*Warning, TRIGGERS for victims of rape. The following article discusses intimate partner rape with brief references to stranger rape.
I was told by my lawyer (at the time) that my judge said that he was not interested in my subjective experiences. I cannot be certain where that statement originated, I was not with my lawyer in court that day, but if he did say that then it is quite concerning. Verbally reducing rape and domestic violence to merely “subjective experiences” (the implication in calling it that is to minimize violent acts) demonstrates a disregard for the serious nature of the crimes. My lawyer also attributed another statement to the judge, that “this is not the 70's.” If the first quote is correct then it highlights how little has changed since the 70's. While he may be chronologically correct, it is no longer the 1970's, when you walk into the courtroom, I doubt that much has changed. Rape cases are still handled as though the victim were the one on trial, nothing has changed there. Domestic violence cases are still handled as though any complaint that a woman has about violence must either be a lie or an exaggeration.
My case involves the “subjective” experiences of rape, domestic violence, coerced reproduction, wrongful detainment, stalking, and child abuse (towards the child that I conceived from the aforementioned violent acts.) Certainly, all of our experiences in life are subjective ones (with objective components, italicized for clarity, such as: we were in our apartment, there were two people in the room (me and him), he attempted to have sex with me, I told him that I didn't want to have sex at that time, when he didn't stop“I said 'no, please stop'”, he ignored my protests so I tried to push him away as I explained why I didn't want to have sex, and he had sex with me as I cried and begged him to stop.) Some of the incidents of rape were after his violent episodes; he would fly into a rage over the smallest thing (often nothing at all, just his perception that I was not paying enough attention to him or didn't love him), he detained me against my will when I attempted to escape the violence, he made threats of suicide and insinuated homicide if I were to leave him, he behaved in violent ways as he stated that he could prove to me what he was capable of doing, and most of these incidents were followed by him having sex with me as I cried and cowered in fear of him. The last time that I checked, the objective components to my subjective experiences were called “rape” and rape was still a crime.
Rape by a partner (whether boyfriend, spouse, or something in between) is often treated as an insignificant act, barely a crime if a crime at all. Some men cling to the belief that women enjoy rape on some level. Several politicians have even come forward and been quoted with statements dripping of that thought process. By law, it is a crime to rape your partner. In practice, within the courtroom walls, raping your partner is dismissed with the attitude that “you've given it to him willingly before, he expected to be able to get it again, therefore he did nothing wrong.” There is also the belief that “women just cry rape when they don't get what they want or regret having sex.” Rarely is it acknowledged how women are bullied and shamed when they report rape. It is rare for a woman to falsely report rape, this is a crime that many of us hide with shame. The consequences to a woman for reporting rape generally far exceed any penalty that a rapist has for committing the crime (only appropriately 3% of rapists ever spend a day in jail and they usually receives greater societal support than the victim.)
Being raped by a partner may be belittled but it is more harmful than being raped by a stranger. Women are taught to fear walking alone at night because strangers are lurking, waiting to rape you. Women are told to avoid going out alone at night, to travel with friends, to hold her keys so they can be used as a weapon, to take a self-defence class, and to carry pepper spray. We are told to fear the night and “strange men”, not to fear being in our own homes and our “intimate partners” (by whom most crimes against women are committed.) We are not taught what to do when raped by a partner and the psychological toll that takes on us. When you are taught to distrust strangers, you can navigate life in order to avoid that perceived danger by following the rules that society gives us. When you learn to distrust the man in your bed after he has raped you, it can destroy the basis for cherished intimate relationships. Even if you leave him, if you overcome the obligations that are placed on those in committed relationships, the remnants of the abuse casts doubt on how much you can trust your next partner.
We are not taught that partner rape looks very different from stranger rape. It may not be her first instinct to say “I was raped” if she has never had that kind of experience before. Partner rape is not going to mimic the stranger jumping out from behind your car, beating you up, and holding a knife to your throat as he rapes you. Partner rape is more subtle than that, most of the time, and can leave the victim confused. The emotional damage from partner rape is also very different from the emotional harm caused by stranger rape. The loss of trust in your partner, the heartbreak, the confusion over what happened and the “was it my fault for saying 'no' or was I not clear enough?” feeling that comes with partner rape leaves deeper mental scars. With stranger rape, women are often told that it is her fault for not following societies rules of how to dress or when to leave her home, she may even be afraid to go outside alone for fear of being attacked again. With partner rape, your own home is not safe and most victims feel invalidated as they are told that it wasn't a crime to begin with, it must have just been a “misunderstanding.”
Until the courts take partner rape seriously and consistently prosecute these crimes, victims will continue to live with the results of undeterred violence in their homes. Vast numbers of victims fear to come forward to report these violent crimes because they have seen, time and time again, how the violence is ignored by those who have the power to help. If arrested at all, the criminals are usually back on the streets within days and they know where their victim lives. The perpetrator may even have rights to enter the property (if they were married or cohabitating.) That is a far scarier experience than being assaulted by a stranger who may not know where you live and has no rights to you or your property. If you have children with the perpetrator then you may not even have the right to move out of the area or the right to an undisclosed address so that you can sleep at night without fear. Many protections are not available to victims of these crimes unless he is convicted of the actual crime (a plea to a lessor offence can affect your rights.) Victims who have children with the rapist often feel helpless as their rights to protect themselves and their children are stripped from them by the family court. If the violence was particularly brutal or may escalate after you report it, there is a strong motivation not to report the violence at all for fear of retaliation (that can end in murder or murder/suicide in some cases.) It is beyond time for the courts to protect victims of interpersonal violence, especially when children are involved, to protect the human rights of the victims of these violent crimes and to reduce the cycle of violence in families.