“Arguing about rape on the internet”

This is a post that I wrote after a very heated online debate that discussed rape, rape culture and its existence which left a lot of people feeling upset. Some people have asked me to post it on www.liberateyourself.co.uk so here it is.

I have chosen to engage with this topic in a blog post because it is deeply personal, and it is important to understand that because it is an emotive topic it is difficult to debate this online when a lot of people (whether they mean to or not, or even if you realise you’re doing it or not) question you about something so personal to you. You automatically become defensive because you are not discussing the ‘theory’ behind something or the meaning of a word; you are discussing what I can only describe as one of, if not THE worst, thing that can ever happen to someone.


I can tell you now that as much as you may want to discuss these issues and remove the emotive and personal experience from the answers you feel you need that this is physically impossible. I tell you this not as opinion but as fact. I am telling you that this is how I feel and I can guarantee that this is how others will feel. If you are wishing to engage or learn about these issues this is a fact that you have to accept otherwise you will proceed in not understanding and you will not increase your knowledge on this subject. If you cannot proceed in this way or do not want to learn in this format then I cannot help you and neither can any online discussion about rape/sexual assault. I would hazard a guess that if you’re not willing to learn about rape on these terms that you don’t wish to learn at all but wish to argue and upset. The reason why you will not achieve an emotionless discussion on this topic is because you are unlikely to ever be in an environment where there is not a survivor present.


1 in 7 women students have been sexually assaulted while at university. 1 in 7. Think about the women you know, your friends, your partner, your mother, sister, cousin, your teachers, and your flatmates. Have any of them been raped/sexually assaulted? If you answer no to this question then you are probably wrong, it is much more likely that they have had these experiences and don’t feel comfortable talking about it. Why do you think this is? Is it because you trivialise rape, make jokes about rape? Or is it because they feel like they will be blamed for what happened? Will they expect your first question to be ‘were you drunk? Or what were you wearing? Or maybe they think you’ll ask why they were walking home alone or make a snide comment about how they were flirting. Why is it you think they feel like this? Is it that you’ve made these comments about others? Or ‘discussed’ and voiced the opinions about a different girl, another case, a famous gold digging slag who was only raped by a footballer for the fame? Or is this what they expect from you because this is the way we know society will treat us? This way of thinking or talking about rape happens every day, it comes at us from all angles, even the police crime messages when someone is assaulted is ‘don’t walk home alone, don’t get drunk’ as opposed to ‘don’t rape’. These messages can perpetuate the way that you think, your actions, your comments, your jokes. They may seem like nothing but they exacerbate and help spread this idea that if you are raped it is your fault. It feeds in to a culture that blames the victim, unless you are actively fighting or standing against this culture you are wrapped up in it. This isn’t necessarily your fault it’s the way we’ve been brought up and programmed, but you can challenge it and question it you just have to start noticing it and unfortunately once you do you will notice it everywhere and it will make you angry. I hope it makes you angry.


This reasoning of course applies to all genders for guys who are victim of sexual assault talking about it can be even harder, it’s not discussed and the stats as to the prevalence are so hard to come by and ultimately flawed because of such low disclosure rates. I can tell you now as fact it is more common than you imagine and I have had double the number of male survivors come to me at work asking for support than I’ve had women.


The use of threads in discussions surrounding topics related to rape can prove extremely stressful because it often feels, as a survivor, you are yet again up against ‘rape culture’. People who do not understand these issues do not seem to understand the concept of lived experience. If a survivor tells you this is how they experience the world, please don’t question it. It is not up for discussion. It’s not a theory. It is someone’s experience. If they tell you that every day they are made to feel to blame for rape that is how they feel. It might not be that this is the way that you experience the world (and your really lucky that this is the case) but asking someone to ‘prove it’ is both insulting and upsetting. What you’re doing is asking someone to recall for you in depth every time in a day/ week that they are made to feel like shit, that they are reminded of probably the worst experience of their life, of the time that they lost everything, where they thought they were going to die, when they wished that they had died. And for what? Why are you asking them to ‘prove’ to you that this is how they experience the world? Is it because you want to argue that this isn’t the case? Is this because this isn’t how you experience the world? Are you trying to catch them out? To win the argument? To prove them wrong? Because you like to troll? If this is so choose a different topic, rape and sexual assault isn’t something to just mess about with or practice your debating skills with or get a rise out of someone. It is fucking horrendous.


When people engage with these discussions it is important to remember what they are giving up in order to do you a favour. If you ask someone to educate you especially about a topic of this nature, especially if you are going to critique everything and tell the person trying to teach you they are wrong over and over again, remember to bare in mind the fact that they are giving up their time to tell you about something really emotive. It is distressing for them and they have spent a lot of energy on you. If you don’t actually want their opinion don’t frame it in a way that seems like you do. People do not owe you information; it is not their role to teach you especially when you can research it yourself. This is especially the case when the topic is so obviously upsetting. When people are directing you to other sources or asking you to look up the term or to stop talking about them publicly, then stop. Don’t be a dick. If you continue you are no longer wishing to learn you are aiming to upset people and you’re being a douche.


It is often the case when people are arguing online that even if it’s a distressing topic for an individual they will continue to discuss it. You will often find that those arguing will use this as an excuse to say ‘it’s not distressing they keep talking about it, if it is was they would just stop’. Many survivors despite the distressing nature of the situation will always continue to argue about these things despite the detrimental impact that it will have on their mental health. This is not for themselves but for others. Online discussions are more often than not open; it is not just a discussion between those who are typing, there are other silent observers. It is often for them that people choose to continue to argue and debate. To defend the voice of the survivor, both the vocal and silent; to demonstrate that there is a challenge to the topics being discussed and that there are others who will continue to speak up to demonstrate that there is an alternative to ‘rape culture’.


Going back to rape culture here is a definition for you:

“Rape culture is a term or concept used to describe a culture in which rape and sexual violence are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media normalize, excuse, tolerate, or even condone sexual violence. Examples of behaviours commonly associated with rape culture include victim blaming, sexual objectification, and trivializing rape.”


I think we’ve covered the fact that rape and sexual violence are common with the 1 in 7 stat but if you want some more facts and figures please have a hunt (it won’t take you long to be utterly horrified by how common it is). I have also tried to give you a few examples of how the excusing/toleration of sexual violence occurs but here is a little story to try and put it in perspective for you. This is an exercise from a workshop I deliver, when in a mixed gendered group I often ask the men what they do to stop themselves being raped. At this point I often get blank stares, a few thoughtful faces but in all the times I’ve done this exercise not one person has given me any form of response that isn’t (after a minute or so of silence) ‘ummm nothing’. At this point I pose the same question to the women in the room. What do you do to stop yourself being raped? At this point nearly all the women put their hands up: I get taxis home; I always make sure I tell people who I’m with and when I’ll be home; I carry an attack alarm; I make sure I always travel with someone else; I go to self defence classes; I avoid parks, alley ways, I don’t take short cuts; I don’t go out at night; I organise how I’m going to get home before I leave the house; I carry my keys as a weapon; I walk in the middle of the road; I constantly check my surroundings; I don’t drink very much; I never leave my drink alone; I stay at friends houses so I don’t have to go home on my own; I only drink bottles; I use a spikey; the list goes on and on and on. This tends to be an eye opener for the men in the room. I use this story not to demonstrate to you that women are more likely to be sexually assaulted or rape but to demonstrate the constant fear that many women live with on a daily basis and to show that the way that society it set up teaches ‘don’t get raped as opposed to don’t rape’.


I’m going to stop there but in the words of a dear dear friend “I wish I could go just one day when I didn’t have to think about rape”


If you have questions about these issues and wish to ask them in an environment when people can volunteer their experiences and answers as opposed to a Facebook thread where people feel pressured to defend the voice of the survivor ask an anonymous question on the website.


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