With almost 90% of sexual assaults in Ireland being committed by someone known to the victim, Patrick Kelleher examines the origins of the ‘real rape’ myth and how society can overcome it
The ‘real rape’ myth has existed for a long time, and continues to pose problems for survivors of rape. The myth surrounds the idea that rape only happens in a dark, secluded place to a virtuous woman. In this image of rape, the man is always a faceless attacker who promptly disappears, leaving a woman to piece her life back together.
While this scenario certainly happens, it is not particularly common. In most cases, the attacker is known to the victim. According to a 2009 report by the Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI), 89% of the perpetrators of these violent acts were known to their victims.
This immediately casts the ‘real rape’ myth into doubt. Our perception of rape, and the circumstances in which it can happen, is flawed and this only adds to the ignorance surrounding the issue today.
Rape is defined as sex without consent. This definition doesn’t include ‘unless they were drunk’, ‘unless they didn’t specifically say no’ or ‘unless they were wearing revealing clothing’. Women who dress provocatively or get attacked on a night out seem to completely form the concept of what society believes rape is.
Why would survivors report an attack to the Gardaí if they are not sure if it was what they would deem ‘a rape case’ at all? Survivors are left feeling confused about their experience; the ‘real rape’ myth has taught them an entirely different concept of what rape is.
Rape remains one of the most under-reported crimes worldwide, and is notoriously hard to prove. Women and men alike have seemingly little reason to report these crimes, as the conviction rate is abysmally low, and a trial would leave them open to the possiblity of being cross-examined as if they were the one who had committed the crime.
According to statistics released in 2012 by the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC), of 322 cases where the reporting status was known, 115 were reported to the Gardaí, of which only 3 were tried, all of whom either pleaded guilty or were convicted. While it is likely that most women don’t report these crimes because they are still learning to cope, statistics released by the DRCC show that those who knew their attacker were less likely to report the crime than those who didn’t.
The ‘real rape’ myth has fed into other areas of sexual life, namely in the belief that if a woman is dressed provocatively, she is ‘asking for it.’ This is a common thread amongst nightclub promoters. An advertisement for Alchemy nightclub caused controversy when it depicted a woman pulling down her underwear in what is presumably a nightclub setting, accompanied by the slogan: ‘If you’re not up for it, don’t cum.’ Perhaps more alarming was the ‘knickers for liquor’ promotion run by another Dublin venue, where if a woman gave her underwear into the bar, she would get a free shot.
Both imply that a woman who is drinking or wearing revealing clothing on a night out is an object waiting for a man to have sex with her, a belief as old and as threatening as misogyny itself. Promotions like these give little consideration to whether or not women are consenting to sexual activity, as if stepping inside a night club means agreeing to anything.
It is attitudes like these that have created the ‘rape culture’ we find ourselves in. While the western world has been sexually liberated, rape has filtered into the mainstream, but not in the way we might expect.
Nightclub promotions like that of Alchemy, and a more recent one for UCD’s Commerce and Economics Society, entitled ‘Rappers and Slappers’ portray a somewhat disturbing image. The ‘rape myth’ of a woman getting attacked down a dark alleyway remains alive and well. People still do not realise how misogynist advertising can help to create an entirely different rape myth; that it is not rape when it happens in a party environment.
This attitude was most recently expressed in the ‘Slane Girl’ controversy that emerged from viral photographs of a young man and woman engaged in a public sexual act at Eminem’s summer Slane concert.
Little is known about the finer details of the case, but what was evident was the incredibly alarming reaction represented by men, and even more so women, to the case. The young woman was dismissed as a ‘slut’ and a ‘whore’ by masses of Twitter crowds, the man was heralded as a ‘legend’ and a ‘hero.’
While the ‘Slane Girl’ controversy was more than likely not a case of rape, it represented a key concept to sexual attitudes in Ireland. The reality is that if this had been a rape case, the reaction may not have been that different. The woman would still be seen as a slut who had worn revealing clothing, and had therefore walked into a trap. Essentially, the woman ‘asked for it’, and therefore must face the consequences.
It is time we acknowledged the rape myth, and looked at it in its wider context. Rape can happen to anybody, and can be done by anybody; not just women who are walking home alone.
As a society we must stop shaming women who wear revealing clothing or who drink alcohol as being sluts who brought it on themselves. We need to examine rape with greater clarity, and develop compassion for survivors.
To correctly identify the Irish problem surrounding the rape myth, everybody needs to look at their own perception of rape and examine why they think in the way they do. In this way we can work to overcome the devastating effects rape has on the lives of victims.