TRIGGER WARNING: This article contains references to sexual assault.
If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, there are services available to support you.
Whenever there’s a sexual assault awareness renaissance, Instagram is illuminated in a seemingly permanent five minutes of wokeness. Be it the Sarah Everard tragedy or the UK’s spiking crisis, the infographics go far and wide in their pretty pink colours. And we all breathe a sigh of relief. At last! We are safe in the streets!
Sarcasm aside, there is a genuine sense of relief at times like this. I’ve even found that dialogues are
opened with male friends. I’m not going to applaud a fish for swimming, but it undoubtedly is a comfort to have a friend ask questions about what they can do to make you and other women feel safer. I have certainly seen my male friends show up more to hold their friends or classmates accountable since the spotlight has been on sexual assault in schools across the UK.
Yet, for all the activism, and all the improvement I feel there’s a small group that always go unscathed. When the hum dies down online, and a few weeks pass, it suddenly dawns. I had brutally honest conversations. I signed petitions. I protested for Sarah. I contacted clubs about spiking. Why didn’t I feel any more comfortable telling people about my own experience?
It’s a shame, and I don’t know if it’s just me, but for all the work women, and men, do at these times of heightened awareness surrounding SA, I still don’t feel comfortable being that honest about what that one person did to me.
This is an ode to the popular boy. The big-name on campus/BNOC. With the glistening reputation, charm and gorgeous face. They never seems to have to face up to what they did. It’s not just my story. It’s a lot of ours. And my point is that we all still have so much more work to do when it comes to believing women. It’s tricky. Actually, maybe a more appropriate term is it’s a f*cking minefield. Standing waiting for the loo, at pres with the girls and you hear his name. General chatter about how he’s fit or funny, and then somebody utters it. “Oh, I’ve heard he’s a bit of a creep.” That’s the accountability they get.
“He was a bit weird with so and so in bed,”…“oh yeah I’ve heard that too but I’m not too sure.”
It’s obviously not anybody’s place to share somebody else’s story as gossip. You’ll have heard it from somebody who asked you to keep it to yourself. Or you don’t quite know where somebody else heard it from. Tangled in the minefield with no safe space to speak frankly.
Yet, I feel there’s an element of protection still offered to these boys. Be it by their friends, their mutuals or people who quite fairly don’t really want to get involved. The popular and pretty boy seems to get away with a mere temporary scratch on his reputation. Until the worst happens…
I feel hypocritical for not saying, for not coming out. And it’s a deep awful feeling, almost guilt, when something else – something more severe – that they did comes out. And then suddenly you feel comfortable to say what happened with you. But, as is the doctrine, it wasn’t my fault. Nor was it hers. Turns out he actually is a bit of a creep. And he was a bit weird with so and so, and another so and so in bed.
There needs to be more of a culture of talking about warning signs. Yet I have learning to do also. Had I, or others, felt comfortable sharing a story of a worryingly aggressive sexual experience, perhaps that would’ve stopped another girl from getting sexually assaulted later down the line. What we have now is a culture of, “oh that’s not that bad”, “it was still consensual”, “it’s not like he raped you.”
Calling out warning signs isn’t easy. And then everybody wonders why nobody knew what he was capable of.
Until we can curb this culture surrounding warning signs, we will still be having these same tedious discussions about SA. Somebody making you feel uncomfortable, being surprisingly forceful during sex, or saying really horrible degrading things when you don’t want to do what they want you to do.
These stories need to be believed. The guilt-tripping of blue balls culture quite literally passes the baton on to rape culture and victim-blaming.