Monday, May 11, 2009

My new worst fear

by Chloe Angyal

I have never been afraid of heights. I have never been afraid of dogs. I think snakes are pretty cool. My worst fear, for as long as I can remember, has been the fear of being raped.

For years, I have feared that one day, I would be walking down the street at dusk or on my way home from dinner, minding my own business, walking freely and without fear, and that someone would grab me. And no matter of fighting or screaming would be enough to stop him from violating me, from taking control of my body out of my hands, from raping me.

That was my old worst fear. The scenario of stranger rape, or “real rape,” as I’ve heard some people call it, still terrifies me. But now there’s something else I fear even more.

I’m afraid that one night, after we’ve both had a drink or two, a male friend, someone I’ve known for a while or have flirted with in the past, makes an unrequited move on me. I rebuff him and he doesn’t believe I mean it, or he believe I mean it but thinks he can change my mind. I’m too drunk, or too tired, or too physically weak to hold him off, and he forces himself on me and I can’t stop him. When it’s over, I try to talk to him, to ask him why he would do such a thing, and he tells me I’m overreacting.

But that’s not the worst part of it. The worst part is that if I ever find the courage to tell people about it – the police, my friends, society at large – I’ll probably be told by a whole host of people that what happened to me doesn’t count as rape.

I had been drinking, so it doesn’t count.
He was my friend, so it doesn’t count.
I had flirted with him in the past, so it doesn’t count.
I was wearing that shirt, or skirt, or dress, so it doesn’t count.
I didn’t fight and scream and dig my nails into him in protest, so it doesn’t count.
If I talked to him afterward, it can’t have been that traumatic, so it doesn’t count.

We live in a culture that refuses to take all but the most “obvious” of rapes seriously. A culture that tells women, over and over again, that what happened to them doesn’t count as rape. A culture that asks women what they did to bring on an attack like the one I described above.

We demand that women prove that they’re not just lying for attention, or trying to ruin their assailant’s reputation, or that they just don’t want to admit that they had sex and regretted it the next morning.

We live in a culture that teaches women not to go out drinking and “get themselves raped,” instead of teaching men not to get drunk and rape people. A culture that charges women an exorbitant fee, literally and figuratively, to prove that they were raped. A culture whose lawmakers believe that raping a virgin is a more heinous crime than raping a woman who’s had sex before.

We live in a culture where the media sides with alleged rapists and condemns the few women who come forward. A culture where “rape” is a term thrown casually around to describe a particularly difficult quiz or paper. A culture where women who are raped are mocked and doubted and libeled in their own communities, among their own friends.

Date rape is my new worst fear, because in this culture, the rape is only the first half of a woman’s ordeal. There is a reason that 60% of rapes go unreported. Why would a woman ever put herself through the second half?

This is rape culture. Millions of American women live my worst fear every day. It’s time to start listening to them. It’s time to stop doubting them. It’s time to make this a culture where a woman can reasonably fear spiders or flying or dogs, but never the treatment she can expect to receive at the hands of her community when she stands up, speaks out and says, “I was raped.”

Originally posted on Chloe Angyal's blog on Skirt!


At May 11, 2009 at 6:47 PM , Blogger TommyD said...

Wow, Chloe--quite a post. I'd like to respond, but Dahlia Lithwick of Slate in 2003 wrote the most complete and succinct summation of my thoughts on this matter. I'll just link to it here:

Also, scroll down for some good observations by reader BeverlyMann.

At May 11, 2009 at 10:46 PM , Blogger Brenda said...

Also one that gets overlooked... rape in relationships. It's also possible for a husband to rape his wife or for a boyfriend to rape his girlfriend. Relationships do not necessarily equal consent.

At May 11, 2009 at 10:50 PM , Blogger Lucas Allen said...

That's odd. When you write that "Millions of Americans live my worst fear every day," the link you give leads us to this;

"According to the U.S. Department of Justice's National Crime Victimization Survey -- the country's largest and most reliable crime study -- there were 248,300 sexual assaults in 2007."

248,300 per year is considerably less than "millions" per day.

You should rely on the truth, rather than exaggeration (scare tactics) and the hope that readers won't click on the "sources" you provide.

At May 11, 2009 at 11:03 PM , Blogger Amelia said...


If you'll read further on the page, you'll see that 4.2 million sexual assaults have occurred since 1993. A sexual assault occurs every 2 minutes - and even if that's not "millions" of women actually being assaulted a day, I'd say that that's a pretty damn scary statistic. You don't have to *be* assaulted to live in fear of its possibility; I've never been assaulted, but I know people who have, and it's enough to make me afraid of the possibility. Chloe wasn't talking just about the women who are assaulted - although the numbers are really shocking - she was talking about the women who live in fear of assault, however subtle. And she was also talking about the "not-rapes" that aren't reported, for all of the reasons that she outlined - the ones that aren't "obvious" rapes, where women feel ashamed to come forward.

And honestly, I think 250,000 is just as scary as "millions" - I think just one woman being assaulted is scary. So let's not be petty and talk about "scare tactics," please - we don't need to use scare tactics to talk about sexual assault. The whole issue is completely terrifying.

At May 11, 2009 at 11:10 PM , Anonymous Chloe said...

Thanks for the fact check. It's always nice to know that our readers think for themselves.
A woman who is raped in 2007 is still living with the experience in 2008. A woman who starts court proceedings in 2008 will probably still be dealing the courts many years from now. And if 248, 300 sexual assaults happen annually, it's absolutely the case that there are millions of Americans living with the experience of rape. The experience of being raped doesn't disappear when the ball drops at the end of the year.

At May 11, 2009 at 11:15 PM , Blogger Lucas Allen said...

The issue is terrifying enough without misleading language. Chloe didn't write "shared my worst fear" she wrote "live my worst fear."
You've looked at the link she provided for that sentence. It doesn't address how many women live in fear of rape. It addresses the amount of women that have actually been raped. So it's hard to defend Chloe by saying that she was really writing about something else.

Her post, which is only based a small portion of the truth, not the whole truth (ex. all of our lawmakers do not believe that raping a virgin is more serious than raping a woman who's had sex before) might go further towards scaring women away from reporting rapes (for fear of what she describes) than anything else.

At May 12, 2009 at 12:07 AM , Anonymous Chloe said...

@Lucas Allen:
That's an interesting way to look at the situation. But in the grand scheme of things, I'd like to work to change the culture that silences women who have been raped and intimidates them into silence. The only way to do that is to make it clear that the way we currently think and talk about rape hurts women, and if that means describing it in detail, so be it: I doubt very much that any woman who has been raped will find any new information in this article.

At May 12, 2009 at 10:44 AM , Anonymous Feminist said...

You forgot to mention that almost all heterosexual sex is rape, because of the inherent power inequities in the Patriarchy. Just like the poor who donate organs for money are being exploited, so are the vast majority of women having sex.

At May 13, 2009 at 10:46 AM , Blogger LSG said...

Lucas, I want to reiterate Chloe's comment because I think it's crucial to her entire post -- the nightmare of rape doesn't happen within the space of half an hour and then end. Although everyone suffers, heals, or doesn't heal differently, the ordeal of being officially and unofficially shamed, blamed, and sometimes billed for being a rape victim, on top of the pain of the rape itself, continues for years. A quarter of a million people annually adds up fast, and the rape victim/survivor lives his or her agony every single day. Not being raped on any given Tuesday doesn't mean that on Tuesday you're not inside the nightmare.

Brenda, yes. It was telling that when I talked to other Americans about the Afghan marital rape law, they were completely horrified (as they should be). I felt, though, that our conversations and conversations on the news often took on a tinge of "Those barbarians!" as if intimate partner rape only happens in "backwards" nations.

Feminist, I don't want to derail this thread, but I want to respond a little bit. I appreciate the fact that existing cultural power dynamics can make heterosexual sex problematic and the concept of consent a difficult one. At the same time, I think it's absolutely possible for a woman to enthusiastically consent to have sex with a man or men. In fact, I think it happens all the time and is varying degrees of awesome.

The situations I struggle with labeling are those of grudging but unimpaired consent, or totally ignorant consent (as in some fundamentalist Christian marriages where women don't know at all what to expect). These kinds of situations are deeply troubling to me and I believe they are unethical, but I'm not convinced they're rape. More thought is needed on my part, definitely.

In any case, I think I get where you're coming from (I've read the Twisty's I Blame the Patriarchy rape threads, and while I strongly disagree with much of what's said, I have come to understand the rationale behind it), and I realize you didn't say mutually consenting heterosexual sex was impossible. I think we have to face the complexity and problems of power dynamics within heterosexual sex without setting the default position as "rape."

**For me, the het sex thing is a derail, and I think it's important to say that in cases of seriously impaired or nonexistent consent, like the one Chloe described, it is a common defense of date rape to say "This is a complex situation with nuanced power dynamics and an intricate web of questions about the nature of personal responsibility! How dare you call it rape!" That's NOT what I'm talking about, that's usually just obfuscation wrapped around victim-blaming.**


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