New Book Soon!

I’d like to let my blog-following lovelies know that i have a new co-edited work arriving in the next six or so months. It is titled Perpetrators of Intimate Partner Sexual Violence: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Prevention, Recognition, and Intervention. Here’s the publisher (Routledge UK) blurb:

Research shows that intimate partner sexual violence (IPSV) is the most common form of sexual assault. Professional focus is often on the victim, but more information is needed about the perpetrators in order to have a fuller understanding of this crime. The very nature of IPSV – sexual assault within a relationship – means that professionals who work with victims must understand the dynamics of perpetrators as well.

This new book will distill the knowledge that exists about perpetrators of IPSV. It includes chapters by authors who have worked directly with IPSV perpetrators and covers important subjects such as addressing IPSV in batterer groups, police management strategies, the danger of IPSV to children, the different types of violence perpetrators use, and prevention approaches for young people. There is also still a widely-held view that rapists are strangers in alleyways. This book is intended to educate professionals about who is a perpetrator, as well as to highlight the very real danger these perpetrators represent, including a heightened risk of lethality.

The contributors look at the social context of IPSV and the implications for prevention and provide hands-on knowledge to practitioners in a number of fields. The book may also be used within the academic context in fields such as social work, sociology, counseling, psychology, medicine, nursing, criminal justice, and law.

For a table of contents etc. please go here.

🙂

And then I got mad: A process of remembering, reporting, and resolving lingering shame

“An inability to respond with anger is one way in which multiple experiences of sexual abuse destroy women”
Diana E. H. Russell, Rape in Marriage

TRIGGER WARNING

My writing space. my favourite place to be

My writing space. my favourite place to be

For my forthcoming co-edited work, Perpetrators of Intimate Partner Sexual Violence: Prevention, Recognition, and Intervention (Taylor and Francis UK, due in 2016), I recently wrote a chapter that is a bird’s eye view of living with a battering perpetrator of partner rape. As much as possible, the focus of the chapter is necessarily on him – the characteristics of the rapist I lived with, his background; what the triggers for sexual assault were etc. I was pleased to have an opportunity to write it, and did my best to maintain a tight, unemotive (but not artificially removed) analysis as I detailed some relevant experiences of rape. It was truly an empowering month-long process with only a day here and there that felt a bit ordinary emotionally. At worst, I found that I wanted to apologise to my beautiful co-editors for having to read it for the editorial processit is an old tendency of mine to want to “protect” people from grossness. But the chapter is now ready for addition to the final manuscript. I really do love my work and am so privileged to work with great people. And the process is greatly helped too, by the writing space (see above) that I have created for myself – I love being in it; it reminds me of who I am now.

Nemesis, my Goddess of the moment. Greek goddess of divine retribution, Nemesis apportions justice to those who have committed crimes with impunity

Nemesis, my Goddess of the moment. Greek goddess of divine retribution, Nemesis apportions justice to those who have committed crimes with impunity

I enjoy the fact that I am now able to contemplate my violent ex-partner with overall  indifference; I have worked hard to get to that point, it enhances my professional life, and as a rule, I would say he isn’t even worth the energy required to call him an “asshole.” However, as I reflected on my experiences for the process of writing my chapter, I became aware sometimes of a blazing anger. It felt like good anger, self-respecting anger. I could see my ex-partner’s cowardice and bully-boy tactics for exactly what they were: A means of establishing control over me by causing me to feel dirty, shamed and worthless. It was like viewing with a new level of disgust, the way he used rape for his own ends, and never mind the fact that I was a person. I can’t count the times I growled “Fuck him!” as I hammered away at my keyboard. I was pissed off.

The feelings brought up in the course of writing that chapter, left in their wake a desire to report my ex-partner to the police for rape. Now, this seemed absolutely ludicrous to me. I am almost 30 years out of the relationship, and I already knew there would be only the most minimal chance of success. Also, my work with partner rape – writing, educating, and supporting other survivors, has always seemed to me a sufficient and richly satisfying form of justice. I have never wanted to report before, so why the hell had I got this bee in my bonnet now? Ridiculous! I reasoned that I have much better things to do than to subject my nervesand most importantly my familyto a process which would guarantee no positive result, and I summarily dismissed it as a form of wackiness brought on by the intense focus the chapter had required.

Yet, the thought would not go away. And at this stage of my healing, I know that when a thought or feeling niggles at one for long enough, it is best to give it a hearing, irrespective of how absurd it may seem. After listening to this insistent part of myself, I decided that I would at least ask the police about the process of reporting historical sexual assault. I am not educatedhighly, if I may be so boldabout intimate partner sexual violence for nothing, and I knew for a fact that I would be in for no surprises about the difficulty of the process, especially so many years later. Still, I felt that hearing it from the right people would enable me to put the whole thing to bed. For reasons that will be seen, I am very glad I asked – we are sometimes wiser than we think.

I fronted the counter at the local police station and I think the duty-officer was somewhat surprised by my forthrightness. Making eye-contact and not mumbling, I asked her if I could please speak to somebody about the process of reporting historical sexual assault. She assumed that I was speaking about child sexual assault, and I said, “I was not a child. It happened in the context of domestic violence.” She said, “I can tell you the process,” and began to rattle off the steps involved. I heard her out, and said, “Thankyou, but I have some questions, and I’d really like to speak to somebody further.” I had no intention of being so quickly fobbed off – and to be fair, that may not have been her intention, but I wanted a more in-depth and more private talk and was not going away until I’d had it. She agreed to call a detective down from upstairs, and motioned me to a chair to wait. After she had done so, she called out to me that somebody would be down in 15 minutes. I gave her a big smile, and said, “Thankyou so much!” She did a slight double-take at my smile and then she smiled back; I think perhaps she’d viewed me as a bit of a hard-ass because I was alone, direct; non-apologetic, and was not quaking with fright and looking at the floor. And who smiles like that when they’re waiting to to talk to the cops about rape? Or maybe she thought I was a sausage roll short of a packed lunch, but at any rate, I quietly allowed myself to feel good about that.

Sexual Assault Reporting Options

Sexual Assault Reporting Options

In due course, a detective arrived and squired me into a private room. As I’d fully expected, she told me that prosecuting for historical sexual assault, while not impossible, would be extremely difficult and why. I told her that I was a realist, and I understood this, but had felt the need to ask anyhow. Then, she told me about another option for reporting which has been in effect in NSW (my home state) since 2013. It is called The Sexual Assault Reporting Option (SARO); interested readers can find out more information about it here (opens in a new window).

This option is for survivors of sexual assault who for whatever reason cannot or do not wish to formally report sexual assault, but who may still wish to tell the police what happened to them. While these reports do not trigger a formal investigation, the police will keep them on record, and they may, if you wish, contact you in future if the perpetrator has committed similar crimes, or for other reasons. At very least, the police know what happened to you, and if you know who the perpetrator was, their name will be on record for sexually assaulting you.

I was more than happy to seize this opportunity with both hands. I could tell the police about him AND not have to go through a shitty and thoroughly excoriating court process! I really wanted to do this for my younger self; the Louise who endured those horrors needs to know that she is worth the effort. And to be clear: I have done it for other women it may assist. Having a few trustworthy sources, I know for a fact that my ex-partner is still a dangerous man. If there is a chance that my reports may ultimately help validate those of another woman, it will certainly have been worth it.

Jennifer Lawrence, symbolising perfectly.

Jennifer Lawrence, symbolising perfectly.

Also, is the impetus and the decision to do this just the tiniest bit vengeful? Well, yes. And while it would be a waste of a life to concentrate everything one does around revenge, I am not sure, in this instance, that it is always a bad thing to be partially fuelled by it. Having had an extensive criminal history, he would be horrified to know I’m telling the cops on him. And I don’t care; actually I feel a wee thrill – please refer to the perfect summarisation of Jennifer Lawrence above🙂

Anyway, with guns ablaze, I could not wait to find some space to download a SARO form and get going. As I was to find out, the process would not be quite so quick and easy and, eight weeks after finding out about SARO, I have just completed eleven reports of sexual assaults for which my long-term memory is sufficiently accurate.

I’d like to share about the process of writing the reports, and something really positive that has emerged from doing so.

A picture I was moved by the weight of emotion to make a few weeks ago as I recalled a particularly awful experience where moonlight shone through the bedroom blinds...

A picture I was moved by the weight of emotion to make a few weeks ago as I recalled a particularly awful experience where moonlight shone through the bedroom blinds…

First, it has been quite different from the process of writing for books or articles, where one gives only an overview of what occurred. For the SARO reports, you need to be as detailed as possible – for example, you cannot just say somebody touched you. Specificity is required: Where did he touch you? For how long? Did he touch you elsewhere? I kept catching myself skipping over details – not deliberately, but because, while I have written many times about my experiences in one form or another, I have rarely considered, for example, whether he removed my bra, or how he forced my legs open. It isn’t usually appropriate to bother with that level of detail, and so I found myself writing in the way I normally do, except this time, a deeper level of detail was appropriate.

It was also somewhat disconcerting to realise that I would be unable to report a single one of the many times he forced himself on me after beating me, the way abusers do when they want to force you to make up. The truth is that this happened too often to recall and write down a single incident without fearing that I was blending in a dozen others.

The process of writing these reports, then, has been quite confronting at deeper levels. I knew at the outset that there would be triggers, but believed that I was in a strong enough place to do this. And if other sisters can face a court process, I can fill in reports in my comfortable little writing room, yeah?

A favoured song at the time of my abusive relationship

A favoured song at the time of my abusive relationship

There was work to do: When you have lived with somebody who repeatedly raped you, it may be hard to recall specific dates, especially if they were a long time ago. So I set about going to the library to scan the microfiche for significant newspaper events that tied in; I perused online hit parades from ’84, ’85 and ’86 to see when certain songs were hits (I was a fanatic 7’’ single buyer back then). I drove to different local locations so I could write down addresses at which I was raped. From a real-estate website, I managed to download the picture of an actual room of a house in Sydney where it had happened, and was surprised to see that the room was smaller than I recalled.

Circa April/May 1985: ,y partner raped me on the floor of this room while a friend of his lay on a couch - practically next to us. My partner had wanted to prove he could control me.

Circa April/May 1985: my partner raped me on the floor of this room while a friend of his lay on a couch – practically next to us. My partner had wanted to prove he could control me.

It was of course necessary to take breaks sometimes. There were days when I felt I would rather stab myself six times than compile the next report. In some ways, this level of immersion in that part of my history was causing me to relive the feelings of my younger self aged 18 to 20, and that was pretty scary. I could feel her loneliness, fear and shame all over again. But it also meant that I, as a 48 year old woman, could comfort her with what I know to be true now.

And now, about shame: I have experienced a powerful strengthening and growth here, and it makes me feel so great about the work I’ve done in the past (and the support I’ve had) to get to this point.

As I compiled the reports, I knew it was necessary to be absolutely truthful. But several times, I found that there were things I didn’t want to say. For example, for one incident, when it came to addressing whether he removed my clothing, I did not want to admit that I had, in fact, not been wearing underpants (under a nightie) to begin with. I did not want to admit that rape took place when I had allowed him into my bedroom because he wanted to “talk” (even if it is true that I was too afraid to refuse him access). And, from the horror-stories I’ve heard from survivor girlfriends who reported, I know there is no reason to assume that all police are necessarily enlightened about partner rape and thus will not make negative judgements. There were several such moments that I felt embarrassed and ashamed of what the recipient of these reports will think of me.

“When friends by shame are undefiled, How can I keep from singing?”
~Enya

But I put these truths out anyway, and discovered that actually, a far greater part of me does not actually care what others think. Nope, I don’t – honestly, I couldn’t ultimately give the proverbial flying you-know-what. I know what happened; the myth-based judgments of others are really not my problem. I am reporting crimes committed against me; I have a right to report them. And there was a sense of complete self-assurance about that – I didn’t even have to work very hard to convince myself! The healing I’ve done was there for me to draw upon. For a long time, I have known intellectually that there is so reason to be ashamed – the shame belongs to rapists. But I now UNDERSTAND that at levels of myself where it makes a difference. I’m not sure I’ve got words to convey how amazing that feels, and I surely do hope that other survivors experience it too. It is such a far cry from the time in my life where I was so shame-filled I believed I would never tell these things to anybody. It’s beautiful, and I’m celebrating it.

Anger heals too. I remember bleating to my therapist many times in the past that I “couldn’t get angry.” Our spirits know when we are ready, my friends, and we have to know that we are worth getting angry for. I am; you are.

Lastly, here is an article on sexual assault and shame that may be useful to those who need it🙂

Reflections on Partner Rape and Witch Trials. A shriek back to Sisters of Centuries past…don’t worry, it will make sense.

witchunt
(Picture from Witchcraft and Demonology, Francis X King, 1987, p. 53).

Trigger warning for domestic and sexual violence

Many years ago, I saw the above picture in a book I have. I had an immediate and visceral response to it; I felt sick, and after thousand-yard staring at it for a few minutes, it made me cry and shake. While it no longer has the kick it once did, it is still highly evocative, and I’m going to explain why soon.

I have recently written a chapter for my up-and-coming third edited work on intimate partner sexual violence. This chapter is a birds-eye description of living with a battering partner rapist. Among other things, I describe what the various triggers for rape were; jealousy being a chief factor.  My abuser had an overactive imagination about what I was supposedly doing with other men – and this was, of course, a transparent excuse to commit violence. He interrogated me about how big their penises were, how many times they’d fucked me or I’d sucked them, and so on and so forth. These situations started with beatings and frequently ended  in rape, with him still ranting at me about whether it was as good as what I was alleged to have been putting out to others.

Denials were useless, completely useless, and would bring on actually more violence.  Yet, if I had said, “Yes! A dozen other men longer and stronger than you are shagging me silly and I love every minute of it!” he would have killed me – perhaps literally. And if you know anything about witch-trials and the horrific double bind in which women accused of witchcraft were put, you will see where this is headed. I am also absolutely certain I am not the first feminist to have drawn comparisons between witch-burning and rape.

As I wrote my chapter and reflected on the uselessness of denials, and the impending punishments, I thought again of witch-trials, and women being tormented for men’s sick fantasies and desire to control women: “How long was the Devil’s phallus? Was it hot or cold? What colour was his semen? You enjoyed fornicating with him when you didst attend the Sabbat, did you not?”

I have always been horrified by the war against women that was witch-persecutions. But my reaction to the above picture was for a more personal reasons: Ignore the church fathers with their diseased minds relishing the torture to come, and the kneeling bastard warming the instruments of torture.

It is the man with the accused witch. He, with his slitted, cold eyes, wears exactly the look of accusatory hostility my abuser wore as he accused me of doings with other men. The depicted man seizing the woman and tearing at her clothes, is a frightening verisimilitude of my abuser centuries later, if you swap the tights for jeans…here is a detail for the interested: deet

This post is really apropros of not much else than getting thoughts out, and offering my solidarity to and anger for, other sisters who have similarly been subjected to modern-day versions of witch trials by abusive, controlling partners. A pox on them – abusive partners, not sisters – our power was their fear, and may their pathetic…instruments of abuse…wither and fall off within the threemonth.

Rolf Harris and Sexual Predator Tactics of “Grooming”

**TRIGGER WARNING FOR SURVIVORS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT AND THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN BLAMED**

In the wake of the guilty findings against Rolf Harris, he who clearly saw the bodies of women and girls as his personal sexual smorgasbord and relied on his celebrity to get away with his odious sexual abuses,  people online have questioned why a 13 year-old victim kept returning to the Harris home, thus “putting herself in that position repeatedly.”

I cannot speak for Harris or this young woman specifically, but I will make some educated assumptions based on knowing hundreds of survivors of sexual assault, being a survivor myself, and a working knowledge of the way predators operate.

Before we proceed further, Reader please note that this post is NOT an attempt to justify victims of sexual assault to people who want to blame them, and who aren’t really interested in answers – they insist that poor old Uncle Rolfy has been “witch-hunted” and are busy weeping buckets of blood – as well as slandering the survivors – on his behalf. Sob, how appalling it is that somebody could be found guilty on these women’s say-so and all that.  There’s a particularly irritating, arrogant and condescending note of these people fancying themselves as the lofty voice of moderation in a world where those of us with the gall  to deplore Harris’ disgusting, sleazy predations are hysterics sharpening our pitchforks and lighting our torches – as though holding somebody accountable for their crimes is in some way unfair. I’m not interested in explaining anything to those who think that because they don’t see how a 7 year-old could be publicly molested, she wasn’t. I don’t debate with mentalities like this – he was found guilty, get over it.

However, I believe that there are also people who genuinely want to understand how a young person could return to a situation of abuse. This post is for them, and it is also in support of survivors – Harris’ and other – who may be being hurt by such commentary, and who may even still blame themselves. I hope it is useful at some level.

The Harris case has caused me to do some thinking as I have related to the survivors at different levels, and been annoyed by ignorance in the aftermath. In 1979, when I was 13, I was sexually abused by a family friend called Bill for a period of several months. Here is the only picture I have of myself at this age:

I babysat this man’s children and also attended social functions at his house with my mother and sisters. And I kept going back, again and again; he assaulted me again and again. In the years of healing and learning, I have discovered that the repertoire of manipulative tricks Bill used on me, are extremely common and classic abuser behaviours (You can find further reading at the end of this post). I’m going to go as far as to venture a bet that Harris employed similar tricks.

“Grooming” was mentioned at the Harris trial. If you don’t know what that means, it is a series of ploys an abuser engages in to get their victim’s trust and ensure obedience, and to draw them further and further into sexual abuse. Grooming tactics often ensure that the child becomes confused about the abuse and is less likely to tell. (See below for an article on grooming if you would like to know more.)

Bill’s grooming worked like this – and as you read, bear in mind that grooming involves many ways of getting victims to “accept” abuse; the following methods are all forms of it:

Selecting the vulnerable: Abusers commonly pick children who may be lacking affection or care, as their crimes are less likely to be detected. It also opens the way for an abuser to pretend to fill unmet emotional needs. My mother was a physically abusive drug addict with psychiatric problems,  my father had been dead for years and I was what some might call “affection starved.” I trusted very easily if somebody was “nice” to me. Am I to blame? No; I was a child, and Bill used my circumstances against me.  Abusers are efficient at sniffing out the vulnerability that suits their purpose. Like vultures, really.

I had also been sexually abused earlier in my childhood; this made me vulnerable to further exploitation. I believed it was my fault.

Couching the abuse in affection: As he abused me, Bill would tell me how much the loved me and that I was special to him. I was special to absolutely nobody; if a child is dying of thirst, he or she will drink from a poisoned source. I hated the touching, but I liked the affection. At some level, I knew that Bill’s “affection” depended on my accepting the abuse, and I did not know how to free myself from that trap. I simply listened when he told me that he did it because he loved me.

Building up the abuse: In grooming, many abusers will “test the waters” to see what they can get away with. It may start with creepy talk: For example, Bill would call me “sexylegs” and say “I bet you’ve got lots of boyfriends.” One day, I was watching something on TV about learning to play the piano, and I said “I wish I could learn an instrument.” Bill said “You can play my instrument anytime, sweetheart.” He liked to say, “Come and sit on my knee and we’ll talk about the first thing that pops up.” I was disgusted and embarrassed, but was too shy and frightened to say so.

So, should a young girl tell an adult making suggestive comments to fuck off? In an ideal world this would be great, but in the realm of child sexual abuse, this does not often appear as a real possibility. It is thus important that we educate our kids away from unconditional obedience just because somebody is an adult. At the same time, we need to be wary of talk about what victims “should” do, remembering that the perpetrator alone is responsible, and that they have already established a power differential between themselves and their victims – one that both perpetrator and victim are aware of.

Abusers use these tactics as a measure of whether they can safely continue.

Then, Bill started showing me pornographic pictures, and telling me how much women like to be touched in those ways. That progressed to touching me; creeping up behind me to grab my breasts, rubbing his groin against me, sucking my neck and more and worse.  I remember that I would stiffen and become frightened, and Bill kept up this constant patter: “You know your uncle Bill loves you, dont’cha darlin’? You know your Uncle Bill would never hurt you.” I did not feel any sense whatsoever of having choice, and this is, of course, what Bill and other abusers intend.

“Normalising” the abuse: Like Rolf Harris did to some of his victims, Bill did some things to me in the company of other adults. It involved “wrestling” where he would tackle and then touch me. He groped my backside; he picked me up to throw me in the family swimming pool, surreptitiously slipping his hand between my legs while people watched – and laughed. His wife (who was complicit and his co-abuser but that’s another story) would be folding washing, and he’d pick up a rolled pair of socks and tickle me between the legs. She would laugh. If nobody else seemed to see anything wrong with these things, who was I to protest – despite how I felt?

The things is, that even when people do see these things, the abuser can make out it’s a joke, or that they’re overreacting by objecting. Other adults witnessing these acts, may prefer to assume that they are “silly” or perhaps inappropriate but not necessarily abusive. They must consider that these abuses may be part of grooming a victim; that man who pinches a 12-year old girl’s backside is not just engaging in “harmless fun” but may be relying on your acceptance and silence to persuade the victim that there is nothing wrong with the abuse. It is imperative that the child hear from others that it’s unacceptable.

Of course other adults may not see, and the thrill for the abuser will lie in getting away with it in plain sight, as Harris did to so many women and girls. Doubtless, it increases their sense of power and omnipotence.

To normalise the abuse is also, paradoxically, to obfuscate the nature of it as this confuses the victim. In a reading of the Harris case, it seems to me that this was a favoured tactic of his; dressing perverted behaviour up in “bear-hugs” and wet kisses so that victims wondered if it was just “his way” or whether it was abuse.

Ascribing adult responses to the victim to justify the abuse (or pretending it isn’t abuse): The sexual abusers of  even very young kids justify the assaults by acting as if the child has a choice. Bill tried to make out that his abuse of me was an “affair”. He would touch me, and say “You like that, don’t you?” I was, as he well knew, much too frightened to tell him I hated it. Some abusers will deliberately induce a sexual response in their victim as evidence that the child “wants” it. Survivors feel terrible shame and blame themselves (Here is an article for more on this: Sexual Arousal & Sexual Assault). Bill would tell me how wonderful it would be if I “let” him “make love to me.” Abusers do this to foster a sense of (false) complicity in their victims.

Abusers try to act like their victim is in control, when in fact the abuser always is. An abuser behaves as if a terrified and manipulated victim is giving “consent” – for example, when I displayed fear or disgust, Bill would pull a sad face and say “What’s the matter, sweetheart? Don’t you love your uncle Bill?” I could not – did not – have the voice to tell him that I didn’t want him to touch me – and since I couldn’t say it, he used this as evidence that I was “letting” him do it. I felt helpless, and I was. I was his victim. The shame was very very deep; I would not have chosen to speak to anybody about it because I was sure they would blame me as I blamed myself.

Blaming their victim: An abuser might say things like, “You must want this or you would say no”, or like Bill, “If you weren’t so sexy I wouldn’t do this to you.”

It is all too often the case that the ultimate aim of a predator like Bill, is to use their tricks to strong-arm the victim into sexual intercourse – or, in the case of child sexual abuse, rape. Bill never got that far with me, but I believe he became tired of trying the “gentle approach” and one night when I’d been to the toilet at his house, he seized me in a dark hallway and pulled me into his bedroom. He covered my mouth and lay on top of me pulling at my underwear and his zipper. For whatever reason, I didn’t freeze and go silent, as I usually had done before and which Bill was in all probability counting on me to do this time too. I wrenched my head away and screamed; while he stopped attempting actual intercourse he dry-humped me violently until his wife and my mother burst in. I was terrified; he convinced the adults he’d just been “messing around”. After that, he never touched me again, and all pretense of affection promptly ceased. He and his wife agreed that I was a “slut.”

Bill’s sexual abuse of me was about power-over, and what I have written above is how he secured and consolidated that power. Abusers want to have power and they like that which comes from the vulnerable. Basically, they’re cowards.

So, why did I keep going back to Bill’s place? You know, it never once occurred to me that I had a choice not to do so. Not once. These are the things abusers rely on to cement their victims’ sense of entrapment.

I was a child of 13; our brains are not developed to the cognitive extent of adults and where there is nobody to talk to, there is nobody to counter the messages the abuser is giving. So, I believed those messages, and I felt very much to blame. It never occurred to me that I could stop it.

And now?

I know it was not in any way my fault; BILL exploited and abused me; BILL and Bill alone was responsible. Bill counted on my shame, fear,  confusion, need for affection, self-blame and sense of entrapment to silence me and  enable him to continue the abuse.

With respect to Rolf Harris’ victim, every time she returned to his home and he assaulted her again, ROLF HARRIS put her in that position again and again. It was his fault. She was a kid; nobody should blame her – even if she liked his affection; even if she responded at some levels. Harris was in control, and the predatory bastard knew it.

Before I conclude, there are other ways to groom than those I have outlined above. An abuser may use blackmail or threats – for example “If you don’t let me do this to you, I’ll harm your family” (Read Lloyd Jones’  Choo Woo for a particularly stomach-turning example of this and other methods of grooming similar to those above)

In Rolf Harris’ case, the fact that he was Rolf Harris may have been a form of grooming in itself. It’s horrible to imagine – but easy – that being assaulted by somebody with his social status would have been incredibly isolating. Whom could you expect to believe you? I am sure that it was difficult for some of the victims to believe it themselves and it was not only very young girls, but also numerous adult women on the receiving end of such a shock with it’s ensuing impacts. The power differential that benefits abusers was established by his very status.

For what it’s worth, I believe them; they have been very brave to come forward and encouraging others to do the same. I am glad that Harris has been put out of action, even if that comes at a time where he has had decades to enjoy his accolades, and now has one foot in the grave.

Don’t tell me about Harris’ “ruined life”, listen to women like Tonya Lee.

If there’s anything I think is quite sad, it’s some of Harris’ victims saying he ruined their lives. I have no right to tell other survivors how to feel, and I understand the appalling damage that sexual assault can cause. However, I do hope that Harris’ survivors will find that he doesn’t deserve the power to ruin their lives in total, and that they can take back at least some of that power. I think these women are much more powerful than they may feel. He’s a putrescent maggot; they are so much more.

I’m frankly jaded by people who identify and sympathise with abusers, and look for reasons to judge and disbelieve the survivors. Whether an abuser is the Great Rolf Harris, or a slimy little unknown like Bill, their tricks are similar – they are birds of a feather – birds of prey of a feather. And they are criminals.

Postscript: I walked into Bill’s family business 15 years ago and confronted him about his abuse of me. Like Harris’ response to Tonya Lee, he claimed not to remember me. It’s so arrogant, that, isn’t it? They do it and they move on, but WE remember and we have to live with it. I told Bill I was not there to argue since we both know it happened, but that I would gladly refresh his memory. By the time I left, the hands that had abused me were shaking. I have had him removed from a committee overseeing activities for teenagers, and the police in my hometown are aware of him. This is eminently satisfying to me.

FURTHER READING

Books:

Online Articles:

Dear Nick Ross…

Mr. Ross,

It is with great concern that I read your recent comments regarding rape. I’m not going to respond to your comments about provocative dress etc. Other people are already doing this though I might say, if you came across a scantily dressed woman, would you rape her? No? Why is it excusable for somebody else to do it? I am concerned about the fact that you appear to believe that if a woman is raped by her boyfriend, and doesn’t see it as rape, she hasn’t been raped. This is rank silliness, but it is also dangerous rank silliness.

Many women do not see rape by an intimate partner for the crime that it is, precisely because, among other things, social commentators such as yourself insist that it is “A long way removed from being systematically violated or snatched off the street.” It is attitudes such as yours that allow partner rape to persist unchecked and unnamed. Women being raped by their partners will read your commentary, conclude that regardless of how they feel, you must be right, and the danger to them will continue. Thanks. For Nothing.

While you vaunt the fact that you’ve studied rape, evidently you don’t know that women sexually abused in relationships ARE often systematically violated, tend to suffer longer effects than victims of stranger rape, experience the highest levels of physical injury, and where they are raped and battered, they are in more danger of being murdered than women who are being battered but not raped. If you would care to educate yourself further, you may see the sources of this information plus more here.

I suppose that you would suggest that such women are responsible for their violations because they remain with abusive men. But did you know, Mr Ross, that there is a dramatic spike in the risk of rape and other violence as a woman is leaving? Did you know that women who separate from violent partners may, in fact be grabbed off the streets and taken away by ex-partners for the purpose of rape? Hostage situations that include rape are common when terminating or after terminating an abusive relationship.

Neither are perpetrators of partner rape labouring under misunderstandings because a woman hasn’t made herself clear. Perpetrators of partner rape use sexual violence to punish, humiliate or stamp ownership on a woman.

Because somebody does not know what to call a thing, does not mean it didn’t happen. But so as long as a woman doesn’t know it’s rape, it doesn’t matter, right? You have just helped sustain ignorance about partner rape, and, however unwittingly, approved it.

Partner rape is real rape. And partner rape is a crime, despite the fact that you appear to believe it shouldn’t be prosecuted, as if there is a cut-off point where it ceases to be a crime.

You have also trotted out the tired old chestnut about women committing just as much domestic violence as men *eyes rolling*. Oh, where to begin? Good for you for neglecting to mention that the “studies” on which you base this “knowledge” are intrinsically flawed and almost continually ignore sexual assault.

I extend my support to all survivors who have been hurt by this malarkey. If, as some say, you are what you eat, a trip to the hardware store is a smorgasbord for Nick Ross😉

Nick, it is better to keep your mouth closed and be assumed a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

Rape Norms and the Support of Perpetrators

I have a lovely new friend, “Sarah”, who is a survivor of partner rape, and who is presently undergoing the legal process. She is pushing ahead even the police have cautioned that she is less likely to have success because she remained with her partner after the fact of being raped. And everybody knows, don’t they, that a “normal” rape victim, a “good” rape victim leaves the scene straight away and reports the crime, right? The overarching social belief here is that remaining with the rapist and delayed reporting, mean that the rape complainant is, in fact, lying about being raped. Complaining about rape belatedly is seen to denote a (usually) spite-fuelled “changing of the mind” about legitimate sex or, among other things, to get back at a man for leaving the relationship. There is thought to be secondary gain of some sort.

I am an old fan of the band Status Quo, and as such subscribe to several Facebook pages concerning the group and members past and present. Due to this, I became aware that a member of a Quo tribute band had lately been charged with rape. John “Jackie Quo” Ambler was sentenced to jail for the rape of an intimate partner some years ago (he is also found to have sexually assaulted her daughter). The rape was reported well after it had occurred, but Ambler was found guilty. Here is an article on this case.

I mention this case specifically because there is a Facebook group disseminating a petition trying to have Ambler freed. There is that tired old usual view that the victim has undoubtedly lied. Some of the self-righteousness and hysteria seems to be predicated on the fact that this man was a member of a Quo rock tribute group; some fans are a bit disgruntled. Loyalty to a band is a silly reason to assume that somebody didn’t do something (and we see the same phenomenon repeated with sporting celebrities), but the main ace in the hole seems to be a letter written by Ambler’s wife. There’s a bit of a convoluted backstory: The victim was a woman with whom Ambler had been having an affair behind his wife’s back for many years. His wife, however wronged, still wrote this on his behalf. Anybody with knowledge of partner rape will see the myriad myths about it at play in this letter: The victim remained; she didn’t complain of rape at the time, she invited him to live with her after said rape, she only complained about it after he dumped her. And all that which we know so well, and which people automatically take to mean that the complainant is a liar.

Personally, it is amazing to me that Ambler’s wife could be persuaded to write such a letter on behalf of a man who abused her trust so appallingly. Okay, but let’s be fair – does a cheat equal a rapist? Perhaps not, but in this case the court saw enough evidence to decide otherwise. It is most unusual for courts to even try a partner rape case. So while the “Free John Ambler” group is bleating about the lack of evidence, it would need to have been fairly compelling from a legal standpoint. Isn’t it often the way that, with rape, the public gets to hear about what evidence there wasn’t and not what evidence there was?

One important aspect of partner rape is that it is often not possible to apply the “norms” that apply to stranger rape. The fact that those norms do not fit does not mean that rape did not occur. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – an act of rape does not – cannot possibly – unbecome an act of rape because somebody remained in the relationship with her rapist – or because she did not know at the time, what was happening to her.

Ambler, like many perpetrators of violence, gets the benefit of the doubt; excuse me, but I’m going to give the victims the benefit of mine. It is nothing new for women and children to experience rape and other violence and then have people band together to support the perpetrator, and it is horrifying. I am not of the belief that women never lie about rape. I believe, however, that they rarely do so and I’m wearied of the way four fifths of society are automatically prepared to swear on a stack of bibles she’s a liar, and take pity on the perpetrator. I prefer to level things out a bit. Obviously, Ambler himself was quite proficient at telling lies over a long period of time, and I imagine that it must have taken immense courage for these women to take this to the courts. They have my support.

I also offer Sarah hugs, support and a comrade x

Women and Resistance to Sexual Assault – Is the Message Getting Through?

Hi friends,

This post has been churning away in me for some time now. It is born partly of interactions I have had with a new online friend, Gaz Black, of The Best Defense Program.

You’re going to get a bit of stream-of-consciousness here. Being somewhat tired, this may not be the most organized post.

I have observed that the issue of women and self-defense is problematic for several reasons. Some of my sisters in feminism think that it should not be incumbent upon women to do something to stop rape; men need to stop raping. I agree with that, it is a most worthy ideal. Yet, while we are busy pursuing this ideal, are not we, our daughters and all of the women we love, worth having information that may stop a rapist from violating us? I believe that we are.

Raising the issue of resistance in rape situations may also be troubling for some survivors, who feel that it somehow condemns them for whatever they feel they didn’t do to stop the rape. So many of us survived by freezing or acquiescing because we were very naturally afraid of being harmed “worse” – as if rape isn’t being harmed badly enough.I did this too, for what were very good reasons at the time, and I don’t think any woman should feel a moment’s shame over what she feels she “should” have done to stop a rapist. Certainly, I no longer do – even as I understand that the dreadful syndrome “If only I had done this, that, or the other”, is something that plagues most survivors. Unfortunately we get plenty of help in that from a wider society that insists we must be beaten senseless to prove we didn’t consent. This is rubbish, of course. I do believe strongly though, that talk and activity around self-defense and resistance can be something that we use to empower us for the future – because we are worth defending.

Several years ago, I had occasion to read some studies on women and resistance strategies to rape, and their findings were, to say the least, compelling. It is a fact that many women fear fighting a rapist back, because they are afraid of being hurt “worse” (and in the words of Gaz, “Worse than what?”) or even killed. The studies were saying over and over again, however, that fighting back did NOT correlate with greater injury. Using strategies such as fighting and screaming also led to less rape completion, whereas strategies such as crying and pleading were far less successful. Women can statistically be more successful in thwarting rape if they are more worried about being raped than they are other forms of violence. Further, women who did actively fight back, tended to be less traumatized than women who did not, even if the rape was completed 1, 2. (See below for a list of studies).

Could I share something with you? The very last time that my ex-partner attempted to rape me, he had held me in my room and tormented me for two hours. We had broken up for good, and he didn’t want to accept it.He abused me in numerous ways, including digitally raping me. Then he threw me into the garish purple beanbag I had in my room, straddled me and started trying to pull off my underwear. Something in me snapped, it was like a point of critical mass. Having been raped again and again by him, and acquiescing because I knew he would beat me if I didn’t, I knew I could not stand one more time. I truly felt like I was teetering on the edge of a precipice. I screamed “no!” but silently because my children were in the house. And then my knee came up and smashed him in the nose, and my fist shot out and punched him in the balls. He staggered away from me, and I could not believe what I had done. I had really hurt him. I didn’t run, because I didn’t want to leave my babies. And he recovered, and beat me so badly he eventually had to help me to bed. But he did not complete the rape. It was terrible, absolutely, to be bashed. But I have to say that those studies resonate with me, because to this day, while I would acknowledge it was horrific to be beaten that way, I am still glad that he did not rape me in what I perceived then to be the fullest sense. I derive at least some triumph from that experience, and I do feel that it is somewhat less traumatic. I don’t know, maybe it’s all relative.

It feels really important and fair for me to say at this point that I am not suggesting that battered women let themselves in for more severe beatings. I am sharing one experience I had, and even so, I am not ashamed of other times where I didn’t fight because I knew for a fact he would beat me badly. It is just that with this one experience, it was being raped that I was more frightened of. Yes, he might have killed me. But he didn’t, and I feel lucky to be able to share this. 

While we are talking about women who fight back in some way to resist rape, how does that apply to partner rape and domestic violence? Finkelhor and Yllo, in their study License to Rape, 3 looked at strategies women use to avoid marital rape. These strategies might involve sleeping with children – or other ways of avoiding going to bed with the perpetrator. Some women made threats to kill the perpetrator, or to leave him, which were perceived by him as credible. But these researchers were very cautious, because while they mentioned the compelling study findings of the like of Pauline Bart, 4 it was also evident that battered women who fought back did actually quite often sustain high degrees of injury. We also know that partner rape tends to occasion the highest degree of physical injury 5. So, perhaps this is a whole other area that, in my experience, few self-defense programs are scoped to take into account, focusing as they generally do on stranger, date or acquaintance rape. It’s okay that they have a specific focus, but perhaps other contexts and possible limitations could be acknowledged.

And now on with the generalities of women’s resistance.

According to Brent Sanders, facilitator of Winning Edge Strategies, rapists have a script. They expect you to be intimidated by them; when you are not – when for example, you scream and fight rather than freezing – you change their script and it confuses them. Evidently, some rapists are apt to decide that a fighting woman is not worth the trouble, because they’re basically cowards who prefer easier prey.

Anyway, all of this reading was enough to cause me to check into a self-defense course, where I found out I could hit really REALLY hard.

And is resisting sexual assaults all about physical fighting? No. The best programs will teach us that our minds, or instincts, and listening to them, may just be our best weapons. I have witnessed the terrible pain of countless women who have said to me “Louise, I knew there was time where something wasn’t quite right. But I ignored it because he hadn’t actually done anything.”

Society teaches us that women are overly hysterical about rape (and that we are wishful thinking, yuk yuk) even when rape is a goddamn fact of life for too many women. We should avoid it at all costs, because if it does happen we’ll be blamed for not avoiding it, but if we do confess that we are afraid of it we get sneered at! It is typical for women to ignore and discount themselves precisely because that is what we have been taught to do, emotional non-rational little flowers that we are (snort).  So, many of us, when we sense something is wrong, ignore it because we are afraid of over-reacting and being silly. But really, if we think somebody may be following us and we summon help, so what if we’re wrong? It’s a lot better than having been right and having feared looking silly. Women should feel much more free to take care of themselves on the grounds of what might happen to them. Rape is a reality that we live cheek-to-jowl with.

One of my favourite feminists writers, Diana E.H. Russell, makes the point that women need to spend more time taking care of their safety than they do men’s egos 6.  And the thing is, we are socialized to be nice, aren’t we? We will dance with that creepy guy at a party instead of telling him to piss off, because we don’t want to be seen as an unpleasant bitch. It is rooted so deeply in us, when the fact of the matter is that his feelings matter far less than OUR rights, OUR integrity.

Sisters, if you feel something is wrong, it doesn’t matter if he hasn’t done anything. Please, put yourself first and act on that feeling. Our minds, our instincts and our power are a lot more switched on than we may think they are.

A problem I have observed in many survivors is that they tend to think they’re being “paranoid about what happened” if they feel uneasy with certain people or situations. But our experiences can be guides; that is not paranoia – it is a good thing for us to learn to listen to ourselves.

Resistance to rape may also involve how we use our voices. Studies also show that women who are okay with being “rude and unfriendly” to men who approach them stand a good chance of not being assaulted 7. Sharing again: Some ten years ago, I was approached by a man in a car-park who asked me for a cigarette. I gave him one, and he immediately put it in his pocket. This, coupled with the intense stare on his face made my instincts go crazy. And I was right. He said, “I’ve been watching you inside the shopping center. You’re really beautiful. I want to fuck you. Can we go somewhere?” I told him he had to be joking, and ran around my car and jumped in. But before I could slam the door, he wedged himself between me and the car door and said, “At least let me touch your breasts.” At this point I was terrified and whimpered “Please don’t hurt me.” Then all of a sudden it occurred to me that my new training and knowledge was going to waste. I thought, “Louise! You sound like a victim!” And I straightened up and yelled, “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME, YOU ASSHOLE! RIGHT NOW! How DARE you threaten me like this? You have no right!”  He backed off as if I had produced a blowtorch and threatened to set fire to him. He even said sorry! I went to the police and warned them about a man accosting women in this way, because I was afraid of what he might to to a woman who didn’t yell.

How do I know my actions saved me from something worse? I don’t. The best self-defense courses will never promise any guarantees, because there are none. I just know that what I had learned, and the growing self–respect that came from healing, did help me that day. I’m glad I did it.

Have any of you ever had a chance to read D.A. Clarke’s essay, Justice is a Woman with a Sword: Some Thoughts on Women, Feminism and Violence? 8 This wonderful, worthwhile read pleads the case for women to stop being socialized as we are, and be prepared to use whatever violence necessary against those who would do us violence. Clarke says

It’s interesting – amusing in a bitter kind of way – maybe even liberating – to envision a slightly different world. The man limps into the emergency room with one ear half torn off and multiple bruises. As he gasps out his story, the doctor shakes his head. “You mean you grabbed at her breasts ands tried to pull her into your car? Well I mean, dummy, what did you expect? And he gets no sympathy, not a shred, from anyone.

Catharine MacKinnon once said that it is women’s inability to respond to sexual assault with anger, that ultimately destroys them. In my twenties, I felt only fear and terror around the possibility of further sexual assault. Now, I feel rage. I know what it is: It is somebody wiping his backside on me. It is not because I did the wrong thing by wearing a miniskirt, by being at home alone, or by existing. Rape means that some bastard wants to literally take a figurative shit on me. And my patience and my self-blame have given out – I’m so over that shit. It has given way to fury at the thought of being raped again. I am not some bastard’s garbage bin. Will that save me? Is it wise to rape-proof yourself with fantasies about a well-aimed kick to the nuts, or even killing the fool silly enough to try, appealing as that is? No, because we are all vulnerable. But that rage, and that knowledge that I don’t deserve to be somebody’s victim is a much better place to be in than the fear.

The title of this post asked if the message was getting through. I do hope so. I know that it is still so common for women to fear what would happen if they dare stand up for themselves. I know this is natural but it is also what too many rapists are banking on. Damn them.

Citations:

  1. Bart, P. B. (1981), A Study of Women Who Both Were Raped and Avoided Rape. Journal of Social Issues, 37: 123–137.
  2. Fry, P., and L. Barker. ”Female Survivors of Violence and Abuse: Their Regrets of Action and Inaction in Coping.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 16 (2001)
  3. Finkelhor, D.and Yllo, K., License to Rape: Sexual Abuse of Wives, The Free Press, New York 1985
  4. Bart, P. B. (1981), A Study of Women Who Both Were Raped and Avoided Rape. Journal of Social Issues, 37: 123–137.
  5. Myhill & Allen, Rape and Sexual Assault of Women: Findings from the British Crime Survey
  6. Russell, Diana E.H, The Politics of Rape, Stein and Day, USA (1975)
  7. Brodsky, S. Prevention of rape: Deterrance by the potential victim. In S. Brodsky Victim and rapist. Lexington: Lexington Books, 1976, 75-89.
  8. Clarke, D.A, Justice is a Woman with a SwordSome Thoughts on Women, Feminism and Violence http://www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/Porn/Justice.html

Studies:

  • A 10-Year Update of “Review and Critique of Empirical Studies of Rape Avoidance”
  • A Study of Women Who Both Were Raped and Avoided Rape
  • Challenging Despair Teaching About Women’s Resistance to Violence
  • Female Survivors of Violence and Abuse: Their Regrets of Action and Inaction in Coping
  • “I Can Take Care of Myself”: The Impact of Self-Defense Training on Women’s Lives
  • Latent Profiles Among Sexual Assault Survivors Implications for Defensive Coping and Resistance
  • Prediction of Women’s Utilization of Resistance Strategies in a Sexual Assault Situation –  A Prospective Study
  • Resistance to Sexual Assault: Who Resists and What Happens?
  • Self-Defense Assertiveness Training, Women’s Victimization History, and Psychological Characteristics
  • Self-Defense or Assertiveness Training and Women’s Responses to Sexual Attacks
  • The Effects of Resistance Strategies on Rape
  • The efficacy of  resistance strategies in rape situations
  • The Roots of Resistance to Women’s Self-Defense
  • Victim Responses by Rapist Type : An Empirical and Clinical Analysis
  • Women’s Use of Physical and Nonphysical Self-Defense Strategies During Incidents of Partner Violence

Good Self-Defense Resources: