Justice for rape in rape culture

18 months of denial, 18 months of pretending, of acting, of ignoring what I felt inside. And I was good at it, really good at it. I wanted to ignore, to get on with my life, to forget that night. That’s what I called it: that night. The night where a bike accident led me to accepting help, led to that trust being abused in the worst possible way.

I didn’t use the word, I didn’t admit to myself, never mind to others. But if I saw the word, it pierced me, like a lance, right through my heart. Rape. I knew what had happened, but I didn’t want to know. Because what I thought I knew was self blame, guilt, a feeling of worthlessness that left me taking out the anger I felt, not on him, but on myself.

It was overwhelming. As good as I was at ignoring it, in reality I was broken. But I was still me. I was still a self-proclaimed activist. I was still political, radical, out spoken. Though strangely, that just made it worse. The pressure was incredible. It felt like it was pushing in on me from every side. Every time I stood in front of a group and took them through a training, every time I initiated a conversation about power and oppression, every time I promoted calling out, speaking up, I felt like a hypocrite. Finally it was too much, I couldn’t forget, I couldn’t live with the knowledge.

I decided to go to the police, 18 months after it had happened, with no information about the process, there was no chance for questions – just a report book opened and details taken. Then the police officer ushered us out a side door, while the Havens worker was left to chase me down the street.

One week later, the day before my brother’s wedding with my family all still completely unaware, they pick me up for my interview. I sit in the back of the car, petrified, silent, alone. They chatter as we weave our way across London. The Christmas party, outfits to wear, who won’t be sleeping in their own bed that night, “You’re quiet, aren’t you?” the only comment thrown over a shoulder as I stare out the window and try to shut down my emotions.

“Oh it’s so close, we can stop on the way,” I hear one of them say. I haven’t even got to the interview and already I find myself trying to show them where it happened. My mind shuts down, I can’t recognise the front door. “There’s a roof terrace,” I say. Within minutes we’re standing on it, back door open, no inclination if he’s in.

Mentally I break down, inside my head I am screaming. But on the outside I am silent, all I can do is run away. My SOIT (Sexual Offences Investigative Trained) officer seems confused, “You alright?” she asks. “No of course I’m not,” I scream inside my head, “he could have been there, he could have seen me!” But in reality I stay silent, too shocked to know what to say. She takes that as me being frosty. Months go by with her thinking that’s the way I am.

The hardest part for many women of reporting rape to the police is the personal toll it takes on your life

I could go on. The process in itself leaves a million stories to tell. Unexpected calls from police officers at unsocial hours. Visits to police stations surrounded by the anger and hate of those in the waiting rooms. Trying to find a way to tell family, to tell friends, trying to take on their pain as well as my own. Knowing the police know that decisions have been made, knowing that they haven’t told me, waiting for calls that come days later than expected, lots of waiting. Ineptitude, systematic failures. And pain.

The hardest part for many women of reporting rape to the police is the personal toll it takes on your life. It is without doubt the single hardest personal thing I have ever had to deal with. It breaks you down bit by bit, it finds the cracks in your mental state and burrows right down inside them, then blasts them open for the whole world to see.

But for me the mental torture is not the biggest thing making me doubt whether I have made the right decision. For me a long running internal debate on what justice really means has been playing on my mind the whole time, letting doubt seep into those cracks along with the seemingly never ending personal pain.

The trial means I will be standing in court facing a jury. If they believe me, beyond reasonable doubt my rapist will go down on three counts and face a good few years in prison. But instead of relishing this prospect, the same question runs in my mind again and again: what good is that going to do?

My rapist wasn’t a sadistic male who premeditated on a crime, plotting and scheming before going out with intent to rape. He was a young opportunist who thought women were his to have. He must take responsibility for his own actions. He made a bad decision. The fault lies solely at his own feet. But he is a product of the society we live in.

I don’t want to gain retribution or revenge, what I want most of all is an acceptance of guilt and a meaningful apology

I mean it’s not like he’s the only guy who thinks that women are his to have, right? And it’s not like they came to this conclusion by themselves. Every time they turn on the television, open a magazine, or a newspaper, browse the internet, look up at a billboard, young men are bombarded by a culture that reinforces this view. In conversations up and down the country every night this view is validated, perpetuated and believed. We live in a rape culture.

So what good is sending one young man to prison going to do? If you ask me, a better form of justice would be to make him confront his crimes and understand better our culture so he can work to better himself and better society. Ideas such as transformational justice, in which a community works with both victim and perpetrator to transform themselves and the society they live in seem like a much better option to me. I want to change something, not gain retribution or revenge. What I want most of all is an acceptance of guilt, an understanding that what he did was wrong, and a meaningful apology. This may be unlikely in any case, and I may be being naïve, but with our justice system as it is, it is almost impossible. So I am eternally left wondering why I am taking part in a justice system I have so little faith in?

No woman going into court can ever hope to get a fair trial when the culture we come from is so screwed up

Of course maybe I’m worrying for nothing. The likelihood of my rapist being sent to prison is pretty small anyway, because he is not living in a rape culture bubble. When I stand and tell a jury what happened, they will decide his fate. And they all too live in a rape culture. Did you go inside willingly? Had you had a drink? Why didn’t you fight? What were you wearing? No woman going into court can ever hope to get a fair trial when the culture we come from is so screwed up.

And that is why after endless soul searching, even though I have my doubts in this system I have to do this. Because we have to change this. We have to eradicate our rape culture. And to do this we have to fight on every battle ground. Our justice system may not be perfect, but it is one step in sending a message that this is not acceptable. And for many women it is the best justice they can ever hope for.

On several occasions, I have felt more alone than I ever thought it was possible. Every day I feel like I am fighting this by myself. When I take the stand, I am a single voice in a courtroom inside our rape culture society. But I know I am not alone. I am there with the 80,000 other women who were attacked the same year as me, with the 45% of women who will suffer some form of domestic or sexual violence in their life time , with the thousands of brave women who report their assaults and their rapes but who have to face the inept police system. And I fight for them.

I fight because through the denial, the self blame, the guilt, the pressure, through the system, the ineptitude, systematic failures and pain, through all of this I was never really alone. I was only ever one of many. And I can’t let anyone else go through this hell knowing I didn’t try to change something. So I will continue my fight in the courtroom and in the streets.

And I will not be alone.

First picture of police tape uploaded by Flickr user freefotouk. Second picture of graffiti reading “No more rape” uploaded by Flickr user Steve Rhodes. Third picture of a protest with a sign reading “End rape culture” uploaded by Flickr user CMCarterSS.

Annie Moran is a pseudonym

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