CN: full use of word r*pe, gang r*pe, sexual assault, r*pe apologism, victim shaming, abuse
I was gang raped when I was sixteen. I didn’t tell anybody what happened until this summer, but not for lack of opportunity: friends asked me where I’d disappeared to that night; my then-boyfriend asked me why I’d become painfully quiet; as I lay screaming in the back of the car, my mum explicitly asked me whether I’d been raped. Still, I kept quiet, trying to bury my trauma and the shame that came with it. Speaking about rape didn’t feel possible when I’d internalised what rape culture taught me; it was my fault, and no one would believe me.
The first time I heard about rape culture was at the age of nine, when a classmate told the myth of Philomel, Princess of Athens. Her tongue was ripped out after she was raped, so she would never tell another soul. Our society does pretty much the same – a bit subtler than tongue-ripping, but to similar effect. Time and time again, we shame survivors into silence with rape apologism; the belief that rapists can sometimes be excused, and the survivor can sometimes be to blame.
It’s a sickening attitude and one that should have been discarded in the dark ages, but it is incredibly common – according to an Amnesty study, a third of Britons still think a woman who flirts is partially or completely responsible for being raped, and over quarter think the woman is responsible for being raped if she’s dressed promiscuously or is drunk. Almost 70% of survivors worry they will be blamed so, when some of these rape apologisers will be in the police force or legal services, it’s no wonder that only 15% of people report being sexually assaulted. For survivors, silence is the norm.
‘Wearing a black top does very little unless it’s followed up with action, no matter how difficult. This includes cutting out friends who are accused of sexual assault’
The current climate of silence is being actively challenged, notably with the #MeToo movement after allegations against celebrities like Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K. and Woody Allen. More recently, celebrities wore black to the Golden Globes for Times Up, a campaign raising awareness about the prevalence and seriousness of sexual assault in Hollywood. Today, at Cambridge, students and staff have been urged to wear black tops in solidarity with survivors. It’s an inspiring movement and we should praise any campaign that raises awareness for sexual assault – all positive discussions will push us in the right direction. But it needs to be noted that Time’s Up is not enough; wearing a black top does very little unless it’s followed up with action, no matter how difficult. This includes cutting out friends who are accused of sexual assault.
#MeToo and Times Up have been hugely symbolic movements but, personally, I’ve been dreading today. On the Cambridge’s ‘Time’s Up’ Facebook event, I’ve been able to see who is attending, and the hypocrisy has been a slap in the face. 57 mutual friends have pressed ‘going’ and, whilst most are genuine allies, some sided with a particularly likeable rapist during first year. People are happy to show solidarity when it requires putting on a darks wash the night before, but not when it involves actually believing a rape survivor. The onus isn’t on Time’s Up organisers to prevent this and it’s certainly not what Time’s Up stands for, but wearing black has become a minimal effort way to earn some woke cookies. The problem with the Time’s Up campaign is the encouragement of performative allyship – rape apologists can wear black tops today, hang out with a rapist friend tomorrow, whilst convincing themselves they did their bit.
‘People are happy to show solidarity when it requires putting on a darks wash the night before, but not when it involves actually believing a rape survivor’
We shouldn’t get to pick who is a rapist based on how ‘likeable’ they are, and I’m sure rape apologists know this theoretically, but they still turn a blind eye when a friend is accused, time and time again. It’s easy to see how this happens – when the rapist is unknown or disliked, like Weinstein, it’s easy to feel the appropriate disgust because we don’t have any reason not to hate them. But when the rapist is a ‘nice guy’, the support dwindles; suddenly, the survivor was ‘drunk and probably can’t remember’, or perhaps ‘she just regretted having sex’, because after all ‘we can’t know what happened’. So who is time up for, exactly? Only the rapists we don’t like?
Perhaps the saddest part, the reason I won’t be leaving the house today, is that these black-wearing rape apologists don’t even note the hypocrisy. People who support rapists don’t usually think of themselves as rape apologists, because they genuinely don’t believe the survivor on any level – sickening, but hardly surprising when it’s so easy for rape apologism to go unchecked at Cambridge. In small colleges, everyone knows everything about everyone. We know what the survivor was wearing, how much they drank, whether they were flirtatious, how many previous partners they’ve had. We also know the rapist, and whether we like them. With all this personal information, something that should be black and white gets dissected like it’s a grey area up for academic debate – ‘what counts as rape?’ After a while, the survivors trauma is transformed into an interesting piece of drama and people are eager to pick out the plot holes, particularly when the rapist is a ‘nice guy’.
‘So who is time up for, exactly? Only the rapists we don’t like?’
Hopefully the momentum of this campaign will continue past January 19th, because a lasting change requires more than just a change of clothes. It requires allies to hold themselves accountable and recognise that rape culture doesn’t develop in a vacuum, to recognise that rape cultlure is upheld by their own actions. Most ‘woke’ rape apologists at Cambridge are fully aware of sexual assault, right down to the 1 in 4 statistic, but they aren’t willing to make difficult sacrifices to prevent it.
So what do survivors want of you, after you’ve worn your black top? Whilst donations are a good step to ensuring that Time’s Up isn’t purely performative, we need more. Supporting survivors doesn’t just require Me Too statuses and black clothing; it requires action and accountability, which includes believing rape accusations against all abusers, even if you like them. We need you to know that ‘nice guys’ can be rapists and people you dislike can be raped, and we want you to take personal action. If your friend has been accused of abuse – emotional, physical or sexual – don’t maintain that friendship. It’s not easy to cut out friends who have been accused of sexual assault, but it’s far harder for a survivor to sit through your victim blaming. Time will never be up for rapists if you choose to stay friends with them, black top or not.
Header image: © [boykovi1991] / Adobe Stock