I recall hearing an English teacher remark some time ago that she found it astonishing how many girls chose to write about rape, molestation, harassment and assault when given a creative writing task; what was the fascination, she asked, with such disturbing and morbid topics?
This ‘fascination’ now seems to me to be something of an ever-increasing morbidity, something with a darker undercurrent. Is it possible that the girls who are writing about sexual assault and rape are not merely writing a ‘risky’ work of fiction, but channelling and reflecting on real past or even present experiences into a written piece, something that can be read and acknowledged without judgement? If this is so, we must accept that our society is doing little to address the very present issues that are affecting so many people, and particularly the young women of today.
But if we are to address the issue head on, let us first start with the facts, however unpalatable. According to NSPCC, one in twenty children aged 11-17 admit having experienced contact sexual abuse. However, despite this being a despicable level on its own, when looked at symbiotically with other information, the scale of the problem rises even further. According to the same source, one in nine young adults aged 18-24 admit that they have experienced contact sexual abuse as a child; of these, 72% of the sexually abused children did not tell anybody whilst the abuse was on-going, and 31% did not tell anyone about their experience at all, even as they developed into adulthood. From this, we could deduce that the children who admitted to the sexual abuse in the survey only made up a tiny proportion of those actually experiencing abuse.
Whilst it is known that there are such barbarities taking place, it is clear that people feel deeply uncomfortable discussing the issue. Despite claims that we are a sexually open society, acknowledgement that someone has suffered any kind of sexual abuse is met with awkwardness, stinted apologies and rapid subject changes. There is an embedded societal taboo surrounding sexual abuse and rape which makes a victim feel as if they would be judged if the world knew – and the problem is that they often are.
Indeed it is common to find the underlying belief amongst many people that a woman is ‘asking for it’; whether by wearing revealing clothing, walking alone at night, or being in a vulnerable state of intoxication. This is an idea that is essential to eradicate in modern culture; whether a victim of opportunistic or sustained sexual abuse, victims should never feel like they are in any way to blame for the crime committed against them. Furthermore, it must be pointed out that whilst incidents of rape and abuse are considered by many to be something that happens to ‘other people’, chances are that they have happened or may be happening under your very nose. Upon enquiry and general discussion, I was astounded to work out that at least a third of my female friends had experienced sexual abuse and were comfortable to admit it, which begs the question: how many were not?
The solution of the problem lies in the instigation of ‘the uncomfortable conversation’ in our society. However unpleasant and disturbing, in order to address the issues around us we must be able to talk about them openly. Those who have experienced abuse should not be left to feel like they are alone, or that there is nothing they can do about the situation. In order to act, we need to feel the true horror of these horrifying deeds, committed predominantly against women and young children; this is something that can only be achieved if victims speak out without any feelings of shame or guilt.
Margeaux Fragoso addresses this issue in a way that seems to be the only way to permeate a deeply desensitised culture, with her recently released book ‘Tiger Tiger, a memoir’, which has been heavily criticised as being ‘soft porn’ for paedophiles and fantasists. She makes no attempt to dress up the graphic scenes of her own sexual abuse, purposefully and intentionally drawing attention to the fact that we choose to ignore what makes us uncomfortable; why should we, the reader, be spared the pain of reading about it when there are children suffering it every day? This is the first of many steps we should be taking towards the open and transparent discussion of this vital issue and what we can do to prevent it from occurring at all.
Unfortunately there is little evidence of government initiatives specifically designed to address these issues, nor to make it easier for perpetrators to be brought to justice for their crimes. Britain is renowned for having the lowest rape conviction rate in Europe with just 6.5% of cases resulting in conviction. Depending on the individual circumstance, prosecuting can often lead to family breakdowns, the financial and of course mental wellbeing of the victim, with no sure outcome that they will win their case. Indeed even the establishments designed to offer therapy for sexually abused children aren’t nearly enough to address the reported cases, with only one therapeutic support programme for every 25,000 victims in the UK.
Any victim, whether male, female, young or old should feel like they can get support and attain justice, something that just isn’t happening at the moment, and there seems to be no prospective change on the horizon.