Last year, a young woman was raped. There was no violence and no struggle, but why should her assault be classified as “mild”? This is her story.
I was raped. I still feel distinctly uneasy writing that sentence, like it’s an ordeal I have no right to lay claim to. There was no overt violence; the man didn’t grab me in the street. He actually sent me a text message a few days ago.
The sentencing of Lee Setford by Judge Mettyear in the UK in 2014 shone a light on the dangerous, pervasive attitudes that still exist towards rape, those who commit it, and those who fall victim to it. Setford had taken a young woman home with him after a night of drinking. She fell asleep on his sofa, and awoke to him having sex with her. No consent was given. She was raped.
Setford was sentenced to five years in prison, of which he is expected to serve two. Upon sentencing him, Judge Mettyear told Setford, “It’s sad to see a man of generally good character in the dock for such a serious offence. I do not regard you as a classic rapist. I do not think you are a general danger to strangers. You are not the type who goes searching for a woman to rape. It was almost out of the blue that two girls turned up late at night, very, very drunk, at your home,” he continued. “The victim was the worst for drink out of the two of them. She was completely out of it. She was a pretty girl who you fancied. You simply could not resist. You had sex with her.” He concluded by admitting he wished he could have passed a lighter sentence on Setford: “It is a great shame you did not have the courage to say, ‘I have made a terrible mistake and I am sorry’. That would have made it much easier for her and I could have passed a lighter sentence.”
Not a classic rapist; the victim was drunk; she was a pretty girl; you simply couldn’t resist. This is classic victim blaming at its worst. I felt angry like any other human would on reading those comments. But a second feeling came over me. Why wasn’t I as angry about what happened to me?
I wasn’t a happy woman around the time of the assault. I embraced full hedonism in the hopes I would discover, or at least simulate, the fun and carefree lifestyle it promised. In reality, I was incredibly miserable. I filled a lot of my spare time drinking, partying and going on as many dates as I could. If they didn’t work out, I would find myself torn between simultaneous feelings of complete indifference towards the man in question, but also like the world was crashing down around my ears at the thought he might be rejecting me. I slept with some people I probably wouldn’t have normally. I was just trying to prove I was living a full life.
On the evening I met that man, the conversation wasn’t scintillating, but as we drank more, his stories of travelling and his patronising amusement at my political leanings were enough to keep me there, if nothing else, just for the sake of doing something. It grew very late, and he mentioned that he lived nearby. He suggested going back to his.
To this day, I have no idea why I did this. I wasn’t thinking. If anything, I was trying to adopt a cavalier attitude towards dating and its trappings. We drank some more at his flat. Next thing I knew, we were making out. We fooled around for a bit before I put a stop to it. I was drunk and had no desire for things to go any further. We fell asleep.
The next thing I remember was waking hazily. I could feel sunlight in my eyes, and something felt strange. Then I realised he was having sex with me. I took me a while to fully recognise what was happening. My initial thought was just: “this isn’t happening”. It felt surreal. I managed to mumble something about him wearing a condom. I didn’t scream. I didn’t say stop. I just lay there.
I can’t really remember what happened afterwards. I washed and went to work. I went into a health care store to use their make-up testers and I started crying. I told myself I was being silly. I’d gone back to his house, we’d made out a bit, so what happened wasn’t that bad. It was just the natural conclusion to things.
I told myself this over and over again. When asked how the date went I mumbled it was okay, and depending on whom I was talking to, that I either went back to his but didn’t sleep with him, or in some cases that I did. I couldn’t cope with telling anybody what happened, as I was wrestling a deep unease. That I hadn’t been raped, that I was complicit. That I hadn’t said ‘stop that,’ I hadn’t put up a fight. It’s what you’ll hear several of us say. I stayed quiet for days. I barely ate, channelled myself into my work and withdrew from friends. If around one I’d talk about anything and everything as long as it wasn’t about me.
Privately, I threw questions at myself. If I told anyone, surely they would ask questions too, questions I didn’t have an answer to. Saying rape felt weird. Was it a grey area? Then I realised, no. No grey area. A man decided to have sex with me while I was asleep and unable to give consent. Recalling this still makes me feel sick, as I think about the logistics of what he must have done while I was there unconscious in his bed.
It came to head a week later when a friend back from overseas came to meet me for dinner. We were together for 15 minutes when she looked at me and asked, “What’s wrong? You don’t seem like you”. I broke down. To this day, only three or four people know what happened. Their reactions range from misappropriated rage to skipping around what happened or trying to talk me away from the notion of being raped. Perhaps there is no right reaction. I wouldn’t know what to say if confronted with a friend confiding this to me. In that moment you want to support the person while apportioning blame to the rapist, but in that moment I didn’t want a vitriolic rant about the bastard who did this to me. I don’t know what I wanted.
Still as I’m writing this I feel like I’m attention seeking, that I’m making a fuss. I don’t want to have been raped, and if I’m truthful, I hate the initial reaction I had. I was an apologist for that man, and had fully internalised how society views rape. A stranger hadn’t dragged me off the street, I had no struggle marks on my body bar a few bruises on my inner legs and I went about my day as I would any other day.
I’ve read enough on rape cases to know that if reporting this I would have been asked a number of unpleasant questions, including why I went back and what I did once I was there. I would have been painted as a loose woman with a penchant for partying. I’m pretty sure my mental health history would have been up for discussion. Why did you kiss him? Why did you fall asleep in a stranger’s bed wearing only underwear? These are all questions that I asked myself, frustrated with my inability to come up with a clear answer.
What I realise now is that I don’t need an answer to these questions, as these questions are inconsequential. There was no consent. I was asleep. There is no such thing as a classic rape or rapist, yet from a young age it is instilled in us that rape happens when a man or woman is violently forced to have sex. Like most violence directed towards women, rapes are usually committed by someone the victim knows. If you want an example of a classic rapist, just take a quick look around you. Despite what we’re told, they’re generally right there in front of us, not hiding out in bushes or darkened alleyways. Despite what Richard Dawkins [who made a series of comments on “mild rape”, “stranger rape” being “worse” than “date rape”, and so on] might think, rape is rape. Placing value judgments on which type is “worse” leads us down a dangerous rabbit hole that undermines the severity of the crime, and – worse – its impact on the victim. When people are determined to enforce a hierarchy on rape’s severity, you have to ask what the motives are. Why force us to rate them against one another if not to either absolve the perpetrator of guilt, or blame the victim for their part in it?
In rape cases that include a ‘grey area’, this grey area is exploited and proliferated to the extent that when a man raped me, my immediate response was to look inwards at what I did to make it happen. Comments like those made by Judge Mettyear’s just serve to bolster this belief, in both rape’s victims and its perpetrators. When young men are shown cases like this, does it encourage them to think carefully about questions surrounding consent? Or does it just perpetuate the myth that if someone’s drunk and in your home, it isn’t really rape, because they probably wanted it anyway?
Society makes survivors feel like we did something wrong, but I didn’t. He very much did. Sometimes it takes a crass metaphor to bring the point home: I can see a beautiful piece of jewellery and steal it. If I get caught, does the law say it was the jeweller’s fault for leaving it out? No. So why does it become such a grey area when talking about a man having sex with me?
Anyone affected by issues discussed in this story can contact;
Hong Kong; http://www.rainlily.org.hk/en/
United Kingdom; http://rapecrisis.org.uk/