Yes we do live in a rape culture and here is why

About a month ago I was out for leaving drinks with some work colleagues when a man grabbed my bum so hard I could still feel it 10 minutes later. When I turned round and called him out on it with a rage filled, indigent: ‘what the hell do you think you are doing?’ he looked sheepish and pointed at some poor woman who was walking past claiming she had done it.

I was so angry at that moment that I wanted to shout at him, to tell him that he had no right to touch me without my consent but I didn’t because, and I am ashamed to say this, there was this other part of me that didn’t want to make a scene. There was a part of my brain that told me I was in the wrong for being so outraged by it – it was not that the man who had grabbed me was harassing me but rather I was just being too uptight. After all it was nothing out of the ordinary. At that precise moment I was pretty sure there would be men groping women and grazing parts of their body in probably every club, pub and bar across the UK. Surely I was just making a big deal out of nothing?

So, rather than screaming at him or reporting it, I simply shot him a glare and turned away to try and order a round of drinks. The guy persisted on trying to talk to me even though it was clear I was ignoring him. I angrily stage whispered to the friend next to me: ‘that guy just grabbed my arse’. She looked sympathetically at me and also shot him a hard stare but again we didn’t make a scene.

As I continued to wait at the bar I could still not stop the feelings of violation and outrage, mixed with the concern that I was somehow blowing the whole situation out of proportion. I texted my boyfriend in anger and he replied sympathetically but again there was no suggestion that I confront him or report him. Ten minutes later when I was back on the dance floor I could still feel where the guy’s hand had been on my body so, as a cathartic release for all the pent up tension I was feeling, I stuck two fingers up at him in anger. He didn’t see me but it made me feel slightly better.

I then tried to let the feelings of violation and anger go for the rest of the evening so I could have fun with my friends, but in the morning the incident was still playing on my mind. It has been playing on my mind ever since. I am angry at myself for feeling that I couldn’t make a scene, for even contemplating that I was in the wrong for feeling outraged. I hate that a tiny voice in my head wants to quieten me when these things happen because ‘it is not a big deal and it is making something out of nothing’.

It is a big deal. At that moment I may have been one of thousands of women standing at a bar across the UK who received an unwelcome advance, grope, or graze from a man they did or did not know but that does not make it ok. If anything the fact that this is not an isolated incident makes it worse because it just goes to show that we live in a culture where such harassment is so ingrained that we just accept it as part and parcel of daily life.

This isn’t the only time I have experienced harassment and I doubt it will be the last. There was the time when a man stopped me in the street late at night to ask if he could (and this is a direct quote) ‘play with my pussy’. There was another incident during a night out at university when a man literally slapped me around the face as a pick-up line. Or there was the time a man tried to grind with me and when I moved away he tried to slag me off to a male friend of mine. When the friend in question defended me the guy tried to start a fight with him. These aren’t the only stories I have, they are just some of the more colourful ones. And I am not alone, every woman I know has a similar list of stories.

I know there are some people reading this – assuming they get this far – who will still try to argue that we do not live in a society that encourages and perpetrates misogamy, sexual harassment and rape. But the sad fact is we do.

We live in a world in which the likes of Brock Turner can be found guilty of three counts of sexual assault but only sentenced to six months in prison, then be released after serving just three. This is the same world where those defending Turner suggested his victim was somehow responsible for what happened to her due to the amount she had had to drink, whereas he was somehow less guilty and responsible for his action because of his own intoxication.

It is also a world where a woman’s sexual history can be dragged through the mud and used against her if she does report a rape or sexual assault. Regardless of how anyone feels about the Ched Evans rape case and the verdict it is abhorrent that his accuser’s ex-lovers were allowed to use their own sex life to testify against her. Again this is not an isolated incident. Going back to the Brock Turner case his defense used drunken and suggestive messages his victim sent to her own boyfriend as part of their case against her character.

A women’s previous and present sexual history and her private messages with her own boyfriend should never be used as evidence against them in a case of rape – because guess what? Women have and are allowed to have a sex life without it then being seen as a stain upon their character in the face of one of the worst kinds of violation and abuse you can imagine. Being sexual, drinking, and dressing in a certain way does not mean women are then responsible when another rational being makes the decision to touch or penetrate her without permission. That decision is on the perpetrator and the perpetrator alone.

And finally it is a world where the next President of the United States could very well be a man who thinks it is ok to ‘grab women by the pussy’. This is not locker room talk, it is not alpha male boasting and it is not what most men do. To suggest as such is an insult to the millions of respectful, decent men on the planet. And it is not the vulgar use of the word ‘pussy’ that is so outrageous in this statement but rather the word ‘grab’, which suggests that Trump believes he is entitled to touch and feel any woman he wants regardless of whether she wants him too or not. It is a predatory and violent word and it speaks volumes as to how he views woman more as objects for his pleasure rather than as actual people.

In the wake of all this it baffles me that some can argue we don’t live in a society that excuses and also in some instances actively encourages rape and sexual harassment. And it also upsets me that this really is not the society most of the men in my life want. They respect women and are as horrified as I am that treating women like autonomous, rational beings worthy of respect should be something they are praised for doing, because really it should just be how the world works – men should be treating women with respect and vice versa.

However until that happens then yes we are living in a society with a rape culture – and we need to start challenging the notion that just because things are part and parcel of life it does not mean they are right.

It is time we started telling ourselves and our friends that yes, you are entitled to make a scene when someone touches you inappropriately or without your permission because you are not in the wrong.

It is time we started shouting out loud that treating a women with respect and autonomy is not something you should be praised for doing because it is what any decent human being should be doing.

It is time we said enough is enough and stopped making excuses for those who choose of their own free will to rape.

It is degrading to both men and women and until we choose to stop ignoring the reality in which we live it will continue to damage the fabric of our society.

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