Protecting Your Safety While Speaking Out is Not Irresponsible

by Cara on September 18, 2009

in feminism, misogyny, patriarchy, rape and sexual assault, violence against women and girls

Over at the F-Word is a post that I was absolutely horrified to see on a feminist blog (h/t gauntlet), and while there are many already speaking out in the comments, I feel strongly compelled to say something myself.

According to the post, UK celebrity Katie Price has spoken out about being raped prior to her last marriage, which was to a man who is currently making a movie that glamorizes rape. That makes it seem like a prime time to speak out. She has also apparently said that her rapist was someone who is famous, but refuses to name him and says she never will.

The response by Abby at the F-Word, titled Katie Price: Why She Should Name Her Rapist, includes the following:

While, understandably, it must be extremely difficult for rape victims to speak about their experiences, Price is a TV personality who has made the transition from glamour model to mainstream celebrity owing to her outspoken and confident public persona and her determination to speak her mind, all marketed as part of her independence and business acumen. Therefore her silence is, in itself, a strong statement.

The vast majority of women who are attacked neither speak about their experiences, nor report them to the authorities. The reasons for this are manifold, but include fear that they will not be believed, that their personal lives will be subject to the basest scrutiny and judgement, and that there will be aspersions cast upon their morality. It is a physical and emotional trauma that a lot of women suffer in silence, worried that they will be seen as the cause of their own abuse. While Price now feels able to speak about what happened to her, making the claim in a national publication, maintaining the anonymity of her attacker is not only inconsistent, but also downright irresponsible. It perpetuates the idea that rape is part of the male privilege, positioning guilty men above puishment, and suggests that female victims should consider their attacks something that they must just quietly accept.

Stating that her rapist was a celebrity was probably a decision worth thinking twice about, for her own sake — in that it would, and has, only increased public scrutiny and speculation. Such as that up above. But who among us, in speaking out, has not underestimated the hatefulness of people and thus accidentally made things more difficult on themselves? Who here has not found that in speaking out, there are more people than you could have imagined who are eager to make it as difficult as possible, anyway?

Katie Price has not done something particularly different from what I have; she has only done it while people know her name. I have spoken about being raped, and while I have never been particularly specific about the details, I have constantly mentioned that my rapist was also my boyfriend at the time. For those who have known me for many years, that is more than enough information for them to know his name. For him, were he to find me, it is also almost certainly more than enough. And that makes it enough period.

I have not given his name. I will not ever give his name publicly. And no amount of victim-blaming bullshit is going to change that.

Why? Because I value my safety. Because I value my mental health. Because I value myself.

Because printing his name would make it a million times easier for him to find me. Because it would make it easy for his friends to google his name and find me, too. Because it would open me up to extraordinary harassment by someone who through his very narrow definition of rape, which he undoubtedly uses to maintain his belief that he’s a decent person, almost certainly believes with all his heart that he did not rape me. It would open me up to charges of false accusations, to questions about why I have not pressed charges and statements about what a liar I am because I haven’t. It would back me into a corner, because while not pressing charges makes me a liar, pressing charges means setting up an impossible case on the grounds of something that happened many years ago with no witnesses, for a crime that rarely results in conviction, anyway (something that is especially true in the UK). Because it could potentially open me up to charges of libel. I will not name him because I deserve — no, because I have the goddamn right — to not spend every second of my life looking over my shoulder, afraid of just when he will appear.

And I imagine that if not every one of these things is true for Katie Price, a significant majority are. Her choices, right now, are being called an irresponsible coward by feminists and an attention-seeker by the media, or being sued for libel by her rapist and being called a liar by every single person under the sun.

What a brilliant fucking set of options, right?

Katie Price has already done more than a vast majority of celebrities who are also rape survivors will ever, ever do. The media reaction has undoubtedly only ensured that even fewer will. That is enough. That is more than enough, and it is brave. And she didn’t owe it to me. She didn’t owe it to you. She didn’t owe it to anybody, and she certainly doesn’t owe us more now.

Her refusal to name her rapist doesn’t send the message that rapists deserve to go without punishment — the court system does a fine job of that, and would only reinforce the message were she to do what people are trying to guilt her into doing. It doesn’t reinforce male privilege — it puts a tiny dent in it by speaking out about rape at all, and a tiny dent is sadly the most that any of us can do.

Her decision to not name her rapist does not speak of a right for men to be protected, it speaks of a right for women to deserve protection. It speaks of her belief that she has a right not only to set personal limits in a world that believes women are public property, but also and more importantly, to safety. It’s a refusal to relinquish that right in the face of victim-blaming and misogyny, even out of unexpected quarters.

I’ve said it over and over again, but I clearly cannot say it enough times. Women have a right to safety. And I would have expected feminists of all people to understand that.

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{ 23 comments }

1 recursiveparadox September 18, 2009 at 10:50 am

Thank you for this.

That kind of bullshit criticism for why I keep my rapist’s name (and gender) hidden has been hounding me for a while now and it helps to see that others feel the same way I do and understand that my safety comes ahead of a dubious (probably almost nonexistent) chance that the person who hurt me will ever face justice.

2 thebeardedlady September 18, 2009 at 12:36 pm

Thank you. I only wish I could have made my points as clearly in the comments at tfw – upset and angry are not always the best way to try to engage the issues. I’m glad that you’ve delivered such a coherent response to this.

3 preying mantis September 18, 2009 at 1:05 pm

If the UK’s libel laws are even a tenth as ridiculously pro-plaintiff as they’re supposed to be, she’d be painting a giant target on whatever material wealth she’s managed to accumulate if she gave his name without being able to absolutely demonstrate in a court of law that he raped her. Considering she’s already opened herself up to having her reputation shredded and her future prospects jeopardized just by taking a stand and saying that she was raped, it seems insane that anybody could be asking more of her.

4 Anji September 18, 2009 at 1:48 pm

I’ve already written my own response to this and hopefully a slightly-edited version will be up on The F Word soon. I certainly wasn’t as eloquent as you are here – I think you make the point far better than I did. Thanks for being another voice speaking up against this – I was heartened to read the comments to her article and to find she was in a very, very small minority among feminists.

5 SunlessNick September 18, 2009 at 2:29 pm

There’s no version of the “perfect rape victim” that does not do a disservice to all real rape victims. This one is no different.

6 abyss2hope September 18, 2009 at 9:51 pm

Cara, if Katie Price is to be attacked for not giving names then I too deserve to be attacked. I remember my first rapist’s name and have been challenged to provide it. Doing so could put everything I do at risk.

He can never be prosecuted for raping me twice because the statute of limitations expired long ago. The only way I would name him is if I learn he is facing a fresh accusation and my testimony could be used to show his criminal behavior started long ago or I learned he had been convicted of a similar rape.

7 don'treallywantosay September 20, 2009 at 2:55 am

Of course rape victims should not be pressured into naming their rapists, but perhaps Katie should have encouraged rape victims to get medically examined just to make sure they’re okay, but only if they want.

I live in Australia and when I was sexually assaulted I couldn’t bring myself to report my attacker by name for certain reasons but I did, however report where and when anonymously to the police as I decided I couldn’t live with myself if someone was made to feel how I felt. But that’s just me and everyone should have the right to their own choice.

8 abyss2hope September 20, 2009 at 11:02 pm

dontreallywanttosay,

I get where you are coming from. The problem I see is that Katie Price isn’t in a place where she can muse about what survivors could do, such as seeking medical attention.

Right now she seems to be doing the best she can can to deal with the personal attacks by all those who don’t believe her and who feel they have the right to declare her guilty.

9 AileenWuornos September 21, 2009 at 9:51 pm

I believe her.

10 A Smith With a Thought September 22, 2009 at 6:34 am

I must admit that the first time I read the posts on the Fword I thought the usual. Katie should name the person to get justice for what he did and to stop him doing it to anyone else who might not realise what he is capable of. After reading the opinions above my thoughts have changed. I now see that Katie saying she was raped will probably make people more likely to think about speaking out about their own experiences because it can happen to anyone. And Katies claim will probably be believed I think by a good percentage of people. If she was to name the celebrity who raped hre though I think that people would read his name and immediately think “Oh he always comes across so kind/funny/sweet” etc on TV he cant have raped anyone, she is lying. Then there could be libel action against her etc. So in conclusion I think that she did reveal the right amount of information.

11 melanie September 22, 2009 at 2:09 pm

I agree. Katie Price is just a human being like anyone else. It’s not an easy thing to do to bring back a horrible memory. If she called out who it was then what? Take him to court?

It would be great if she encouraged victims to go to the police if it happens to them etc, but its her life. She doesn’t owe anyone anything.

12 Politicalguineapig September 23, 2009 at 9:36 am

Here’s my only problem with this: at what point does her responsibility for the other umpteen victims kick in? How do you keep him (in this case) from raping again? Or is it every woman for herself?

13 Cara September 23, 2009 at 9:48 am

Politicalguineapig — blaming women for men raping is a part of rape culture. It is not a woman’s fault if her rapist rapes again. It is the rapist’s fault. And secondly, I do not know in what parallel universe naming or even accusing an attacker keeps him from raping another woman. Because it’s not this one. If only.

14 Politicalguineapig September 23, 2009 at 11:43 am

I’m not blaming women. Here’s an example of what I mean: hypothetical friend/ex-girlfriend knows X exhibits abusive behaviors-she might therefore warn the new girlfriend to watch out for these behaviors and offer ways to get help.
Same thing occurs if so-and-so exhibits questionable conduct toward women- drop friendly warnings and steer the targets into a safer environment.It won’t stop him from raping, but it will cut down on his opportunities and reduce his number of victims until he is brought to “justice.” (If ever.)

15 Annie Mcfly September 23, 2009 at 11:48 am

“Politicalguineapig — blaming women for men raping is a part of rape culture. It is not a woman’s fault if her rapist rapes again. It is the rapist’s fault. And secondly, I do not know in what parallel universe naming or even accusing an attacker keeps him from raping another woman. Because it’s not this one. If only.”

Yes. Yes yes yes yes yes, a million times yes, this. Great post.

16 Annie Mcfly September 23, 2009 at 11:51 am

“…she might therefore warn the new girlfriend to watch out for these behaviors and offer ways to get help.”
Yes, she might. It would be a kind thing to do. Or maybe she is scared for her safety if she speaks up about man X’s behavior. Maybe she’s scared for her reputation or self esteem if the new girlfriend is deeply entrenched in rape culture and accuses her of making it up/liking it/whatever else. But in any case, it’s not the ex girlfriend who was abused/raped by man X who is to blame if the new girlfriend gets raped, and the way you’re posing this make it seem like she should be responsible instead or as well as the perp, man X.

17 Cara September 23, 2009 at 11:53 am

Yes, that is in fact a good thing to do, but:

1. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more instances than not in which the new girlfriend calls the old girlfriend a liar who is just jealous of the new relationship. People are very reluctant to believe that someone they know can be an abuser, especially when it’s someone they’re already involved with romantically.

2. The fact that any individual woman is not publicly naming her rapist doesn’t mean that she’s not doing this. I’m kind of confused about such an assumption, and if such an assumption is not being made, why it is relevant here.

18 Anna September 23, 2009 at 2:24 pm

Um, I’d be upset enough about being raped without having to tell his new girlfriend what I’d been through and quite possibly having the piss taken out of me for the next x period of time about it.

People are vile. I recently fell out with a best friend over something minor and her response was to post all over my facebook what had happened to me, and how funny it was, and how I’d probably loved it because I’m a filthy whore. There’s basically no possible benefit in telling a person you probably don’t know something like that. We as women do not have responsibility from ‘keeping a man from raping’ – the responsibility lies with him and him alone.

19 Cara September 23, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Oh god, Anna, that is so unbelievably awful. I’m so sorry and appalled that someone would do that to another person.

And, of course, all excellent points.

20 Annie Mcfly September 23, 2009 at 3:04 pm

Also, in my last comment I accidentally implied that a woman is “getting herself raped” when in fact it is the perp committing the act of rape. I apologise for my imprecise language, it’s something I’m working on.

21 Recorta October 2, 2009 at 12:29 pm

I admit that when Katie Price first said this, my thought was a somewhat sceptical: “She says a whole bunch of things.” I’ve had attention-seeking friends in the past, and I’m inherently suspicious of people who always seem to have a range of horror-stories that they trot out in rapid succession, as soon as the sympathy/media attention from the last one begins to wane.

Those were my first impressions, however. Thinking on it further, I think I DO believe her on this (although not on all the stuff she makes claims about). To be honest, but in a completely non-judgmental, non-victim-blaming way, I’d imagine that her career trajectory has probably put her in situations where this sort of thing could have happened to her. (I mean this wholly without condoning that fact, or the rapist’s behaviour in ANY way. I may not like Katie Price, but she deserves to be respected and to determine what happens in her own life and to her own body.)

I also don’t think that Katie has any responsibility except to do precisely what she’s done: put the matter of rape squarely at the front of society’s consciousness and force us to ask questions about how to prevent it from happening. By refusing to shoulder the blame (“responsibility”) for the later behaviour of that man, I think she’s setting a good example. The criminal justice system is NOT the way we are going to change society; perhaps Katie’s confession will at least push us toward thinking about ways in which we can do so.

22 mschicklet October 6, 2009 at 5:53 am

Cara, I love this post. I relate to so much of it, and I appreciate you saying what you did.

But, for the record, not all feminists feel this way and the people who victim-shamed Katie Price aren’t possibly “true feminists.” I consider myself a feminist, and I know several other feminists who would never dream of putting that type of pressure on a rape victim for any reason.

23 Cara October 6, 2009 at 8:45 am

Mschicklet, I’m a feminist too (see it up there in the header? that this is a feminist blog?), and I think is obvious from my post also wouldn’t dream of it. So I was in no way generalizing about all feminists. But someone doing something that we think goes against feminist values doesn’t make them not a true feminist. It makes them a feminist we disagree with and who we think has done something wrong.

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