Seems like a good time to re-post my column on why we need to re-name "rape".
That broken, post-facto bastard’s curse - “She was asking for it” - reached its spiteful apogee last week, in the wake of the Delhi gang rape.
The lawyer representing three of men charged with her murder, Manohar Lal Sharma, gave an interview you will want to hide from your children – but whether more urgently from your sons or your daughters, I cannot say. Both become more doomed if they read it and believe it.
“Until today, I have not seen a single incident or example of rape with a respected lady,” Sharma said - insisting that the partner of the dead women was “wholly responsible” for her death. The unmarried couple should not have been out so late at night, using public transport.
This woman, now dead, had brought this upon herself. She left the house, intending to be fucked on a bus. She had essentially walked through the streets, looking for six men to help her commit suicide via an iron bar. She was searching for the quiet sound of a fly-zip, as ruinous as the sound of a bullet being thumbed into a gun. This is something women do.
The idea of “Asking for it” – whether said by an Indian lawyer in Delhi, a drunkard in a NYC bar, or a careless woman in an office in Slough, tapping through the Daily Mail website - is the single, toxic pathogen from which all our problems with rape blossom. Culpability. Blame.
It’s so hard to dispel the notion that rape happens wholly unprompted, with the lights on, to a cheerful woman who had done everything ‘right’. Surely she had a token of ill-luck somewhere on her body? Some evil glamour left in a pocket; a glance that had been better off left at home? Even though a new report shows one in twenty British women have been raped – someone you have been in a room with, today – we think black lightening cannot fall on a sunny day, although we know it can with all the other crimes: on the bonnet of the drunk-driver; in the nursery, with a shot-gun.
The awful issue of victim-blaming the injured is what makes rape so iniquitous – like telling children in care they should simply have picked better parents in the first place. Why does this happen?
Well, the problem with rape is the sex. As a species, we are still confused, overwhelmed, afraid of, and intoxicated by, sex. It is a cocktail, mixed in with religion, politics, suffrage, power, love, magic, fear, self-loathing and things left widely unspoken. It makes us drunk. It makes us dumb. It confuses us in manifold. Look here, at this pile, in merely its non-fatal complications: Fifty Shades of Grey, with its duct-tape. Happy marriages, with their rape fantasies. Count the sex counsellors, and agony aunts. Rape couldn’t happen on a bigger moral and philosophical fault-line. Rape couldn’t strike in a worse place.
That’s why I sometimes think we should do away with the word “rape” all together. Let’s not call this a sexual crime any more - with its baggage of shame, and blame, and ruin. A word so hard for an injured woman – or a man, or a child – to say, now that we’ve used it in too many places, for too many disparate things, for it to be functionally descriptive of a crime.
Let’s call this crime something simpler, and less confusing, instead: internal assault. Intramural attack. Regard it just as we would an assailant violently forcing a hammer-handle into a mouth; or puncturing an eardrum with a knife. Does it make any real difference if it’s a vagina being brutalised, or an eye? If the weapon is a penis, or a cosh? This is punching, but inside. This is the repeated piercing someone’s body. When you put it like that, suddenly the issue of rape becomes very clear: how many women would ask for that?
The phrase “sexual assault” confuses a million men, and women, like Manohar Lal Sharma, right across the world – that troubled word, “sexual”, casting a shadow so deep that hides the “assault” altogether part. It makes people think of rape merely as some sex that just “went wrong”.
The police report of the Delhi gang rape alleges that the victim was so badly broken, one assailant “pulled her intestines from her body with his hands,” before throwing her from a moving bus.
And yet, still, everything we debate about this incident is framed around it being a sexual assault. That they attacked her below, before they attacked her above, has defined it. It’s become another argument about men and women and desire and politics and culture. Rather than what it is – what all rapes are: one human ripping another human being to pieces.
Not sexual assault. Just - assault. Not a sexual crime. Just - crime. Not rape - with all the confusions we can’t afford, can’t bare, another generation to painfully sift through, as we have had to.
Just a violence, like any other.