urinated on, and violated a young high-school girl over and over again one, horrific night in August last year? No? Does the German city Essen ring a bell, where last year in September the court ruled the 31-year-old accused of rape “not guilty” even though he admitted he had heard the 15-year-old say “no”? Maybe you don’t because theses cases were not as widely discussed as the Indian case. The first case was silenced for months in observance with Western National Identity. Because what cannot be, is not. Especially not in public, mainstream media. But does the logic of denial applies for other spaces, too?

While rape is a real threat, and 1 in 3 women will be raped, rapists are somewhat of a unicorn: everybody has heard of them, but nobody has never met one. Maybe we only think that we never met one, because many rapists don’t seem to know that they are one themselves.

In 2006, more than 200 women were raped each day in the UK. This means that about 85,000 women were raped in one year in the UK alone. A survey conducted by the rape crisis center, The Haven, of half of all UK men aged between 18 and 25 showed that:

  • half of them do not consider it rape when forcing a woman to continue sex even when she has changed her mind
  • a women saying “NO” at the start did not mean that to have sex with her was rape according to 1 in 4 men
  • a woman they knew was unwilling to have sex would still not keep 1 in 4 men from trying anyway
  • even when the woman was asleep, 5% admitted that they would attempt to have sex with her
  • 6% said that even if she was drunk they would attempt to have sex with her.

These numbers are misleading as the problem might be far worse.

Additionally, in 89% of cases the victim knows the rapist, with current or former intimate partner ranking first (45.5%), followed by friends and acquaintances (29.6%), followed by another relative (13.9%), and last is the myth, the unknown stranger (11%). Though these stats are from the UK they are not the exception to the rule in a worldwide context. Most women know their rapist. In addition, half of all female murder victims worldwide are killed by their current or former partner.

But again, when you ask mothers, sisters, aunts, girlfriends, wives: none of them thinks they are related to rapists or men who assault women. Ask your dad, your brother, your uncle, your boyfriend, your husband, your neighbor. Nobody seems to know a rapist, let alone be one. Nobody seems to know a man who would push a woman’s boundaries, who would use his position to abuse her, her trust. Do you? Do I?

I know men who tried to push my boundaries. I know men who tried repeatedly to do things with me I did not want. Did I say no? Yes. I also repeatedly pushed their hands away. Did this make them stop? No. Did they try again? Yes. Did I eventually let things happen which I did not want? Yes. Why? Because I was afraid. Because I was ashamed. Because I was traumatized. Also because I could not believe that these men, those I trusted, those I had chosen to be intimate with, that they would do so. That they would not disrespect me, that they would not respect my boundaries.

I know women who woke up while being penetrated. I know women who were forced into intercourse by their partners. I know women who were told to “just let me finish”. I know women who had to go to the emergency after they let their partner “just finish”. Would these men, any of them, label themselves as sexually violent towards women, or even as rapists? No. None of them. They think of themselves as respectful towards women. They think themselves as the good ones. They think that the problem is never them, that it is always the others. That it is only in India, or wherever, where atrocities occur, that it is the stranger behind the tree. But this is not true.

All of this is also the result of rape myths, furthermore, of objectification of women’s bodies and also of colonial thinking. The first and the last aspects have corrupted our minds insofar as to think that it is the creepy guy who embodies danger, but not the ones from our intimate circle. It is the outsider, not an insider. Colonial thinking and white supremacist attitudes made us believe that here, in our Western countries, in our homes, we are safe. After all, as Gayatri Spivak explained, colonization is also about the illusion or rather racist notion of “white men saving brown women from brown men” (Spivak: Can The Subaltern Speak?). Following this notion, women should logically be safe around white men. But we are not. Not at all.

However, since this alleged superiority of white men is crucial not only to their but to their Nation’s identity, since it is the men who embody the nation in a patriarchal society, women are blamed. Thus, white men can keep up the story of them as the “nice guys”, those who are never responsible for any evil deeds since they would never commit any evil deeds. This way, they remain morally superior even in cases of rape and sexualized violence. This is the reason for the blame-the-victim-culture we live in. This is the reason for which women are told to wear the right clothes, to only walk the right streets at night, to only choose the right company. Our “Blame-the-victim-culture” is immensely crucial to white men’s attempt to stylize themselves as superior, and via them stylize our Western Nations as superior and more civilized.

Furthermore, it must be mentioned that rape myths have confused our understanding of what sexualized violence actually is, resulting into more than 60% of women who were raped based on legal definition, don’t acknowledge this experience as such – because it was not the “creepy guy” behind the tree. Because it was the man they trusted, the man they knew, the man they love. Also, because many times it started with enthusiastic consent, and then ended in something else: the denial of both partners right to stop at any moment. The right to only engage in what both enjoy. Rape myths however, tell a different narrative. These 60% of women (and probably more) tell the story of what happens when reality doesn’t match the societal narratives (such as rape myths), with reality too hard, too traumatizing to bear: reality is interpreted, is turned into something else. The rape and experience of sexualized violence is denied. For what holds true in mainstream media, is also valid for individual’s minds: what cannot be, is not. Not my man, not this man. Again, the psychological term for this mechanism is denial. So how do we know that a man will not push or disrespect our boundaries? How do we know that he is not a rapist? We don’t. There is no security about this, ever. All we can know is that denial will not protect us.

What facilitates this dynamic is the devastating effect of continued objectification of women and our bodies. It has rendered our bodies broken into bits and pieces, so that often especially women’s bodies are perceived not as entities, but as body parts, as objects. This again has rendered women into objects. With the breaking of the body comes the breaking of the mind and vice-versa. The dynamics of objectification will eventually turn the subject and the individual against itself. In other words: this objectification is not only done via and by external gazes and agents – it is eventually internalized. There is a huge chance that eventually, women themselves see and treat themselves as objects. For what objectification does as well is to train individuals to perceive themselves from the outside, looking at themselves as if looking at objects. Eventually ending up unable to feel, to think, to speak, to be. Eating disorders, self-harming, depression, they all are results and symptoms of this act of violence that is objectification..

Thus, taking into consideration all that’s been said: we are not safe. Not until we stop denying that sexual violence is in our homes, with our partners, former partners, friends, acquaintances. As Audre Lorde said, “Your silence will not protect you”. Neither will denial. It is our denial that let these things happen again and again.

What we need is to have a new conversation about sex, about desire, and about sexual practices. But also about sexualized violence, and about abuse. We need to teach not only, but especially men that “no” means “no”. It does not mean “try again later” it does not mean “try harder”, it does not mean “just do it”. It does not mean “I am shy”. It means exactly this: NO. We need to teach them that they are responsible for their actions. We need to have a conversation about what it means to respect a person’s intimacy and a person’s boundaries.

Finally, especially as women, we need to work on being as strong as possible, strong in our minds, hearts and bodies. We need to train ourselves, all that we are, all that we have. We need to learn to successfully defend ourselves against whoever. Even if it is the person we did not expect we would ever have to defend us against.

Remember that sexualized violence is not about sex: it is about power. If it was about sex, it would be about the pleasure of all parties involved. Remember that we don’t owe anyone anything. Ever. Our bodies are ours. Nobody else’s.
Your body is all yours! Truly and only yours.

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  • Edjackson FERREIRA

    This is a great article – full of truths. Good to see this recurrent subject through your perspective, Sandra! “You save yourself or you remain unsaved” works,even though it is far from the right solution.