04.23.12 Truth & Wisdom

Rape Is NEVER Her Fault

Rape Is NEVER Her Fault

BY Sarah Turley

LaFayette didn’t tell anyone when her aunt’s friend tried to force his hands inside her knickers. She was 10 years-old and petrified people would say it was her fault.

“There was this man in my community who people said had sex with all of his own children,” she explains. “I remember listening to the adults saying the children were responsible, that it was their fault he was doing those things. So I didn’t tell anyone. I shouted and spat at him, but I never mentioned what he tried to do. I just kept away from him till the day he died.”

I met LaFayette on International Women’s Day at a talk about sexual violence against women in St Vincent and The Grenadines. According to a 2007 UN report, this set of tiny islands in the eastern Caribbean has the third highest rate of reported rape cases in the world. For LaFayette, who is now 39 and has lived in St Vincent in The Grenadines all her life, though this is an undeniably worrying statistic, it also signifies encouraging progress. “It means finally women are becoming confident to come forward,” she tells me. “I think really that there is a lot of rape being committed but people are just not reporting it. The community has been very tolerant. Before, when a case was taken to the court the woman would be humiliated by the community. Persons might go to where she works and point, saying, ‘It happened to her.’”

Of all the disturbing stories and statistics I heard on International Women’s Day about sexual violence in St Vincent and The Grenadines, that Vincentian women and girls who have gone through the physical and psychological trauma of sexual abuse or rape, could suffer a second time through their community’s lack of understanding and compassion, is the thing that got to me the most. How could a community be tolerant of rape? How could it blame a child for being sexually abused by their father? How dare it publically humiliate women who have endured rape?

But a few days later British parenting site Mumsnet, released the results of an online survey it ran about sexual violence that reminded me that a lack of support for victims is by no means unique to St Vincent and The Grenadines. Of 1609 British women who completed the survey, 83 per cent of (the shockingly large number) who had been raped or sexually assaulted, had not felt able to report it to police. 29 per cent didn’t tell anyone at all. The reasons they gave for their silence included low conviction rates (68 per cent) and shame (53 per cent). A further 53 per cent said they felt society was unsympathetic to the victims of rape.

It seems no matter where you are in the world sexual violence goes unreported. LaFayette told me women in St Vincent and The Grenadines who have high social status, find it hard to come forward because they “think certain things shouldn’t happen to them – they think they shouldn’t be vulnerable.” Last month Ana Paula Portella, the head of a Brazilian women’s rights NGO, told me poor Brazilian women often don’t report abuse because they have no support system to give them the confidence to speak out. The Mumsnet survey reveals women in the UK blame themselves or feel there is no point reporting attacks. Women of every nationality, class, ethnicity, age and religion remain silent – carrying shame, guilt and blame, for the sexual attacks on their bodies.

Following its survey Mumsnet launched ‘We Believe You’, a campaign which aims firstly to shine a light on the prevalence of rape and sexual assault in the UK, and secondly, to pull apart the many myths surrounding rape that lead to women not reporting it. No, women don’t deserve to be raped if they dress sexily or get drunk. Yes, it can still be rape if he is your boyfriend, friend or even husband. The site has also launched a twitter hash-tag #ididnotreport to encourage women to share experiences of rape or sexual abuse or harassment that they have never reported. The response has been overwhelming – hundreds of women have written moving 140 character disclosures of child abuse, of partner rape and of date rape, as well as other ‘low-level harassment’ such as threatening or intimidating cat-calling and ‘accidental’ gropes on busy public transport.

How governments and police should go about offering better support to the victims of sexual violence is a complex question, but starting as Mumsnet is suggesting with the words, ‘We believe you’ could have given these women (now bravely coming forward on Twitter) the confidence to speak up. LaFayette believes women in St Vincent and The Grenadines are feeling increasingly comfortable about reporting abuse. I hope this is true and I hope it continues there and around the world. Because sexual violence is NEVER the fault of the victim – whether she is drunk in a nightclub in Spain, trapped in an abusive marriage in Bangladesh, or a confused 10 year-old in St Vincent and The Grenadines. It is not her fault.

Featured image via SeanD69 on Flickr

Sarah Turley is a journalist from London, UK. Formerly a Features and Entertainment Editor for online teen magazines, Sarah began her career asking Eva Mendes, Miley Cyrus and Amanda Seyfried BIG questions like ‘How do you throw a really awesome pyjama party?’ More recently she has worked as a researcher for British charities, writing about anorexia, self-harm, disaffected youth and dementia in the UK, and travelling to Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, India and Rwanda to write and make short films about violence against women, HIV/AIDS and maternal health.

Sarah is currently four months into a research (/adventure-seeking) trip to South America and the Caribbean. Follow her on twitter @sarah_turley 

Comments

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=48607267 Katie Chor

    This title is irresponsible. It should read “Rape is not the victim’s fault”. Assuming the victim is always female or that the perpetrator is never female is offensive language. The story is important and it’s a good article, but I only saw the headline on my twitter feed. Please revise the title and keep advocating for victims!

    • amanda

      Thank you for your opinion. The last 4 lines address the fact that rape is vever the fault of the victim. We are a site for women written by women so we are speaking from a female POV but in no way disregarding boys or men …

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500512797 Sarah Turley

      Hi Katie, thank you for your comment. I absolutely see your point. However, as Amanda said, the articles on this site are written for and about women, so I did not feel it was the place for me to address male rape. Of course, rape is never the fault of any victim, male or female.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000249232052 Patrick Lynch

    if any one women I know was raped..the perp wouldn’t have to worry about being apprehended by the authorities just the application of lynch law…historical precedence exists

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000249232052 Patrick Lynch

    is it not true that all men of loving virtue stand defiant in the acts of the cruel…it is our love that binds the validation of the common good…to be magnanimous …to promote compassion …to render justice to enable the right…mothers and fathers teach your children how to love

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