You can’t dress as ‘rape victims’ for Halloween – there is no stereotype

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You can’t dress as ‘rape victims’ for Halloween – there is no stereotype

They look the same as everyone else

It’s easy to pick an offensive Halloween costume. To exploit something which shouldn’t be exploited for laughs and Facebook likes. Just like these two idiots in Kansas who chose this year to dress up as “rape victims”.

The monumental insensitivity of such behaviour shouldn’t need spelling out, but in a world where there’s still a huge taboo – and therefore confusion, shame, reticence – in talking about sexual assault, apparently it does. Who knows where they got the idea; sadly, what it shows is that the blind spots around what “raped” looks like and what constitutes abuse are still alive and well.

An abused person can look like anyone.

They can look strong, they can look weak; they can look “slutty”, or they can look pure. Their appearance isn’t going to protect them and is no litmus paper for their past. “Raped” can look like your teacher, your friend, your parent, your partner.  They can look male or female, conventionally attractive or not, confident or shy. They could be as old as your grandmother, or they could be barely old enough to process what’s happening.

And guess what?  There’s no stereotype for “abuser” either. While convicted sexual abusers are mostly male (see page 33 in this 2013 report from the Office for National Statistics), that’s not to say they couldn’t be almost anyone from the above list; indeed, stats show it’s far more likely that an abuser is someone known to the victim. The more sensationalist, shocking scenes frequently found in entertainment and reported in headline news do happen, of course, but far more common are the quiet, tortuous moments daily hidden in ordinary suburban bedrooms. In my case it took place in a familiar place, one I thought of as comforting.

I won’t go into detail on my own experience except to say that it falls somewhere on the spectrum between “inappropriate” and “abusive” – physically minor, but mentally and emotionally distressing to a young girl who’d never been kissed. I’m fully aware that others have been through far more severe events to a degree I couldn’t even begin to imagine, and yet I’m also fully aware – now, at least – that what happened was wholly and utterly unacceptable. It changed me, and it forever changed my relationship with that person.

Funnily enough, it bore zero resemblance to the Kansas costumes. I was in a “safe” place, I was visibly unmarked, and I was just about a teenager. It happened – only once, although this person tried again a few times – around the time of my first period.  Afterwards, I went downstairs and for three years tried to act like nothing had occurred.

I didn’t even really acknowledge it as abuse, or as something worth “officially” reporting, until a recent contraceptive check-up when the nurse asked me, simply and straightforwardly, if I’d ever been touched in a way I didn’t like without my consent.  During the conversation that followed, I realised the significance of people being able to talk about abuse, however minor – not just for their own wellbeing, but to protect anyone who might be in danger from the same person.

Anecdotal conversations with friends suggest I’m not alone in sensing a grey area – several of us have suffered attention that goes beyond unwelcome remarks into downright illegal behaviour, but didn’t report it or know it should be. For some it’s a confrontation, for others, someone taking liberties in the bedroom despite a repeated “No”. And yet we never thought to tell anyone, besides each other.

As far as I’m aware, I don’t know anybody who’d wear a costume of their own distressing history – would we ever expect someone who’d suffered a miscarriage to reference this in a Halloween outfit, like some kind of sick parody? A costume so distasteful says quite clearly to me that these girls are lucky enough to know nothing of what they pretend to be, that by laughing in their fake blood they are broadcasting that they, unlike so many people, have never had to deal with the awful reality.

There are some labels that are yet to be “reclaimed” and perhaps may never be. I’ve never heard anyone say they’re proud to be a victim of rape. Proud to survive an experience and move beyond it, absolutely; to share experiences and reclaim your emotions, your past, and in doing so perhaps help others to do the same. Even proud to have suffered. But not proud to be victimised.

Absolutely we should make rape more visible, to educate and raise awareness. We should do it so we have fewer appallingly insensitive attitudes like those of two naive and infantile girls who find the idea of such trauma amusing. But let’s be absolutely clear about one thing – there is no stereotype.

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