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It’s Trigger Warning Week

This post comes with a trigger warning for rape and sexual assault that should be visible from space. 


Rape. From the Latin, ‘rapere,’ to take or snatch. Usual meaning: to penetrate another person’s body sexually without their consent. From the Sexual Offences Act, 2003: “A is guilty of rape when A intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of B (the complainant) with his penis; B does not consent to the penetration; and A does not reasonably believe that B consents.” It’s such a small, simple, violent word, and right now, thanks to Julian Assange, George Galloway and Todd Akin, the entire internet and substantial portions of the internot are arguing over what it means. 

Over the past few days of following the Assange case, standing in the crowd to hear him deliver his Evita speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy, debating with men and women online, I’ve heard a great many people from all sides of the political spectrum tell me that the women who accused the Wikileaks founder of sexual assault were lying, or they were duped, or they were ‘honey traps’, or, most worryingly and increasingly often, that their definition of rape is inaccurate. The people saying this are not all prize bellends like Galloway or frothing wingnuts like Akin and other prominent Republicans who seem to want abortion to be available only to virgins, a position that seems curiously and specifically unChristian. Some of them are just everyday internet idiots who happen to believe that if a man who you have previously consented to sex with holds you down and fucks you, that isn’t rape. If you were wearing a short skirt and flirting, that isn’t rape. If a man penetrates you without a condom while you’re asleep, against your will, that isn’t rape, not, in Akin’s words, “legitimate rape”. 

Old, white, powerful men know what rape is, much better, it seems, than rape victims. They are lining up to inform us that women – the discussion has centred around women and their lies even though 9% of rape victims are men* – do not need “to be asked prior to each insertion”. Thanks for that, George, not that it’s just you. There’s an army of commentators who also believe that “that’s not real rape” is both a valid, useful defence of a specific political asylum seeker and objective truth. Women lie, they say. Women lie about rape, about sexual assault, they do it because they’re stupid or wicked or attention-seeking or deluded. The fact that the rate of fraud in rape cases remains as low as the rate of fraud in any other criminal allegation – between two and four per cent – does not impact. Women lie, and they do it to ruin men in positions of power. We shall henceforth call this ‘The Reddit Defence.’

This is not an article about Julian Assange. I’ve already written one of those, as, it seems, has everyone with keyboard and opinion. This is about rape, and what it means, and what we think it means. As a culture, we still refuse collectively to accept that most rapes are committed by ordinary men, men who have friends and families, men who may even have done great or admirable things with their lives. We refuse to accept that nice guys rape, and they do it often. Part of the reason we haven’t accepted it is that it’s a fucking painful thing to contemplate – far easier to keep on believing that only evil men rape, only violent, psychotic men lurking in alleyways with pantomime-villain moustaches and knives, than to consider that rape might be something that ordinary men do. Men who might be our friends or colleagues or people we look up to. We don’t want that to be the case. Hell, I don’t want that to be the case. So, we all pretend it isn’t. Justice, see?

Actually, rape is very common. Ninety thousand people reported rape in the United States in 2008 alone**, and it is estimated that over half of rape victims never go to the police, making the true figure close to two hundred thousand. Between ten and twenty percent of women have experienced rape or sexual assault. It’s so common that when someone reports an allegation of rape in the press, I often hear friends tell me: ‘that sounds like my rape.’ Not: ‘I was raped, too.’ ‘That sounds like my rape.’ Being assaulted or fucked without consent is so common that it’s more noteworthy if you happen to recognise similar specific circumstances. It’s so common that – sorry if this hurts to hear – there’s a good chance you know somebody who might have raped someone else. There’s a good chance I do. And there’s more than a small chance that he doesn’t even think he did anything wrong, that he believes that what he did wasn’t rape, couldn’t be rape, because after all, he’s not a bad guy. 

The man who raped me wasn’t a bad guy. He was in his early thirties, a well-liked and well-respected member of a social circle of which I am no longer a part,  a fun-loving, left-leaning chap who was friends with a number of strong, feminist women I admired. I was nineteen. I admired him too.

One night, a group of my friends held a big party in a hotel. Afterwards, a few of the older guests, including this man, invited me up to the room they had rented. I knew that some drinking and kissing and groping might happen. I started to feel ill, and asked if It would be alright if I went to sleep in the room – and I felt safe, because other people were still there. I wasn’t planning to have sex with this man or with anyone else that night, but if I had been, that wouldn’t have made it okay for him to push his penis inside me without a condom or my consent.

The next thing I remember is waking up to find myself being penetrated, and realising that my body wasn’t doing what I told it to. Either I was being held down or – more likely – I was too sick to move. I’ve never been great at drinking, which is why I don’t really do it any more, but this feeling was more profound, and to this day I don’t know if somebody put something in my drink that night. I was horrified at the way his face looked, fucking me, contorted and sweating. My head span. I couldn’t move. I was frightened, but he was already inside me, and I decided it was simplest to turn my face away and let him finish. When he did, I crawled to the corner of the enormous bed and lay there until the sun came up.

In the morning I got up, feeling sick and hurting inside, and took a long, long shower in the hotel’s fancy bathroom. The man who had fucked me without my consent was awake when I came out. He tried to push me down on the bed for oral, but I stood up quickly and put on my dress and shoes. I asked him if he had used a condom. He told me that he ‘wasn’t into latex’, and asked if I was on the pill. I don’t remember thinking ‘I have just been raped’. After all, this guy wasn’t behaving in the manner I had learned to associate with rapists. Rapists are evil people. They’re not nice blokes who everybody respects who simply happen to think it’s ok to stick your dick in a teenager who’s sleeping in the same bed as you, without a condom. This guy seemed, if anything, confused as to why I was scrabbling for my things and bolting out the door. He even sent me an email a few days later, chiding me for being rude.

When I walked home, it didn’t occur to me that I had been raped. The next day, when I told a mutual friend what had happened, the girl who had introduced me to the man in question, I didn’t use that word. By that time, I was in some pain between my legs, a different sort of pain, and I was terrified that I had AIDS. I had to wait two weeks for test results which showed that the man who raped me had given me a curable infection. I told my friend that I felt dirty and ashamed of myself. She said she was sorry I felt that way. Everybody else in that social circle seemed to agree that by going to that hotel room and taking off my nice lace dress I had asked for whatever happened next, and so I dropped the issue. They were right and I was wrong. The man that we all knew and liked would never take advantage of anyone,  and suggesting such a thing made me a liar and a slag. Did I go to the police? Did I hell***. I thought it was my fault.

My experience was common enough, and it was also six years ago. Looking back, being raped wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me, although the experience of speaking out and not being believed, the experience of feeling so ashamed and alone, stayed with me for a long time, and changed how I relate to other humans. But I got over it. I rarely think about it. For some people, though, experiencing rape is a life-changing trauma. 

Yes, even when it’s not “legitimate” rape. Being raped by a man who you liked and trusted, even loved – thirty percent of rape victims are attacked by a boyfriend, husband or lover –  is an entirely different experience from being raped by a stranger in an alley, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less damaging. Particularly not if others go on to tell you you’re a lying bitch. Sorry if that hurts to hear.

You know what also hurts to hear? People telling you that your experience didn’t happen, that you asked for it. That you have no right to be angry or hurt. That you should shut up. That you hate men. That you’re against freedom of speech. That’s what hundreds of thousands of women all over the world are hearing when they hear respected commentators (I’m not talking here about Galloway or Alvin, although I’m sure there are a great many people who respect their opinions, god help them) saying that the allegations made against Julian Assange “aren’t really rape.” 

The idea that fucking a woman in her sleep, without a condom, or holding a woman down and shoving your cock inside her after a previous instance of consensual sex, is just “bad bedroom etiquette” – thanks again, George – the idea that  good guys don’t rape, that idea has two effects. One: it fosters the fantasy that there’s only one kind of rape, and it happens in the proverbial alley with the perennial knife and certainly not to anyone you know. That’s what’s most disturbing about the discussion going on right now. There are millions of men, some of them very young, most of them extremely well-meaning, all of them with their own unique sexual histories trying to figure out a way to negotiate boundaries without hurting themselves or others, and those men are being told that sometimes women say things are rape when they aren’t really. That people who say that consent is really very important indeed are probably on the same side as conniving governments who want to suppress freedom of speech and punish whistleblowers and truth-seekers.

Two: it makes any man or woman who has ever been raped by a nice guy suspect, yet again, that it’s all their fault, that they let it happen. It makes rape victims less likely to come forward and report. I didn’t report my rape. It took me months even to understand it as rape. I stopped talking about it, because I was sick of being called a liar, and I got the shut-up message fairly fast. I tried to stop thinking about it. 

But this week brought it all up again. The vitriol being spewed across the internet, the discussions in every car and cafe I’ve stepped into about what rape really means, the acknowledgement that yes, lots of women do lie and exaggerate, they’ve made me feel infected all over again. Another friend told me she felt “psychologically poisoned, sick more than angry,” I’m definitely not the only one who’s been revisiting those scenes in my head, playing them over like old CCTV footage. I’m probably not the only one, either, who went quietly back to a few friends from the old days to talk again about what happened, to clear things up. And what one of those former friends told me was: I wish I’d taken you more seriously, because I think it happened again, to somebody else.

That was yesterday. And that’s why I’m writing this post now. I’ve actually written it three times, and deleted it twice, and I’ve decided to bite my lip and click ‘publish’, because this vicious drift towards victim-blaming must stop. It’s not about Julian Assange, not really, not any more. It’s becoming an excuse to wrench the definition of rape back to a time when consent was unimportant, just when some of us had begun to speak up, and it’s happening right now, and  what’s worse, what’s so, so much worse, is that it’s happening in the name of truth and justice, in the name of freedom of speech.

If those principles are to mean anything, this vitriol, this rape-redefining in the name of conscience and whistleblowing and Wikileaks and Julian Assange, it has to stop. It has to stop now. Non-consensual sex is rape, real rape, and good guys do it too, all the time, every day. Sorry if that hurts to hear, but you’ve heard it now, and there are things that hurt much more, and for longer, and for lifetimes. Those things need to stop. Together, if we’re brave enough to keep on speaking out even we’re told to shut up, told we’re liars and bitches and we asked for it, we can make them stop. There aren’t many situations where all it takes to change the world is a lot of people standing together and refusing to be silenced, but this might be one of them. 


*this figure, along with the overall rape statistics, is far, far higher in the United States if prison rape is taken into account, which it rarely is.

**I have used figures for the United States throughout this article – more information for the UK can be found at www.rapecrisis.org.uk

***I still haven’t, and I haven’t named any names or included any identifying information in this article, and that’s my choice, and I’d like you to respect that, because I thought long and hard about putting this out there, and now I don’t want to think about it any more. Thank you.

A livid sky on london…

I am sick! My whole head is full of lukewarm rotten stuff and my bones feel like they’ve been removed in my sleep and replaced by melted jelly. Despite all this, I have a book to write, so I’ve been pursuing an austerity approach to influenza – work harder! survive on soup! – and now, surprise surprise, everything’s much much worse and bits of me I never even knew I had are burning up. See what I did there?

Anyway, whilst my brain is occupied by post-nasal gunge and statistics about Greece in almost equal measure, here are a few things I’ve been working on lately. A lot, although not entirely, about Those Olympics that are happening. I’m trying to ignore them, but my housemate has to write a book about them, so they’re always on the telly, and the commentary is occasionally diverting. 

London, Underground. Epic essay for The New Inquiry about London under Olympic occupation, in which I spend a whole twelve hours on the London Underground, and meet some new friends. 

The Independent sent me to report on the Beach Volleyball, because major newspapers retain a sense of humour, oh yes. 

The Olympics are one big happy family – just don’t put a foot wrong – for The Independent.

I did a little digging into G4S, and their amusing theme-tune, and their history of violence, and why we’re not allowed to call them mercenaries, also for The Independent.

And finally, a little light but nonetheless important relief:

In defence of Fifty Shades of Grey. Does what it says on the link, with lots of righteous discussion of wanking. 


And now I am going to go and slurp down another litre of Penny’s Not At All Patented Cold and Flu Concoction, the ingredients for which are: hot apple juice, honey, lemon, cayenne pepper, cloves and, crucially, *not as much whiskey as I put in yesterday, when I was drunk all over the internet*.

Emergency fundraising: help a Greek journalist!

ETA: We’ve made what we were aiming for and then some, so no more donations are needed – thank you so much to everybody who has been kind enough to pitch in. Much love and solidarity, Laurie and Molly xx
As many of you know, Molly Crabapple and I are in Athens, working on interviews and research for our upcoming collaboration, Discordia. We’ve met a lot of very generous, helpful people while we’ve been here, and none more so than our official fixer and occasional translator, Yiannis Babboulias, who is an almost-25-year-old hero journalist and junkie-looking Spider Jerusalem equivalent monstering his way through a pile of financial propaganda as well as anyone here in Greece. We are very fond of him, and whatever this project becomes, it will be better because of his input. 
Last night on the way home from a long day shepherding the pair of us through interviews, Yiannis lost his IPhone, and had to walk back through Exarchia to get it. On the way he ran into the kind of trouble that it’s dangerous for a working journalist in Greece to talk about openly – the sort of trouble that often befalls young students and undocumented migrants walking through the more politically charged areas of Athens at night. As a result of which, this morning Yiannis is shaken, and in a physical state that we can’t really talk about for the same reasons, and still has no phone.
We would really like to fundraise to get Yiannis a new IPhone – he’s as financially precarious as any young person in Greece and as a journalist he can’t really function without one. We can’t afford to buy him one outright, but we will both be contributing. Anything you can donate, however big or small, won’t solve the Eurozone crisis, but it will go a small way towards financing independent journalism in Greece. Anything extra that we raise over the cost of a phone will go towards a plane ticket so that Yiannis can come to the book launch in London in September. Thank you.
Please send any donations, however large or small, via PayPal to molly@mollycrabapple.com; if you prefer not to use PayPal you can email laurie.penny@gmail.com and we’ll sort something out.

Lie back and think of England

The Jubilee is upon us. All hail the Hypnoqueen, who has certainly been alive for a very long time now. I don’t usually do links posts, but here’s a little topical no-not-that-sort-of-republican reading and viewing for you all before you head off to spend the double bank-holiday dressing your children as tiny proto-monarchist drone-puppets and eating undercooked sausages in the name of the Union. 

A great deal of very clever people have dedicated whole careers to explaining why the British Monarchy is a ghastly anachronism in any nation with the smallest bit of pretention towards democracy, which, last time I checked, we were still claiming to be. Entire books have been written on the subject of the need for an elected and accountable head of state. All of those arguments are mere footnotes, however, to this video, from 2minutes. In which Prince Charles. Is breakdancing.

Right. When you’ve wiped the blood out of your eyes and resigned yourself to never having sex ever again, read The Royal Rorschach Blot, by Glen Newey at the London Review of Books, is a short, sharp, glorious confection of bombast and bile – pretentious republicanism done precisely right:

“Memories of Christmas days past are shaded by the regina monologues, the queen’s mogadonnish 3 p.m. telly broadcasts, like a séance at which the medium herself had passed to the other side. One yearned for her to crack a joke or cuss or come out as lesbian, but nothing interesting ever happened, and after years the realisation dawned that the boringness was the point… it’s the very bugger-allness of the queen, her Rorschach-blot quality, that has proven her great strength… as Nietzsche put it, when you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back into you.”

Yay Woo Yay the Queen Woo Yay, at the Mash

” WOO, the Queen yay woo, according to lots of people.” When the Daily Mash is good, it’s really good.

Nationalism is Sexy, by Zoe Stavri 

A collection of patriotic, jubilee-themed sex toys. Milady Stavvers has done it again. I love her because she shows me dirty, disturbing things on the internet and then makes me think about them. Remember, Capitalism did this, so it’s not our fault.

“Perhaps the guiltiest party in this is Ann Summers, who are still falling over themselves to be the worst sex shop in the observable universe. In their flagship Soho store, posters proudly proclaim they are celebrating “60 YEARS OF GIRLS ON TOP”–a tragic misunderstanding of the difference between The Queen and queening…. Their limited edition Jubilee vibrator, incidentally, looks like this. I’m glad we’ve cleared up the matter of what the Queen carries in that mysterious clutch of hers, then.”

AND FINALLY, Here’s something I wrote last year for the New Statesman about Buns, Bunting and retro-imperialism. Most of it holds as true for the Jubilee as it did for That Fucking Wedding:

“Street parties in the capital will be distributing T-shirts printed with the omnipresent “Keep Calm and Carry On” design, the “ironic” wartime propaganda poster that now infests the chinaware of the middle classes, reminding us that fortitude in the face of government-imposed austerity is just like fortitude in the face of Nazi invasion. 

Twee aesthetic nostalgia for a fantasy of “lost Britishness” has reached fever pitch. A part of the Daily Mail offices is wallpapered with images of bulldogs, telephone boxes and, yes, spitfires, done out in patriotic red, white and blue. Consumers are exhorted to buy dairy products on which, according to the advertisers, “Empires were Built”…

That’s it. Now go and enjoy the sunshine.

Model Behavior

From my latest longread, up now at The New Inquiry, on beauty, artifice, femininity, queering, reality television and RuPaul. Enjoy. I did.


“…..It seems oddly Protestant to argue, as some feminists do, that somewhere under all that artifice are “real women,” that one can peel away the layers of clothing and makeup and weave and hair and skin and silicone and dig out a “genuine” person, untouched by culture and context. Smart girls know that “real beauty” is just a tag line to sell moisturizer. Walk in high heels for long enough and the bones in your feet really do change shape. Spend enough time living as an efficient office worker, an obedient wife, a high-street fashion knockout and eventually the contours of your personality do change.

The idea of the self as something permanent, immutable, seems rather old-fashioned when anyone with an Internet connection can create a personal brand that works differently across multiple platforms, with different backdrops, favorite quotes and family snapshots, just as you might prepare one face to meet your friends and another to meet your father-in-law.

Online or offline, this Prufrockian trick is one to which women are more accustomed than men, having been raised to the task since the very first time an adult caught us in ribbons, in feathers, in our mother’s lipstick and said, “Smile for the camera.” The 14-year-old schoolgirls who are ordered to dress in uniform knee skirts and bobby socks in the daytime know perfectly well what they are doing when they post pictures of themselves in underwear taken from above, pulling that face that works so well at a 45-degree angle.

We can’t perfectly control our online selves any more than we can control the contours of our flesh. Bodies, like data, are leaky. Out of the mess of bodies and blood and bones and pixels and dreams and books and hopes we create this mess of reality we call a self, we make it and remake it. Each human being is a palimpsest of possible faces, of personas, and none of us were ‘born this way’…”