Trigger warning: this post deals with rape and sexual assault.
NUS Scotland's vice-president communities, Kirsty Haigh, writes about her experience of rape and sexual assault, and the importance of feminism to ending rape and lad culture.
I was raped. That’s never really a sentence I thought I would say out loud and definitely not write in a blog for the whole world to see but, there you have it, I was raped.
Over the past month, the reasons why I decided to become more involved in the feminist movement have been on my mind more than ever. There’s hundreds of reasons to get involved in the movement but often, for lots of people, it’s the personal experiences they’ve had that fuel them to get active. For me this was definitely the case. I was interested and involved in feminism before but after my experiences I knew feminism couldn’t just be a hobby on the side.
People too often think of rape as something that happens in a back alley by some big scary stranger when in actuality the majority are committed by someone the victim knows.
I was in my bed in my first year halls when I woke up covered in blood. I didn’t think about it much at the time, all I wanted was for it to go away. Shower, clean the sheets, pretend nothing has happened. Shower, clean the sheets, pretend nothing has happened. That was really all that was going through, and all I let go through, my head. I bundled up all the bedsheets and threw them straight out. By the time my flatmates were up it was as though I was just getting out of my bed after going out the night before.
One of my school friends had come to see me and I’d been looking forward to it for ages. Naturally playing a two person game of ring of fire seemed like a good idea and so we cracked on flipping the cards and taking our drinks. My friend got a forfeit which meant we excitedly ran down to the courtyard where, as you do in first year, we made friends with the first people we bumped into and joined them in their block for a party. The drink was flowing, everyone was dancing on the tables and everyone having a cracking time.
As the hours ticked by we soon decided that as great as our night had been sleep was needed. My friend and I parted ways in the courtyard (they are from Edinburgh so it wasn’t a pain to go home). And so, off to bed I wandered.
I don’t really know what happened next. I went to sleep and I woke up to a man in my room. I don’t really know anything about him except he had dark clothing and dark hair but the next thing I can be sure of is I woke up covered in blood.
The question of what a victim was wearing is always irrelevant but if you’ve ever thought it then you can feel silly because I had been in my not at all sexy pyjamas.
I told my flatmates I had a great night, and in many ways I did.
For those of you who know me this will be a shock for a number of reasons but mainly because I don’t really like to talk about my feelings. I had never planned to make this public knowledge and had only ever told my long-term boyfriend about this. I didn’t even think about or admit to myself what had happened properly until about 8 months later.
When recently my friend told me of her experience, they told me that what happened to them was their fault really as they had given up saying no. It was not her fault. It never is the victim's fault. If and when you say no you mean no and no one should ever keep pushing until you give up or can no longer fight it. It was this that more than ever made me realise how important it is to talk to about these things when/if we are able.
She told me that I would have never let it happen to me, that I’m a strong person. Well, it did happen to me, and it can happen to anyone.
Proper sexual education is vitally important. It won’t eradicate these crimes but it can go a long way in changing the culture that makes them seem more acceptable. People need to understand and talk about consent. Yes means yes, no means no and if you’re unsure then just ask. People need to be able to understand and talk about sex. People should be able to talk about sex in a way that goes beyond a drinking game or trying to one up your friends.
While this is the worst of my experiences sadly it’s not the only time I have experienced sexual assault at University and I couldn’t even count the number of times I have been sexually harassed (at least every second time in a night club). My friend and I went to an afterparty and I went with the host to find some cards in his room. Soon after entering the room he locked the door and kept trying to kiss me. At first I tried to laugh it off and told him to let me out but after what felt like about half an hour (although must have only been about 5 minutes) . Eventually, thankfully, I was lucky enough to be able to pull myself together and make it very clear that I was going to scream the building down if he didn’t let me out of his bedroom.
There’s been times in night clubs or at Uni where I’ve seen this guy and so I simply just leave, however I shouldn’t have to just leave. I should feel safe around my own campus. I saw him at a party one time and he told me he was sorry about the last time and he hadn’t meant it in a bad way. Indeed, the next time I saw him at a party he said it again. The first time I just looked at him blankly and walked away but the second time I managed to say that I was glad he had thought about it and realised it wasn’t okay.
I know there are lots of friends in my circle who have had similar experiences or been domestically abused. Sadly it’s not a rare thing. We need to start tackling rape culture and changing the way our society views these crime. We need to end that culture which increases the likelihood of so many people going through horrific experiences such as these. Think about why the people you know haven’t spoken out and make sure you’re ready to listen when they are ready to talk.
I will never understand how anyone can say feminism is irrelevant when in 2013 there were 10,000 recorded rapes of adults in the UK (bear in mind that it’s estimated that only about 75% of crime is ever reported and this figure rises for emotionally distressing crimes such a rape), ? of these reported cases are later dropped and 1 in 5 women are victims of sexual offences.
Feminism is still just as important as ever.
Get involved in local feminist movements, take part in campaigns and most importantly talk to people about these issues. We need a societal shift if we want to end rape and lad culture and that’s not just going to happen by itself.
And so when you make those rape jokes, when you blame victims and do all the things that perpetuate rape culture just remember that it’s not some abstract people that you are hurting (although, really you should care about them too) but it is your friends and the people all around you.
If you think you have been affected by any of the issues covered in this post, Rape Crisis Scotland provides a free and confidential helpline service.
Phone free any day between 6pm and midnight on 08088 01 03 02. Or, if you are deaf or hard of hearing, on minicom number 0141 353 3091