[TRIGGER WARNING: Descriptions and discussion of sexual assault, victim blaming, and general violence]
I’m not surprised that rape is so drastically under-reported. I’m not surprised that we keep our mouths shut, deny what has happened, downplay it, ignore it. I’m not surprised that survivors don’t go to the police, don’t tell their parents, don’t confide in friends. In this rape culture, it’s almost as dangerous to speak out as it is to keep quiet. I want to be surprised and shocked by all of these things, but I’m not. It is true that I live in a bubble. I surround myself with women and men who are feminists, allies, progressives. I am privileged enough to be able to cut out of my life anyone with misogynist sentiments. I only venture to corners of the Internet where I feel safe and I can stay away from vile, misogynist comments.
Last week I came across a local news story [TRIGGER WARNING: GRAPHIC PICTURES AT LINK] that filled me with such emotion that I was unsure I even wanted to write about it. I had a difficult enough time making it through the story, much less breaking it down for analysis. A few days later I became curious about the story’s progress, so I ran a search. That search came back with very little. Almost nobody had cared enough to follow up on this story. I doubt few non-locals know about it. This silence is part of the problem. Our culture routinely and systematically silences surviviors, victims, activist, anyone who dares challenge the dominant rape narrative. This woman wanted her story out there for a reason, so I’m going to do what I can.
Rebecca Gibson, who has willingly revealed her identity to the public, stated that she was abducted and raped by two men this January in San Antonio, Texas. Gibson reports that while she was walking to her apartment, she was accosted by two men, knocked unconscious, and dragged into a truck. She woke up hours later naked in a laundromat, with no money or phone. Gibson then went to her apartment to retrieve some clothing and walked to her boyfriend’s apartment, where the two began to fight, presumably because Gibson had not called her boyfriend to let him know where she was. The boyfriend then called the police, claiming she had broken into his home. Gibson hid in a closet until officers arrived, at which point she requested a female officer. The two male officers denied her request, despite Gibson reporting that she had just been raped. When she refused to leave the closet, the officers used force to remove her, and one hit her hard enough to break her right orbital bone and significantly bruise her face. She was later taken to the hospital and treated for her injuries as well as the sexual assault. Gibson has filed a complaint against the officer, who claims she was intoxicated and unruly.
This case, I think, speaks for itself. A woman speaks out about her sexual assault – not once, but twice – and is punished for it. In our rape culture, that’s the way it goes. It encourages even those with supportive social and familial networks to keep quiet. Maybe a survivor will call a hotline. Perhaps she’ll get in touch with the local rape crisis center, if there happens to be one. Those are the only safe places, because the people running it are trained to be supportive and understanding. Everything else? It’s hard to count on. Ms. Gibson probably thought that her boyfriend would be supportive and concerned rather than upset over her not calling him to check in while she was being raped. One can assume that she went there for support. What she got was an argument that ended with her boyfriend phoning the police and saying she broke in. When she told the police she was raped and requested a female oficer, she was disregarded and assaulted. I don’t know the details of what happened here because I was not there. Perhaps Ms. Gibson was intoxicated like the officer says, but there is absolutely no excuse for the level of brutality enacted upon her. It is common knowledge at this point that officers are trained to subdue unruly people in ways that do not break their faces. In this case, the officer even bragged about how he had hit this woman, according to an ER nurse. Ms. Gibson was punished for being defiant, punished for not being the “good” rape victim (virginal, not intoxicated, goes straight to the authorities), and punished for speaking out and holding firm.
It isn’t always physical punishment that rape survivors are met with. The list is seemingly infinite, depressing in its vastness. We are ostracized, we are shunned, we are disbelieved. We are called liars, whores, sluts, told we wanted it. We see our rapists walk free, see them never even charged, see them back on the streets a year after conviction. Friends you thought were supportive turn away, whispering about you behind your back or right in front of you. We’re called crazy, told we need to just get medicated, told it is all in our heads. We are told our consent doesn’t matter. That is the society we live in.
And yet there is still hope, peeking out of the corners when it needs to be standing on the rooftops, screaming for justice and a new kind of consciousness. It’s everywhere, but in a culture where anti-rape is not the dominant path, it hides, coming out only on the Internet or at marches and protests. That is wonderful, and I am grateful for it, but it needs to be on the forefront, not resolved to niche marches and progressive blogs. When for every Facebook comment taking down a rape joke there are fifteen defending or praising it and threatening the detractor, something needs to change. It isn’t even that we need to combat what is here, the victim blaming and the rape jokes and the threats. It is that it needs to be overthrown, to be drowned out and buried under a narrative that emphasizes consent and belief and choice and respect. This isn’t new; we’ve been calling for it for years. But I cannot shake my optimism that I have for my community, and I believe that change can finally come, even in a time where it seems like we are steadily regressing. they’ve pushed back against us, and this is where we are. Now it’s time to push forward again.