This article contains reference to sexual assault, and we advise caution before reading it.
In Cambridge, I constantly hear jokes being thrown around, comments and snarky asides that, like most people, I’ve learnt to submerge into background noise. It’s only recently that I’ve tried to teach myself to not just look awkwardly at my shoes when someone makes a “laddy” joke, which seems to increasingly just mean sexually violent. What may seem like a harmless joke to you, can mean a sleepless night of triggered memories to someone else, someone you might care about, quite possibly a friend.
I was raped when I was 12, but I was 19 when I realised it.
We’re taught all our lives what the stereotype of a rape survivor looks like: a quivering mess sitting in a dark corner, rocking back and forth. We’re told the line “don’t blame yourself” and “it wasn’t your fault”. I didn’t identify with any of this. For years I saw rape like most people must, as something that happened to girls in dark alleys in the middle of the night. I probably don’t look like a victim, after all, who does?
This is probably why people don’t stop to think when they talk. It wasn’t until I became a welfare officer, and was being trained in how to teach others about consent that I suddenly realised, sitting in a room of almost 100 people, that I was a victim myself. It took even longer to realise that I’d been sexually abused.
What we’re not shown in the media is that rape takes so many forms. It isn’t necessarily being pinned against a wall, you don’t have to be held down or forced, you don’t even have to say no or try to stop your attacker. In my case, the pure shock of what was happening stopped me from even reacting.
For seven years I was so embarrassed that it wasn’t a case of telling someone, but of making sure he didn’t tell his friends. In my mind, I’d done something wrong and disgusting, everything around me taught me that what had happened made me a slut.
Even now, the main barrier to me opening up to friends isn’t the pain of the memory but the shame associated with it, and the lingering belief that they’ll see me the way I did for so long, as dirty. It took a throwaway joke about the consent campaign from a man in my college that bugged me for days for me to suddenly sit up at 2am and realise why I was so angry, I wasn’t a slut, I had been raped.
The last thing you need when you’re trying to desperately glue back together the shattered pieces of your self-worth, is to feel like there’s somebody standing over you and laughing. While people may think their comments are harmless because they carry no real intention or malice, you can never know if somebody near you has had an experience of rape or sexual assault.
Using rape to shock people into laughter isn’t new or clever, it’s cheap, and it hurts. My body is not a punchline, I don’t care how ironic you think you’re being, my nightmares don’t feel ironic. Consent is not a feminist catchphrase for you to roll your eyes at, it can be the difference between sleeping at night and staring for hours at the ceiling, trying not to choke on tears. It’s one of the most important lessons our society has to learn. It is not a joke. Rape is not funny.