“You’re not like a rape victim”
That’s what someone years ago said to me, when I pulled him up on some shit he was talking about rape. I can’t remember the exact stuff he was saying, but it was the usual stuff I expect, about how rape victims ask for it and how rapists can’t help it. I pointed out that for all he knew, I might be a rape victim, so what the hell did he think he was doing saying things like that about rape?
And that’s when he said it. That I wasn’t like a rape victim. Which made it clear, that he had a certain idea of what rape victims were like. An idea which didn’t fit with me and what I was like. Which is a bit misleading, because I was a rape victim, though of course I didn’t tell him that.
So what is a rape victim like?
When I first thought about this, I found myself at a bit of a loss. I've thought loads about rape over the years, about rape myths, consent, victim-blaming - you know, all the stuff you usually engage with. But for some reason, I hadn't thought about that image of the rape victim. I hadn't been able to face that. So I asked around because it seemed easier to get other people to tell me how I would have been categorised all these years, than to try and imagine it myself.
What people came up with, imagine your surprise, is that as with so many other images of women, the Madonna / Whore dichotomy is present for rape victims/ survivors as much as it is for all women
So first to the Madonna Rape Victim:
She is preferably a virgin or if not, pregnant or married, who has never done anything exciting or interesting or likely to cause any eyebrow-raising. She’s possibly a bit naieve, not very streetwise or assertive and too trusting. She must not have been drunk or wearing anything revealing at the time of the rape (or at any other time). She will not have known or been personally acquainted in any way, with her rapist prior to the rape.
Afterwards, she is required to be broken by the rape; afraid to go out, untrusting of men, timid, scared and has gone off sex forever. She can never enjoy sex again unless it is with a pre-existing boyfriend or husband. If her personality is outspoken, vocal or assertive, she will be deemed not to have been a rape victim, so she had better be unassertive and shy.
Now for the Whore rape victim:
She will have been drunk at the time of rape, or on drugs or at least have had one alcoholic drink. She would have been wearing a short skirt, low cut top or other sexualised item of clothing. She was not a virgin at the time of the rape and she may well have either been single or had lots of boyfriends (by which I mean more than 3) in the past. She knew her rapist or had exchanged social niceties with him before the rape and she gets more whore-points if she had either kissed him or flirted with him. She gets whore-points full-house if she had consensual sex with him on any other occasion before the rape. The fact that she was raped, proves that she wasn't very careful, prudent or sensible.
Afterwards, if she has lots of lovers and treats sex casually, this will be seen as evidence that she wasn’t really raped. Because someone who likes sex so much, or doesn't think it's that important, can't have been raped, right?
When I was raped, I wasn’t a virgin; I’d had one lover, though sex was still quite new to me. I’d had an alcoholic drink, though I wasn’t drunk. Afterwards, I went out with my rapist and later still, I had a series of casual, “no strings” relationships (which were much less usual in those days than they are now - the term “fuck-buddy” hadn’t been invented) and one night stands
All this clearly put me in the Whore rape victim box, rather than the Madonna one. And here’s the thing: most rape victims get put in the Whore rape victim box, because it’s actually quite hard to make it into the Madonna one. Even in the small percentage of cases where women are the victims of the classic stranger in the bushes/ dark alley scenario, that's not enough to get you into the Madonna box; you have to meet the dress, personality and behaviour criteria as well as the stranger rape criteria.
Being in the Whore rape victim box, means that either you weren’t really raped and you are making a big fat fuss about nothing, or that you maybe were raped a bit, but you probably asked for it, deserved it or at least didn't do enough to avoid it. Since most rape victims belong in this box and deep down, we know that that is how we will be categorised, it is no wonder that we’re not keen on reporting rape or even telling the people in our lives on whom we should be able to rely on for support, about our experiences of rape.
We know that they will instantly see us with different eyes; we will be cut off from normal women, who haven’t been raped and even if we get put in the Madonna box, we’re still “othered” as rape victims, people who weren’t able to keep themselves safe from predators - at the kindest, incompetent or foolish. That's the best estimate of our character, that we can hope for. But for most of us, that's too high a bar; we'll be judged as feckless tarts who would inevitably end up getting raped sometime.
Because rape is not something a man chooses to do to someone; it‘s a natural phenomenon, like the rain or wind; sensible people will take umbrellas out with them and those who don‘t, will get rained on. Rape is presented as something women can avoid, like the rain, but those who don‘t, are a special breed of women apart from all others; something about them meant that nature picked them out to be raped; it wasn‘t something about the rapist that caused them to be raped, it was something about them.
When that man told me that I wasn‘t like a rape victim, that shut me up about being raped for nearly a quarter of a century. He didn‘t know it, but he was telling me that if I spoke up about having been raped, I would be declaring myself different from all other women. I didn’t analyse it at the time, but at a gut level I knew that to be a rape victim, meant to be either the Madonna or the Whore type and I knew I didn’t fit into the Madonna box.
So I shut up for twenty-five years. That’s what the othering of rape victims does to us - it silences us.
And now I'm no longer silent. Not like a rape victim, then.