Trigger warning: discussion of rape.
Note: This post has been updated since its original publication. I just kept having more to say on the subject. Also, I’d like to amend “silent” in the title because while many survivors choose not to report, we are often far from silent about our rapes. This is about the choice not to report a rape to the police.
I am a multiple rape survivor. I have experienced what it’s like to report rape and I have chosen not to report rape. And although I want all rapists caught and punished, I fully support every survivor’s right to choose whether to report rape and I do not question any survivor’s choice no matter what. For me—and for most of the feminists I know—this is fundamental.
A recent post on Fiending for Hope discussed the choice not to report a rape as an act of self-care and something to be respected. She went so far as to suggest that survivors who choose not to report are courageous:
People that do choose to report their rapes are incredibly courageous and I support them so freaking hard. But those of us that don’t choose to report are no less courageous.
She didn’t claim that the choice not to report required the same amount of courage as choosing to report and face the consequences which will likely include being grilled about every choice she made leading up to the rape and immediately after. She merely stated that choosing not to report doesn’t make you less courageous. I agree with her (on all counts—read the piece if you haven’t) and will take it a step further: I believe that choosing not to report requires courage (of perhaps a different kind), and I don’t think that there’s a mathematical formula you can apply that will determine which survivor must display more courage. It’s not a contest, and every survivor must be courageous—sometimes just to get up in the morning and live our lives. But while choosing to report a rape may require the courage to deal with systemic abuse of rape survivors, choosing not to report—choosing instead to take care of yourself first and foremost—requires the courage to deal with the fallout when people hold you responsible for the rapist’s future actions.
Because there are still those who believe that a rape survivor owes it to society to report rape—as though by doing that we are protecting society from a rapist—and hold survivors who don’t report responsible for rapists running free. I saw some of this in the reaction to the piece in question—and to the quote above. The idea that a survivor might choose not to report a rape is, to some, not a courageous act but a cowardly one—one that leaves a rapist at large, and so, endangers others.
Fun fact: 97% of rapists never serve time. It’s estimated that about 46% of rapes get reported, only 12% of rapists ever get arrested, and only 3% go to jail. So how, exactly, am I protecting society by reporting my rape when the odds are the rapist will never see the inside of a prison cell? When, in fact, there’s a good chance that my rape kit will sit untested on a shelf for years—possibly decades?* How the fuck do you take a rapist to trial without testing a rape kit? You don’t. (Hence the 9% of rapists who get prosecuted.)
I don’t know the percentage of female rape survivors who report and are subsequently treated like criminals and interrogated about their clothing choices, how much they had to drink, how many sexual partners they’ve had and whether their attacker was one of them, whether the “sex” was actually consensual but they regretted it later…but I’m guessing the percentage high based on pretty much every survivor I’ve read or talked to. So when people say that a survivor owes it to the rest of us to endure this scrutiny and shaming even knowing that the rapist is going to walk free almost every single time, they are basically saying, “If you don’t run the gauntlet, you’re responsible for all future rapes this perp commits.”
A rape survivor is never, ever responsible for future rapes perpetrated by his or her rapist. I mean, the fact that I actually have to say that… But you know, I do. And for anyone out there who questions a survivor’s choice not to report, I’d like you to think about the following:
Would you support a rape survivor’s choice not to report a rape because…
…he feared for his life?
…she was drunk and can’t identify her attacker?
…his attacker threatened his family?
…her attacker is already on trial for another rape?
…his attacker was a family member dying of cancer?
…her attacker got hit by a truck right after the rape and so will never be able to rape again?
If you answered yes to any of these questions (or can conceive of any possible circumstance under which you would be ok with not reporting), then you support a rape survivor’s right to choose whether to report. And so, to question any survivor’s choice to report a rape is bullshit because you have no idea why they are choosing not to report and IT’S NONE OF YOUR GODDAMNED BUSINESS.
Out of three rapes, I reported the first two. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about whether to report the first time, but the second time I was afraid it wasn’t rape because I didn’t fight, and a police officer convinced me that it was indeed rape and took my report. Neither of these times did it ever occur to me not to file a report, so no particular courage was required for me to do so. I wasn’t out to save anyone—I was a mess and I did what people told me to do. What required courage was dealing with the aftermath of having reported—the disbelief, the betrayals, the trial in the first case where a public defender sputtered accusations at me, the 12-year-old victim, as I sat on the stand after months of build up. The third time circumstances were complicated enough that reporting seemed utterly futile based on my experience with the system. I did not display courage in choosing not to report; I just did what I had to do. But I wasn’t *more* courageous when I reported the previous rapes than someone who chooses not to simply by virtue of filing a report, and to say I was is bullshit. And furthermore, I can’t conceive for one second of holding a prior victim of any of the men who raped me responsible for my rapes.
Like Britni says:
We all have our own stories and our own reasons for making the choices that we make. It’s important to remember that survivors make the choices that are best for them– not the choices YOU think are best for them. And all of those choices are valid. All of them.
Rape survivors don’t owe anyone anything. They certainly don’t owe us their continued pain and suffering so that we as a society can blame them for their rapes and lament the ruination of their rapists’ lives and ultimately let the rapist go free most of the time. They don’t owe us that.
I am a multiple rape survivor. I have reported rape and I have chosen not to report rape. Both choices ultimately required courage and still do. Every fucking day of my life.
*True story: To the best of my knowledge, one of my rape kits has been sitting untested on a shelf in Texas since 1981.
UPDATE: The #WhyIDidntReport hashtag on Twitter, which was started by @ethiopiennesays soon after I posted this piece, saw tens of thousands of tweets from survivors sharing their stories of why they chose not to report their rapes. If you can read their stories and walk away believing survivors have a duty to report or that reporting somehow equals justice, then there’s very likely nothing anyone can say that will change your mind.
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
- Choosing Not to Report a Rape as a Form of Self Care (Fiending for Hope)
- Stop telling survivors they must report to the police (Feministing)
- Study suggests police systematically undercount rape reports (Feministing)
- 97 Out of 100 Rapists Receive No Punishment (RAINN)
- Carceral Feminism Will Not End Sexual Violence (Fiending For Hope)
[Trigger Warning for discussion of rape.]
Why didn’t you fight back?
There was a hammer nearby—why didn’t you use it to defend yourself?
Why didn’t you scream? There were houses nearby—someone would have heard you.
You were carrying a knife—why didn’t you stab him?
These are questions people have asked me about my rapes. Regular people asked. Cops and lawyers asked. All of them asked because they were skeptical about what happened to me or it was their job to tear me apart (or to get the answers to all the obvious questions before shelving my rape kit and pretending the whole thing never happened). It’s no secret that many people believe that if you don’t fight back or scream or act in the ways we’ve been taught rape victims act, then it’s not really rape.
I’m here to tell you that there are dozens of reasons a rape victim might be unable or unwilling to fight or scream. And there are some very good reasons why she (or he) might not fit the profile television and movies have created of the perfect victim–one we can get behind because there’s no question in our minds that she is a victim. She fights tooth and nail, screams until her voice fails, and perhaps most importantly, she remains the perfect victim for the proper period of time after the rape. She looks the way you expect her to: pale and stunned. She behaves the way you expect her to: timid and shaken. And there are rules.
I recently rewatched the first season of Game of Thrones. Among other things, I was struck by the scene in which Tyrion, Bron, and Shae are playing drinking games and Tyrion reveals the sad story of his brief marriage to a woman he and his brother rescued from “rapers” who turned out to be a “whore.” Shae tells him he should have known:
“A girl who is almost raped doesn’t invite another man into her bed two hours later.”
Just so no one is confused: this statement is bullshit. It seems to be an assumption on the part of the show’s writers—I don’t believe it’s one that the character, Shae, would ever make (although I allow that she might). Because if you’ve ever been raped (or almost raped) you know that things don’t play out in real life the way they do in our assumptions. Our assumptions are based on the rape victims we see on tv and in movies—those perfect victims I described above. There are no rules about what a woman (or man) who has been raped or “almost raped” will do, how she will behave, or whether she will decide to go ahead and fuck an entire soccer team later that night. There are no rules because none of those things are indicators of whether she was “really” raped and assuming that they are amounts to blaming the victim.
I wouldn’t blame you (much) if right now you’re asking, “But Rosie, why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you use the hammer or the knife?” The point of this post is to explain those things and hopefully squash some of these assumptions like ticks. So, I’ll tell you why.
The first time I was raped the rapist told me if I made a sound he would take that hammer and bash my brains in. So I didn’t scream, and it never even occurred to me to use the hammer against him.
Because it wasn’t a movie and I wasn’t Buffy. I was a twelve-year-old girl whose mind simply could not conceive of what was happening to her. And I wasn’t the perfect victim, either, because a few days later when a neighborhood boy rushed up to console me I found myself wondering, at first, what he was on about. I had been raped, spent a night in the ER and with the cops, spent a couple of days at home, and now I was back at school and back to running around the neighborhood with my friends. My mind was attempting to let me be a kid again, but don’t think for a second that it helped—it only made people suspicious. “It’s your word against his,” they told me, because like most rape victims, my rapist was someone I—and everyone else in my neighborhood—knew.
The second time I was raped I was in an apartment where children were sleeping in the next room. I didn’t want to wake them to my nightmare. So I didn’t scream. And yes indeed, Officer Helpful, I did have a knife on me. It was a sort of dagger thing and I have no idea where I picked it up, but a friend had made a sheath for it and I loved it. But I had never used a weapon in my life and I don’t even think I thought of my knife as a way to protect myself. It was just a cool thing I had. It honestly never crossed my mind to figure out whether it was even within reach. If it had been, would I have plunged it into the man on top of me? I don’t believe so.
Because it wasn’t a movie and I wasn’t Buffy. I was a sixteen-year-old girl being raped for the second time and all I could think to do was survive it.
Some victims don’t scream or fight back because a type of paralysis sets in and prevents them from doing anything at all. Some don’t react the way they imagined they might because they can’t wrap their heads around the fact that it’s even happening. Some don’t realize that what’s happening to them is rape because they’re making out with their boyfriend and all the sudden he’s inside them and they believe that they somehow “gave the wrong signal” or otherwise brought it on themselves and it can’t be rape if it’s your boyfriend, can it? It can’t be rape if you were making out, can it? What if you’re drunk?
The only question should be “did sexual contact occur without consent?” and if the answer is “yes,” then guess what? It was rape.
The point is, it doesn’t matter what a rape victim did or didn’t do before, during, or after the rape. The only thing that matters is consent. So if you came to this post carrying assumptions about perfect victims who behave like you think they ought to and scream when you think they should and fight like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I’m hoping you’ll leave with a better understanding of how those assumptions hinder your ability to empathize with me and other survivors. If you know someone who harbors these assumptions, I’m hoping you’ll share this with them and maybe help them understand that the only rule is there are no rules when it comes to how rape victims behave.
This is not a movie and we are not Buffy. We are individual men and women and there’s no telling how any of us will react in a given situation. And in a situation like the one we’re discussing, all bets are off.
Let’s put our assumptions aside and choose empathy, shall we?
Note: Rape happens to men and women and people all over the gender spectrum. The tropes and assumptions I’m addressing here are mostly about rape victims who are women, so I have often used the female pronoun.
- The Toughest Woman You Know Has Been Raped (snipe.net)
- A Brief History (the Bad Parts Version) (Make Me a Sammich)
- I Am Jane Doe (Make Me a Sammich)
- I Didn’t Know it was Sexual Assault (Make Me a Sammich)
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
For anyone who thought that Penny Arcade and their lovable firebrand Gabe had learned anything from Dickwolves, Tentacle Bento, Gabe’s most recent outburst, or anything ever at all, news out of PAX yesterday should set you straight. In a Q&A, Mike “Gabe” Krahulik said he believed the company made a mistake in removing the “Dickwolves” merchandise they created not only to celebrate a rape joke but to ridicule critics (many of whom are rape survivors). If this is all new to you, you can read the whole sad, sorry timeline and catch up. The kicker? This time it wasn’t just Gabe talking out his ass. PA’s business manager backed him up.
Here’s yesterday’s entry from the Dickwolves Debacle timeline (emphasis mine):
On stage at PAX, Mike Krahulik (Gabe) says he regrets removing the Dickwolves merchandise from the Penny Arcade store. Robert Khoo, Penny Arcade’s business manager, agrees that those who were offended by it should have been ignored rather than engaged.
There’s video if you have the stomach for it. So far, I do not.
And from Alex Hern at The New Statesman this morning:
Today, that excuse is not available. These ideas have been mainstreamed to the extent that Krahulik and Holkins cannot get away with pretending that it’s only a vocal minority who see problems with using rape as a punchline which don’t extend to problems with using murder in the same way. But the last three years have not seen the pair toning down the rhetoric. From Holkins writing about the “censorship” of criticising a game’s exaggerated female characters to Krahulik being dismissive of trans people (leading to a $20,000 donation to the Trevor project), there have been no end of sub-dickwolves controversies, causing one prominent indie developer to pull out of their shows entirely. The Financial Post’s Daniel Kaszor summed them up in an article titled “Penny Arcade needs to fix its Krahulik problem“.
I’m going to say this again for anyone who didn’t hear me the first couple of times: Penny Arcade and Gabe/Tycho are major game industry influencers and as such, they have a responsibility to Not Be Dicks about stuff that affects a large portion of their audience and their community. In Gabe’s last apology for being an ignorant ass, he said he was going to keep his mouth shut to avoid doing any more damage to the PA/PAX brand. Apparently he forgot to do that. Now he’s doubled-down on his rape-apologist bullshit, and his BUSINESS MANAGER BACKED HIM UP. And I imagine Tycho is doing his ostrich act as usual.
Please don’t tell me this is “just Gabe,” and that “Penny Arcade does Childsplay” or “look, Tycho defended a rape victim the other day!” because none of that matters in this context. You don’t get to do Bad Things and get off the hook because you also do Good Things. Gabe just told a room full of fanboys (like the ones who supported PA’s original rape joke by dubbing themselves “Team Rape”) that Penny Arcade’s mistake when it came to the Dickwolves Debacle was NOT SELLING T-SHIRTS. If you’re still willing to give him a pass–to give Penny Arcade and PAX a pass–then please at least examine and acknowledge the fact that you are doing so despite the fact that they repeatedly shit on rape survivors and anyone else who calls them out on their shit.
I understand that some of my friends have to go to PAX for work. I get that some people feel that they don’t have a choice. I’m not judging them. I’m judging Mike Krahulik, Robert Khoo, and Penny Arcade and finding them rape apologists with no remorse. And considering how many people are rape survivors, they are apologizing for the perpetrators of rapes committed against a significant percentage of their audience and the games industry/community at large.
I’m not launching a campaign–not today, anyway. I’m just asking each of you to really stop and think about this if you’re in any doubt–about costs and benefits and consequences and influence. I’m asking you to speak up about this. Talk to your friends and colleagues. Have a conversation about how industry influencers who spread the message that rape is funny and rape survivors need to “get a sense of humor” are doing damage to our society. How rape culture is a real thing and Penny Arcade are currently its standard-bearers in the games industry. And then let’s come up with a way to either counter that influence or get them to once-and-for-all denounce all this bullshit and take steps to make it right.
Clever closing here. I’m just so sick of this shit. I’ll leave you with another line from Alex Hern’s piece in The New Statesmen (emphasis mine):
But by reopening the wound that first suggested that all was not well at Penny Arcade, Krahulik has also firmly reopened the debate about whether the pair can be trusted with the power they have in gaming.
Update: Because I wasn’t there and haven’t watched the video, I was not aware that the audience cheered these remarks. I am just sick.
Update 2 (9/4): I just learned about this. From what I understand, a member of their Enforcer staff accused another of repeated incidents of sexual harassment, they quietly got rid of the guy, and PA mods shut down the forum thread where people were discussing the incident/issue, offering support and corroborating stories of harassment. I don’t know about you, but I feel kinda like putting another tick in the “Ways Penny Arcade Perpetuates Rape Culture” column.
Update 3 (9/5): Gabe has published a response to the Internet response to his comments at the Q&A. I think he has a lot of good things to say, but I do not think he has adequately explained why he thinks continuing to sell the shirts would have been a good idea. He has listed it among several other “mistakes” that fueled the fire, when the only fire removing the merch fueled (that I know of) was that of Team Rape’s entitled rage. He is still saying that NOT selling t-shirts that ridiculed survivors was a mistake. And that tells me that even though he’s sorry he hurt people on some level, on another level he still doesn’t get how selling those shirts would have hurt–and kept on hurting–those very same people. What do you think?
Update 4 (9/5): Here is my response.
- “Resolutions”: Penny Arcade rewrites history in its latest “Dickwolves” apologia (Media Darlings)
- Dear Gabe: I Don’t Hate You, but We Need to Talk (makemeasammich)
- Moving Forward With PAX (Gamers Against Bigotry)
- How PAX Broke My Heart (Video Games Quality Snark)
- Why I’m Never Going Back to Penny Arcade Expo (Wired)
DO NOTENGAGE: Dickwolves, Again. (Gamers Against Bigotry)
- I Can’t Go Back, or Why I’m So Bent Out of Shape About Penny Arcade (A Dream Come True)
- Pax, You’ve Gone And Done It: An Open Letter (Shoshana Kessock)
- Why I’m Quitting PAX (Lillian Cohen-Moore)
- An open letter to Jerry Holkins (Love Conquers All Games)
- Penny Arcade and the Slow Murder of Satire (Mammon Machine)
- Download Code: Penny Arcade needs to fix its Krahulik problem (Financial Post)
- Penny Arcade reopens the “dickwolves” controversy (The New Statesman)
- Quit Fucking Going To PAX Already, What Is Wrong With You (ElizabethSampat)
- Penny Arcade Artist: Pulling Dickwolves Merchandise ‘Was a Mistake’ (kotaku.com)
- Penny Arcade’s Gabe is Willfuly Ignorant (Again) (makemeasammich)
- No Sacred Cows (makemeasammich)
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Trigger Warning: This post is about rape.
I was fourteen years old the night my friend G took me to my first kegger. We told my mom we were going to “a little get together.” I remember almost nothing about the evening—flashes, mostly. I remember absolutely nothing about being raped that night.
I might never have known about it, except that N–a woman I’d met the night before–mentioned it casually the next morning when I woke in a strange house with what might have been my first hangover. I don’t remember the words she used, just the image they evokedof me passed out in a bed and two men doing whatever they wanted with me.
Apparently G had left me at the party—I never learned why, but I assume that I was either passed out or otherwise resisted leaving. I never asked him. Sitting there with N that morning, I barely remembered that he’d brought me. I don’t remember worrying that I’d be in trouble for not going home the night before. I don’t remember anything but a sick feeling in my gut and the vague thought that “I guess that’s what happens when you get drunk and pass out.”
N didn’t seem particularly bothered by it. I’d soon learn that she wasn’t bothered by much. If I’d heard the term “sex positive” back then I would have assumed it applied to her because when it came to N and sex, the answer was always “yes.” By comparison, even as promiscuous as I eventually became, I always felt like a prude. And I felt like one that morning because I knew I wasn’t okay with what had happened, and yet, here was this woman ten years older than I who seemed to think it was no big deal.
So that’s how I treated it. I put it out of my mind, and I never once thought of it as rape. Rape was what happened to me when I was twelve and a boy forced himself on me and I fought with every fiber of my being. That was when I went to the police and lost friends and created a scandal in my community. This was different—it was my fault for passing out and leaving my body lying around for other people to use.
I never thought of it as rape until it happened again. I was 35 or so, out drinking, went back to someone’s place after the bar closed to smoke some pot, and woke up on a couch with a man’s penis inside me. So disoriented it took me a moment to realize what was happening and shove him off me, I first assumed that I just didn’t remember somehow letting things get started with this person I had absolutely no sexual interest in. I left him sitting on his couch looking down at his lap, and I walked home in the dark, and I blamed myself and shamed myself and felt like the most disgusting slut in the world.
And then I remembered:
We’d smoked some pot, and I’d felt really tired. I’d curled up on his couch just to rest for a moment. I had passed out. Between the alcohol, the pot, and my anti-depressants (and it’s entirely possible he slipped me something, I have no way of knowing at this point) I was good and unconscious for I don’t know how long. Until some part of me realized my body was in the middle of a sex act I hadn’t consented to.
It wasn’t my fault. I feel the need to say that because it wasn’t, and because I want anyone reading this who has experienced something similar to know that it isn’t your fault, either. We never know when we walk out the door when we’re going to find ourselves in the presence of a rapist. We can take precautions and self-defense classes, maintain a constant state of awareness of our surroundings, only ever drink at home, and still get raped. I know because the first time I got raped I was just hanging out with friends smoking a joint. I know because most women who experience rape are not drunk or dressed provocatively or in any way “asking for it.” Most victims are raped by someone they know, and it usually happens in their own home or that of a friend or relative.
Rape isn’t the logical conclusion to a night of drink ending in unconsciousness. In a civilized society, it should never be a thing about which we say, “What did she expect?” If the crime was murder, we never would. Because drunk girls don’t cause murder any more than they cause rape.
What causes rape? Rapists. People who believe on some level or other that they are entitled to use someone else’s body for their sexual gratification or rage/power/fantasy-fulfillment.
I’m grateful for the guilty verdict in the Steubenville case today. I’m outraged that the judge verbally admonished the boys for irresponsible behavior while drinking (including texting dirty pictures), but not for rape. I’m disgusted at the slap on the wrist these boys got in the form of one- and two-year sentences. But I’m hoping out of all this comes a real conversation about the culture that produces boys who aren’t even sure what rape is when they see it, and a system that treats rape victims like criminals.
Also, Jane Doe is donating all funds sent her way to her local women’s shelter and is asking that others do the same. (Worth reading.)
For more background on my history of abuse, read A Brief History (the Bad-Parts Version).
For a great breakdown of Steubenville and rape culture, read So You’re Tired of Hearing About “Rape Culture”?
And for commenters who would still like me to take responsibility for my rapes:
PSA: Trolls who comment here will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
On Make Me a Sammich:
- A Brief History (the Bad Parts version)
- #IStandWithDylan – My Story of Childhood Sexual Abuse
- 10 Things Rape is Not
- #SAAM Facts: Arm Yourself
- Letter from Another Jane Doe
- Bree’s Story