Rape is not unspeakable

Yesterday, Saturday 7th July, Edinburgh held its second Slutwalk.

Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012: You have 99 problems - they are all Misogyny Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012: Dress for fun Dress for fashion Don't dress for fear Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012: RESPECT find out what it means to me
Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012: These tights are not an excuse for abuse Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012: No more slut-shaming No more victim-blaming

The Slutwalk, if you didn’t know, was inspired by comments a Canadian policeman made to a group of college students last year, advising them to stop dressing like sluts in order to avoid being assaulted. I don’t like the word “slut”, and I’m distinctly unhappy about people who tell me I should “reclaim” words I don’t like, so in May last year I was initially unsure whether I’d go to Slutwalk 2011.

Then I read this article in Ekklesia, by Jill Segger, and I changed my mind. She wrote:

Walk the streets in a police uniform and people will take you for a constable. Go on the town on a Saturday night dressed provocatively and someone will be provoked. Given that men respond far more readily to visual stimuli than do women, it is likely to be a woman dressed in this manner who will be subject to the kind of attention which may later prove to have been unwanted.

There is a middle way between dressing like a ‘slut’ and being enveloped in a burqua. Modesty is the guide to that choice. Most women want to ‘look nice’ and to attract the admiration of a possible partner and there is nothing to object to in that. But the very concept of ‘sluttishness’ is an indication of how far off beam this argument has gone.

Here are the exhibitionists of Slutwalk 2012, gathering in Parliament Square, just after half past one on a very rainy Saturday.
Slutwalk 2012, Parliament Square

I read this argument against the slutwalks – the casual victim-blaming, the comfortable presumption that men “react to visual stimuli” and do not assault women who are dressed modestly, not “provocatively”. The sly insinuation that women who dress provocatively are really out to get male attention, and only decide afterwards that it “may have been unwanted”(the classic rape culture defense of she consented, but later changed her mind and called it rape) and I knew that, uncomfortable though I was and am with the word “slut”, as uncomfortable as I assume Jill Segger is, I was definitely against this and on the side of good, old-fashioned feminism:

However we dress, wherever we go, Yes means yes, No means no.

Or, as these two put it even more succinctly:
Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012: It's a corset, not a come-on Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012: Invitation Only

Caroline, a solicitor and a high court advocate:

I have a tattoo on my waist, and on the night of the party you could see the outline of my tattoo through the mesh of my top (I was wearing a Halloween costume). I showed my attacker the tattoo whilst we were talking, and from the way I was cross examined, the assumption seemed to be that showing a guy a tattoo is the biggest statement of intent known to man. I showed him my tattoo, so of course he thought I wanted to have sex with him.

At the party, I was chatting to my attacker along with a group of other people I hadn’t met before. I invited them all to come and speak to me again later – again this was apparently a clear indicator that I wanted to take things further with him. The amount of alcohol I drank also came up that night. For the record, I’d have a few drinks, but was far from drunk, not that that should have made the slightest difference to anything.

While all of this was happening in court, I’ll never forget the looks I got from several of the jury (the male, middle aged ones). It was pretty obvious what type of person they thought I was.

Edinburgh Slutwalk: Because Rape is Never the Survivor's Fault

Jill Segger goes on to argue:

The reclaiming of a pejorative term in order to defuse its power to demean has proved an effective tactic in countering racism and homophobia. But there is a significant difference: no one has any control over the colour of their skin or their sexual orientation. Freely chosen behaviour is an entirely different matter and it is open to question as to whether the burlesque style on show in the ‘slutwalks’ is liberating or just exhibitionist.

Segger talks about the “freely chosen behaviour” of women who identify or are identified as sluts. She doesn’t talk about the one factor that every sexual assault has in common, across the board, on the street, in the Meadows after dark, in your own home: the presence of at least one rapist. No woman chooses to be raped: rapists choose to commit sexual assault.

Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012: Don't Choose Rape Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012: If this skirt makes you horny, buy your own

5. The implication sometimes arises–in rape as with no other crime–that if the victim can be blamed, then it’s no longer rape at all. A robbery victim who acted incredibly reckless and gullible may be called stupid, but they won’t be accused of giving their money as a gift. But rape seems to be somehow diminished if the victim was taking an extraordinary risk of rape, as if “I’ll take a shortcut through the park, even if I am still dressed for clubbing” was an equivalent thought to “I’d like to have sex with just anyone who comes along.” (The Pervocracy, Seven Points On Rape, Prevention, and Blame)

Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012: I am human not an object Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012: These are not the sluts you're looking for. You can go about your business. Move along

6. The resulting discussions invariably make rapists out to be some kind of inevitable force of nature. Rapers gonna rape, what can you do. The idea that anyone can be educated about or deterred from committing sexual violence is dismissed out of hand. The discussion of rape becomes all about the victim and her choices, and despite some “rape is bad, yo” lip service, the rapist’s choices go unremarked upon until they disappear and some chick apparently raped herself. (The Pervocracy, Seven Points On Rape, Prevention, and Blame)

Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012; Make Love Don't Rape Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012; A Sister of the Order of Perpetual Indulgence Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012; The Pirate Party

Because this is a civil liberties issue. “This intense focus on women to not drink, to not get themselves raped, has little to do with actually preventing sexual violence. Why are we telling survivors of rape and sexual assault not to drink? Why are we holding them responsible for anyone else’s conduct?”

Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012: Parliament Square, in the rain

But meanwhile, we’re still on Parliament Square, in the rain, and Slutwalk 2012 hasn’t yet moved off down the Royal Mile to Holyrood, so let’s get started.

PerverseCowgirl on why “sexual objectification” isn’t that hot (isn’t intended to be that hot) for the “object”:

This erasure of women’s personalities and preferences happens in real-life interactions, too. I’ve been on dates where the guy asked perfunctory questions about me but zoned out during my answers; I’ve had dates where the guy repeatedly steered the conversation toward sex, no matter how much I tried to talk about other things (usually, these are the same guys who zone out when I talk about my work or family or hobbies); I once had a guy come up to me at work and ask me out (this was when I worked retail in a mall) and when I said I was married he shrugged and replied “I don’t mind”; I’ve had guys in clubs grab my hand, put it on their crotches, and end up in a tug-o-war with me as I tried to yank my hand back and they tried to hold it in place; I’ve had guys in clubs hit on me by coming up behind me on the dance floor – completely sight unseen – and grinding against my ass. And I would hazard a guess that most women have experienced at least one of these things, as well (probably all of them).

Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012: Setting off down the Royal Mile


I will never know why the jury found my assailant not guilty – and why they decided that I was a liar who would falsely accuse someone of something like that. But given the way I was cross examined, I can only assume that it was because I was a woman who went out with friends, and drank. I chatted to people I’d never met before, and I kissed a boy. I even showed him my tattoo – therefore I deserved everything I got.

I wasn’t in court when the verdict was announced, but the policeman in charge of my case was. After the jury announced their decision, the judge decided that they should be told about my occupation and the fact that I was a high court advocate. Apparently several members of the jury looked ashen at this news – I guess that once they realised that I was an educated professional, rather than a drunk woman with tattoo at a party, I stopped being the sort of woman who deserved it.

Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012:


The first was when I was about 14 and on the bus home from school. It was really crowded so I was leaning against the luggage rack with my back to the rest of the bus. A middle aged Asian guy was pushed against me, but as the bus was so busy I didn’t think there was anything sinister in this, although it definitely felt a bit strange. I was a pretty innocent 14-year-old, so I didn’t realise until I got older that he was rubbing his semi against my leg the whole time. Arrrrgh, it’s making my skin crawl thinking about it now.

The other time I always think about, was about give years ago. I was walking down Old Street on my way to bar with friends. It was summer and about 7pm, so still light out. I was wearing a knee-length skirt and heels (although really, is it even relevant what I was wearing?). A guy walking in the opposite direction put is hand up my skirt and grabbed my crotch. When I turned around and screamed at him as he walked off, he called me frigid, which was nice.

About halfway down the Royal Mile, we passed a couple of shops on the left-hand side where the women who worked there were standing in the doorway watching the march go by – and applauding us enthusiastically.

Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012: women applaud us Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012: nuns on the march

Anita Sarkeesian:

Image based harassment includes everything from vulgar photo manipulation to creating pornographic or degrading drawings of rape and sexual assault with the target’s likeness. These harassment images are then sent en masse to the target through email, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook or any other online service with messaging capabilities. Part of the trolling strategy with these images is also to try and get them to appear in search results for the target’s name as a way to attack their online reputation.

This harassment is best classified as a cyber mob attack as it’s a hate campaign loosely organized through various internet forums. Participating harassers will share these images as a way to show off and gain validation from their peers as well as to try and recruit others to join the harassment campaign.

The ultimate goal of this behaviour is to try and intimidate, scare and silence women by creating an online environment that is too hostile, toxic and disturbing to endure.

Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012:

Those three women in pink? They marched together, holding hands, in the pouring rain, and stayed in the chill to hear the speeches at the rally. They were dressed for summer weather but it was summer somewhere else. They were well hard. It was freezing. I was impressed.


Below I’ve asked some of our writers to tell us about incidences where they’ve been groped, felt-up or assaulted against their will. The incidences that you wouldn’t necessarily report to the police, or even tell anyone about afterwards, but seem to happen all the time.

And then, I want to hear about the times it has happened to you. Let me know in the comments section below, or tweet us @xojaneuk with the tag #casualsexualassault.

If anything, I want to highlight quite how common a bit of casual groping is to most women trying to go about their daily lives, and just how invasive it is. Because, while we know that serious sexual assault and rape are terrible and violent crimes that need to be punished, we’re all guilty (myself included) of dismissing the rest of it as just something that happens.

Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012:

Captain Awkward, The art of “no,” continued: Saying no when you’ve already said yes

Imagine you’re at a party. A guy offers you a drink. You say no. He says “Come on, one drink!” You say “no thanks.” Later, he brings you a soda. “I know you said you didn’t want a drink, but I was getting one for myself and you looked thirsty.” For you to refuse at this point makes you the asshole. He’s just being nice, right? Predators use the social contract and our own good hearts and fear of being rude against us. If you drink the drink, you’re teaching him that it just takes a little persistence on his part to overcome your “no.” If you say “Really, I appreciate it, but no thanks” and put the drink down and walk away from it, you’re the one who looks rude in that moment. But the fact is, you didn’t ask for the drink and you don’t want the drink and you don’t have to drink it just to make some guy feel validated.

If you’ve ever been in an uncomfortable situation with someone who smothers you and has a hard time letting go, think back to when you first met. Chances are there were behaviors like this – offering things you don’t want and then getting mad when you turn down the “favor,” and not hearing you when you say “no.”

Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012:


Initially (for about five seconds) I ignored him. When he grabbed my arm and tried literally to drag me across the ground I kicked him and told him to “fuck the hell off,” only for him to retaliate by slamming to the ground next to me, and kicking me in the crotch (which is less painful than you might expect when your assailant is wearing wellies), before reaching under my skirt to try to pull down my tights – he was too far gone to actually manage it.

I hit him across the arms and face before a security guard Sarah had called pulled him off me, and ordered him across the site but not, as far as we could tell, out of the festival. The next week newspapers reported that a rape had taken place at the site over the weekend.

Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012:

Aja Romano TV Tropes Deletes Every Rape Trope; Geek Feminism Wiki steps in

When Fast Eddie noted the deletion of the [Rape] trope page [on TV Tropes], he added, “There is no explanation needed beyond the fact that the topic is a pain in the ass to keep clean and it endangers the wiki’s revenues. We just won’t have articles about rape. Super easy. No big loss.”

Well. Except that tropes where characters, especially women, are forced or coerced into doing things without their consent are so numerous that TV Tropes hasn’t effectively gotten rid of them all, and probably couldn’t even if they tried. Similar tropes pop up all over the site, and clicking on a few reveals that the site is now a mish-mash of available content warring with the bahleeted presence of any trope that contained the unwanted word “rape.” So Fate Worse Than Death, And Now You Must Marry Me, Old Man Marrying a Child, and Droit du Signeur are still content-approved, but drastically varied tropes like Rape as Comedy, Mind Rape, and Rape, Pillage, and Burn are all gone for good.

So was Fast Eddie being sarcastic when he described the ousting of an enormous chunk of content as “no big loss”? It’s tough to tell, given what seems to be his blasé attitude about clearing out the contents of his archive to “keep the advertisers on board.” But surely Fast Eddie must be aware that TV Tropes isn’t just a repository of fan clichés and geek trivia. The categorization of tropes that hurt, marginalize, and perpetuate victims of rape and rape culture—particularly women—is incredibly important in a cultural moment where debate about sexist tropes is greater than it ever has been.

Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012:

Layla Ibrahim, 23, in jail for “perverting the course of justice” (refusing to withdraw a rape allegation):

It was a couple of weeks after she reported being attacked in the early hours of a cold January morning in 2009 that Layla Ibrahim, then 21, noticed a change in the attitude of the police. Yes, the police had documented the injuries to the back of her head and breasts, the black eye, the bleeding from her vagina. They had listened closely as she described the two strangers who attacked her, how the main perpetrator had worn a Nike hoodie, how she thought she had temporarily lost consciousness after being knocked to the ground, how she had felt a “thud” in her vagina but had no clear recollection of what had happened.
Layla was told she would be charged with wasting police time if she didn’t drop the case. She refused – after all, she said, she’d been violently attacked. Eventually, the charge was upped to the more serious offence of perverting the course of justice. A year later, in June 2010, Layla – then six months pregnant – was convicted and sentenced to three years.

The story of Layla Ibrahim, now 23, is as bizarre as it is alarming. How can a woman end up jailed after reporting an attack on herself? And when there appeared to be powerful evidence of the savagery of the assault?

Petition Justice Secretary to Pardon Layla Ibrahim

Virginia Gazette, 17th March 2012:

A 27-year-old man accused of rape last October by a College of William & Mary student is taking the unusual step of suing his accuser for more than $6 million. … Jeffrey Weaver accuses the 20-year-old woman of knowingly giving false information to police and health care workers, and repeating it to college officials while seeking to have him removed as a student at W&M. The Gazette is not naming the woman because she was considered a rape victim when the case was adjudicated.

Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012:

Sarah Woolley:

My tactic is shaming. When a nasty article is humping my hip on the underground I use my best Julie Andrews voice to ask “What DO you think you are doing?? Please, do NOT touch this, it is designer, darling.”

It’s a little harder to be funny when it’s hit and run and you can’t shout at them. It’s a little harder to be in control if he’s trying to pull you into a car or he’s plunged his hand down your bra at a gig, as has happened to me. The police say watch where you go; watch what you dress; the time of day. Hey lady, just exist a little less, yes?

Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012:

Alyssa Rosenberg, TV Tropes Bows to Google’s Ad Servers, Deletes Discussions of Sexual Assault in Culture:

Rape is obscene. But that’s not because it’s dirty, or sexually alluring, something that needs to—or could be—confined to people at a certain age or a certain stage of life. Rape is obscene because it’s a violation of community norms and standards, not in some settings, but in all settings. It’s a gross, violent attack on the humanity of the victims. I would say rape is an adult topic, but children are victims, too. Part of what’s obscene about rape and sexual assault is that their existence eliminates our ability to let children live in a world that they assume is safe.

Talking about rape may involve talking about sex, but it’s not primarily about sex. A depiction and discussion of a naked woman having consensual sex, and a depiction and discussion of a woman being raped are fundamentally different things, and it’s disturbing that we’d allow algorithms that can’t tell the difference to elide sex and rape. It’s one thing to talk about tailoring content, in news or non-fiction, for ratings or traffic. It’s another to see the structures that governs profit-making online silence a discussion altogether. Ad servers who are literally providing a financial disincentive to discuss rape and sexual assault should be ashamed.

The rally outside the Scottish Parliament was short, but moving. One woman spoke against shame and in praise of honouring our bodies and asked us all to shout “I am sacred” and I tweeted this and got a response I’m still mulling over. (I shouted “I am an atheist!” I’m afraid. Well, I am.) Another woman spoke about how often trans women are killed, sometimes after a rapist discovers the woman he chose for sexual assault is transgendered.

There is a fantasy that many right-wing thinkers entertain that there was a eutopic past where everything was lovely: women and children were not raped, nobody was gay, where rape survivors gave birth and then had the baby adopted, and abortion, abortion never happened.

Edinburgh Slutwalk 2012: Sister Pronuptia of the Splattered Veil
The Sisters and Brothers of the Order of Perpetual Indulgence are part of a worldwide order of queer men and women of all sexualities: the tenets are The expiation of stigmatic guilt, and The promulgation of universal joy.

The rate of false report in rape cases is reckoned to be similiar to that of other crimes – rather lower than the 10% false report rate for car theft. The conviction rate for rape, if a woman gets as far as reporting the assult to the police, is 6.5% in Scotland. Rape Crisis Scotland identify specific problems with the “corroboration requirement”. But for some men, rape is “an abhorrent and degrading act” – which is obviously not committed by the majority of very decent men who have been accused of rape but are not convicted. Those men, like Caroline’s assailant, clearly do not deserve to be publicly exposed: after all, she had a tattoo, she got drunk, she even danced with him and kissed him: how could he have deserved to be convicted? Similiarly, John Warboys, decent man, hard-working taxi driver, load of complaining drunk women obviously making stuff up: how could anyone want to destroy the reputation and livelihood of an innocent man falsely accused by a drunken slut?

Avizandum Times:

The constant push to increase the number of rape convictions does not sit particularly well with me. I admire much of the work that Rape Crisis do, but I do find myself getting more than a little annoyed with them over their constant desire to see more people convicted of rape. I am sure we are all in agreement that rape is an utterly abhorrent offence and those who commit such an offence should be punished for it. However, I am concerned that many campaigners (and even those in a position of power) are advancing the idea that more convictions are obtained for rape at any cost: even the reputation and life of an innocent person accused of rape.

Here is the thing. When you say you believe rape is terribly abhorrent and all rapists should be punished severely but the low conviction rate for rape is just fine and it makes you feel uncomfortable when people talk about trying to get it higher – you don’t convince me that you really think rape is bad: you’ve convinced me that you think most rape isn’t bad enough to warrant conviction. And quite often “not bad enough” isn’t about the degree of force employed by the rapist, but by the modesty and sobriety of the rape survivor.

Slutwalk Edinburgh 2012: Nun in pinks

Research done by the FBI in the 1980s seems to suggest that one man may commit many rapes until he is finally caught, and that far from being a spontaneous lustful assault, rapists plan out their strategy both for committing the crime and getting away with it. Often they succeed.


What I didn’t know when I went to the police was that he had allegedly raped another girl a week before me, and she didn’t report it. She was at the party that night, and didn’t say anything. She could have just taken me to one side and told me he was bad news – I guess she was too scared, but I knew I had to stop him before he did the same thing to someone else.

Shaker Time-Machine, Feminism 101: Helpful Hints for Dudes:

6% of college-aged men, slightly over 1 in 20, will admit to raping someone in anonymous surveys, as long as the word “rape” isn’t used in the description of the act—and that’s the conservative estimate. Other sources double that number (pdf).

A lot of people accuse feminists of thinking that all men are rapists. That’s not true. But do you know who think all men are rapists?

Rapists do.

They really do. In psychological study, the profiling, the studies, it comes out again and again.

Virtually all rapists genuinely believe that all men rape, and other men just keep it hushed up better.

At the rally, one speaker reminded us that in Deuteronomy, Mosaic law (the same used to justify no gay marriage on pain of flooding) a woman who was raped within the city walls would be stoned to death with the rapist, because the law assumed that if it had really been rape she would have screamed loud enough for someone to come to her rescue. Sex workers are most vulnerable to rape and least likely to report being raped to the police. (There is a evil cultural presumption that raping a prostitute “doesn’t count”.)

There is the “anti-bullying” message that Eoin Clarke was recommending to our attention earlier, which explicitly assumes that it’s only wrong to call a girl a “slut” if she’s actually a virgin.

The Saturday of Edinburgh’s Slutwalk was also the deadline for Julian Assange to be extradited to Sweden for police questioning about Assange’s alleged rape of two women. Both testify that they had consented to sex only with a condom, and Assange wanted and had sex with them without using a condom. One of them says that Assange had sex with her while she was asleep. Assange is still in the Ecuadorean embassy in Knightsbridge, and likely to be there for some time.

The Ecuadoran foreign minister has said he thinks the rape charges are “hilarious”.

Slutwalk Edinburgh 2012: Team Edward Slutwalk Edinburgh 2012: Superwoman!

To Assange’s fans the two women are either invisible or they are liars or CIA stooges (or just dismissed as “legal problems“). When Assange himself has been asked about them, he has said,

“I am simply not charged. That’s all. That’s all that is important in this matter. What has been said to date is sufficient.

It’s true that Assange has not yet been charged, but he has also managed to evade being questioned by the Swedish police: he cannot be charged until he has been questioned.

Assange’s lawyer claims his client wouldn’t get a fair trial in Sweden; as Stavvers notes, Sweden is by no means a country where rapists are reliably convicted, and Assange is actually less likely to be extradited to the US from Sweden than he is from the UK. (The US have made no move to have him extradited.)

It is not true that what Assange is said to have done would not be considered a crime in the UK.

If the complainant was asleep or otherwise unconscious then the jury can be directed that there is a rebuttable presumption that there was no consent, and there will be little scope for successfully defending a charge of rape for a defendant who took no steps to ensure the complainant was awake.

This blog post has become very long for a fairly short march and rally. Time to end, and to thank Stills Edinburgh again for their reception staff kindly lending me a polishing cloth to get my camera dry.

Slutwalk Edinburgh 2012

Petition Justice Secretary to Pardon Layla Ibrahim

US petition: Secretary of Defense: Require military to register as sex offenders

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