The Guardian has been doing a series of anonymous articles, subtitled The letter you always wanted to write. No one is named in any of the letters.
The letter published today is from a man in his early 20s, about an event from about six years ago: it’s directed to “the girl who accused me of rape when I was 15.”
Unlike many of the letters, this one is written almost as if the author hopes the target does read it:
I was 15 and you were 13. Exactly one year and four months apart. But they will say two years because apparently, in months, we are supposed to round up. I had never met you before, even though we went to the same school. After the usual Friday night routine of underage binge drinking and smoking to look cool, we ended up staying over at a mutual friend’s house. His not-so-traditional parents made it an ideal hangout.
The letter-writer, the 13-year-old girl, and a boy described as a “mutual friend from school” slept in the same room on three mattresses. The letter-writer and the 13-year-old girl had sex: he says the sex was consensual. He says they held hands after the lights were out, that the girl guided his hands to her breasts, that she took his belt off as he was taking her bra off, and that neither of them said anything except “Do you want to … ?” and the other said “Yes.”
Given the two of them were teenagers, by his own admission drunk, and neither of them had had sex before, this seems an inadequate negotation for enthusiastic consent. The letter-writer says:
I think we were both relieved when it finished. We didn’t use a condom, I guess because I never expected to have sex any time soon and if you did have one with you it wasn’t offered.
It was entirely mute apart from the simple, but essential, “Do you want to … ?” and “Yes.”
We parted with closed-mouth kisses and I returned to my mattress to sleep.
He woke up the next day with two police and his friend’s father shaking him awake: in another room, more police were comforting the 13-year-old girl, and the letter-writer’s friend was “shouting something” in his defence. He was arrested for rape, taken to a police station, his foster-dad came, he was interviewed “a police interview so in-depth and humiliating that I still refuse to let myself remember it” and then spent three months (October, November, and December) on bail, attending school in isolation, and having his foster-family placement reconsidered in case he was a threat to his foster-sister. In January, the charges were dropped, and he never saw the girl (one year, four months younger than him, who had attended the same school) again.
I don’t know why you told your friend that I had raped you – maybe because you didn’t want to admit you’d had sex so casually or maybe because you were scared.
But I will never be able to forgive you for what you did to me.
You damaged my perception of women entirely and the only relationship I have since been able to sustain is with a man I can trust.
The thought that never seems to have occurred to him, in six years: what if the reason the girl said he raped her was because she didn’t consent: because he did rape a 13-year-old girl when he was 15.
From the PSHE Association:
37% of people surveyed by Amnesty International UK in 2005 felt that “A woman was partially or totally responsible for being raped if the woman had failed to clearly say ‘no’ to the man”.
A 2006 survey of young people’s attitudes found that 27% think it is acceptable for a boy to “expect to have sex with a girl” if the girl has been “very flirtatious”. It is concerning that seven years later so many of these attitudes still prevail.
This tells us we have to address enthusiastic consent, rape myths and victim blaming with young people to support them to navigate safely through their first sexual encounters. We must provide further support if these experiences turn out to be negative or nonconsensual.
Their “mutual friend”, whether he was awake or asleep when the other two had sex, appears to have defended the letter-writer. Presumably, during the months the letter-writer spent in isolation, on bail, the mutual friend defended him at school, too, and the girl had to be transferred to another school.
The letter-writer complains:
While the police seemed to hold true to innocent until proven guilty, my friends and their families certainly didn’t. Even when I returned to a you-free school, I never quite recovered.
He also says:
They did not give me any options to take action against you.
Teenage boys send rape threats to video game reviewers. Teenage boys commit rape.
In Scotland, the letter-writer would have gone before a children’s panel – who would, in principle, looked at what had gone wrong in the boy’s life and tried to make it better. (Children’s panels work, though: Scotland has a far lower juvenile recividism rate than England/Wales.) That, I think, would have been better for both him and certainly for the girl, than three months of his wondering whether he was going to be tried for rape, then being told that the charges would be dropped because it would be the girl’s word against his, and as we know, teenage girls are not considered reliable witnesses of their own rape.
Can we blame a drunk 15-year-old boy for not realising that the 13-year-old girl who had been flirting with him, who maybe wanted to have him touch her breasts, didn’t want to have sex with him?
I don’t know. (From his own description of the day he was arrested, he was still pretty drunk when the police arrived, and didn’t sober up for some hours even after he was put in a cell.) I don’t know what his background was, except for knowing he had been with a foster-family since he was twelve. I don’t know how drunk he was the night before, how drunk the 13-year-old girl was: teenagers unquestionably don’t have the same restraint and judgement as we expect of adults. Children’s panels deal with under-16s who commit crimes as children in trouble, not as adult criminals on trial, and that seems appropriate.
A drunk 15-year-old boy who says he thinks the drunk 13-year-old girl who was flirting with him wants to have sex with him is not as blameworthy as an adult man who says the same thing. But a man who thinks it’s his perception of the sexual encounter that makes him able to say definitely the girl is lying when she says she didn’t consent… no, I would not trust that man not to be a rapist.
I support statutory PSHE for many reasons but one of them is that no teenage boy should be confused enough to think that it’s his perception only of a sexual encounter that determines whether it was rape.