My anger has been steadily brewing all week and now it’s at boiling point. It’s not been a good week for women and, regardless of your gender, you should be steaming mad too. The week started with Donald Trump justifying groping women as basically a bit of fun and ended with a professional footballer having his conviction for rape overturned.
Now before I continue let me confess I know nothing about the said footballer. I wasn’t there on the night of the alleged incident nor was I privy to the evidence that was revealed in court. What has pushed me over into full-blown Hulk mode however is the rhetoric surrounding the case and the way in which his legal team were allowed to use the victim’s sexual history as evidence against her and potentially undo any progress that has been made in prosecuting sex crimes.
Despite having zero interest in the game I remember clearly when the rape allegation was first levelled at the footballer and he was suspended from his club, which happened to be in my home town. It’s seared in my memory as I was working in a school and shocked to the core by the attitudes of many boys and some girls towards the allegation. Words like ‘bitch’ and ‘slag’ were bandied about with venom and the general consensus seemed to be that football was more important than an intoxicated, vulnerable young woman who may or may not have been raped.
On Saturday night, twenty four hours after he had been exonerated by an appeals court, I foolishly clicked on the footballer’s name as he trended on Twitter. The level of abuse aimed at women made me feel physically sick. Anyone who questioned the legalities of what had taken place was called (and you can take your pick here) – feminist lesbian/ ugly cunt/ slag/ bitch/ whore. Given that the defence team used not only the woman’s sexual history but the idea that the footballer was so in demand by women that he didn’t have to rape one seems to suggest that rape is only a crime when committed against particularly attractive virgins.
The damage this has done to women I believe is inestimable. Already many rape victims don’t come forward for fear of being blamed, not believed or being put on trial themselves. What kind of message then do these legal proceedings send? I read an article this week about a man who was running an assertiveness course for women and how shocked he had been to learn that every woman in the class had suffered some degree of sexual abuse. He may have been shocked but I’m not.
I don’t know any woman in my own circle of friends who hasn’t been touched in some way by sexual abuse. My sister and I were always urged to be wary of men by our mother who at the age of fourteen had been groped by her much older brother-in-law. She told her mother who didn’t believe her and warned her not to make trouble. My mother’s solution was to never be alone with him again and to make sure neither my sister nor I ever were either. That early awareness that people weren’t always what they appear to be didn’t always keep us safe though.
My first encounter with the thorny issue of tell/don’t tell came in primary school aged about eight. I was chosen along with two other girls to be a biscuit monitor at play time and as we were getting the biscuits from the stockroom one of the girls revealed that her grandfather was abusing her. Conscious only of the gravity of the situation we all went hand in hand to tell the teacher who listened carefully and sent us on our way. Before the day was up we were all called into the headmaster’s office and given the scolding of our lives for telling ‘nasty lies’. I for one never spoke of it again and I have no idea what became of the other two girls.
Later on in my teens we all knew who the ‘pervy’ dads were, the ones you had to avoid being left on your own with. A couple of friends who weren’t quick enough on their feet found themselves fending off unwanted touches but despite it being openly discussed none of us did anything about it. Likewise with ‘handjob gennel’ so named because of the local boy who would trap lone girls in the gennel and only let them pass once they’d performed a handjob.
The astonishing fact that the boy got away with this for years can only be explained in the context of the level of fear he struck into every teenager’s heart. He was a vicious thug, eventually expelled from school and dispatched to a ‘special’ school for almost beating a boy to death. Trapped in that gennel I and I’m sure every other girl on my estate, felt in genuine fear for our lives.
Once you mature into adulthood it becomes easier to avoid unwanted attention but even then I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been grabbed, slapped and slobbered on all in the name of friendly fun. Your intellect screams that you should be speaking out but some ingrained fear of causing a scene or rocking the boat makes you keep quiet and simply warn your friends to avoid the ‘lech’.
I had hoped that for young women the sexual minefield had perhaps become easier to navigate but it appears not. There are always going to be men who take advantage and now it seems the legal system is collaborating in making sure that women still won’t feel able to speak out.