I have a friend who was raped. This is the story as she told it:
‘I was attacked by three men in a park at night. I didn’t try to get away because I had no confidence in my own strength. I tried to talk my way out of it.
‘At first it wasn’t like sex. It was so violent. They tried to humiliate me. They were talking to each other, keeping each other going. They were talking to each other, keeping each other. They called me names, they said ‘We’re going to kill you, baby’. One had his knee on my throat, the other ripped my jeans off. One had a black hood over his face. They stuck a bottle up me, and one of them put his prick and tried to strangle me.
‘Suddenly they got off me and started kicking me really hard in the head, in the eyes…they’d seen three people c oming. They were ran away.
‘I was stunned. It’s weird you mind splits off-I was thinking how silly I must look my jeans on. I banged on peoples doors, nobody answered. I was terrified. I phoned the police. It took them 25 minutes to arrive.
‘I told the police they probably catch them if they went to the heath. They weren’t interested. They were more interested in what I’d been doing and being derogatory to men.
‘I asked for a police woman. She was very contemptuous, treated me as if I had done something wrong. They took me to a police doctor who took a smear from my vagina. It hurt it was all torn. They took of tampon I had to wear and some pubic hair. They put them in jars and I had to carry them and all the police could see what I was carrying. At one point I misunderstood something that the policewoman said and I asked her if she had ever been raped. She said, ‘of course I haven’t!’
‘I had nightmares about being in a tube train and meeting the three guys again. I went to a psychiatrist and she assumed I encouraged the rapists.
‘I think men rape women for different reasons. For them I think it was a real hatred and contempt for all women, but contempt stems from fear and it was a real fear of women as well. It was as if they were trying to get their own back on me.
‘Women can’t fight back, and men exploit their relative weakness, they trade on physical inequality. The experience has made me aware of the basic need for survival. When it was happening, one part of my mind was almost detached, your mind as a way of protecting you. I searched desperately for things to say to them. But it was the horrible realisation that I was totally alone.
‘It’s crucially important to learn to defend yourself. There’s something about knowing you can fight that makes you equal to them – I was just passive and yelling and telling them to stop. I’ll never get rid of what happened to me but I’ll be better when I know how to defend myself.
‘I started learning Kung Fu. It’s very male. I’m not interested in being aggressive, and I resent that I have to learn to be aggressive. But I have to do it.
‘There’s no easy answer to dealing with rapists in our society. Prison is punishment that reinforces violence, people come out and do the same things again.’
About a year after this, my friend and I were walking on the heath. It was a dull February afternoon. Three men were coming up the hill towards us. Instinctively I took her arm.
As they came level they one leaned over and said to her, ’Hey baby, baby, baby, baby,’ and then walked on. They stood on the brow of the hill and they were very threatening. ‘She was very tense. ’It’s them she said.
I have never experienced such confusion and turmoil. I wanted to kill them to run into the open space of the heath and yell to everyone there that should help me lynch these men. I didn’t want to let go of her. It flashed through my mind that they’d attack us again and that nobody would help us.
We stood rooted and watched the men disappear. The only revenge we had was to be free of them and as far away as possible.
Is self-defence the only answer for women. Here and now it may be, but rape can only happen in a world where strength means violent, negative, aggressive superiority where our lives are rooted in inequality.
Women’s Voice 31, 1979