LOUISE O'NEILL: 20 minutes is an awfully long time when you’re the one being raped

I want to talk about rape.

I know you’re sick of me talking about it. You’re tired of me, aren’t you?

Well, I’m tired too. I’m tired of feeling afraid. I’m tired of feeling like my body is a bullseye, waiting to be hit. I’m tired of listening to friends whisper their stories in my ear, clasping my hand tightly in theirs, offering words to me like a sacrifice. 

I was drunk, I was high, I was wearing a short skirt, I didn’t know how to say no. I am broken, I am broken, I am broken. I will never be the same again.

You don’t want to see us. You don’t want to have to look at us and see what they have done to us. You don’t want to see our scars.

Last week, a friend of mine told me she woke up to find her boyfriend inside her. I know this man. 

He emailed me after reading Asking For It to tell me what an ‘important’ book he thought it was.

Last week, another friend of mine told she was raped by a mutual acquaintance when we were at university.

He is married now, has children. He is a good husband, as far as I can tell, fiercely protective of his daughters.

He makes jokes about keeping them under house arrest until they’re 30. I understand that now. 

For he knows what happens to girls when the lights turn out and the doors are locked and no one is there to hear them cry.

Last week, Brock Turner, a student at Stanford University who was discovered raping an unconscious woman, was handed a six month sentence because the judge feared a longer jail time would have a “severe impact” on him.

Brock’s an amazing swimmer, you see, he could have made the Olympics, and he’s straight and he’s white and he’s a man and all of those things somehow make him more valuable, make him worthy of protecting.

The victim was asked question after question in court — what were you wearing? Why were you going to this party? Did you drink in college? Are you serious with your boyfriend? Are you sexually active with him? Do you have a history of cheating?

She had to explain away her past, to apologise for any mistakes she may have made, to prove that she didn’t deserve to be thrown behind a dumpster and raped. Brock’s past didn’t matter.

It never does, in these cases. What matters is his future, his potential. And that judge took measures to ensure neither would suffer.

Brock himself has shown no remorse. Why would he, I suppose? How could he understand that he has raped someone when his own father said that six months in jail is “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years life.”

Oh, Mr Turner, 20 minutes is an awfully long time when you’re the one being raped.

Those 20 minutes are what you think of when you wake up from a nightmare stitched together with fear and nausea and sweat.

Those 20 minutes make you hesitate when someone offers you another drink (remember what happens to girls who drink too much), those 20 minutes make you agonise over what to wear (short skirts are asking for trouble), those 20 minutes make you walk home at night with your car keys in one hand, ready to fight and yell no, no, no, and hope that this time, someone will be there to save you. Those 20 minutes threaten to drown you on daily basis.

There was outrage from both men and women over the Brock Turner story but it is women who hold this fear deep. We see stories like this and we look at one another and we think — which one of us will be next? We think — that could have been me. And it could.

And, statistically speaking, it will be one of us. We know this. We have always known this.

So we smile in public, we are pretty, we are nice, we are kind, we are good, and we hope that we will be rewarded for that. We make pleas for protection to a god who never seems to hear us.

There are people who will read this article and will say that I’m a man-hater, that I’m mentally ill, that I’m a “stupid child”.

You will be angry and you will yell NOT ALL MEN and you will damn me for tarring the entire male species with the same brush.

You will come for me. One in four women will be the victim of sexual violence in their lifetime. 

One in four of your mothers and sisters and daughters and girlfriends and wives and nieces and friends, and instead of figuring out how we can all work together to prevent this from happening, you will come for me.

Stop blaming men, you will scream at me, even if they are the ones who are doing the raping. What do you want us women to do? Do you want us to stop drinking?

To cover up our shoulders and our breasts and our faces so we don’t tempt you? Should we close our legs and our mouths and hope for the best? Do you want us to hide away? Do you want us to stay indoors, where it is safer? Do you want us to pretend that we don’t exist?

Others reading this will tell me how ‘brave’ I am, how honest and fearless I am in my writing.

I don’t want to be brave. I would rather live a quiet life in the country; writing my books and walking my dog on Inchydoney Beach.

I don’t want to have to bare my soul, to tell my secrets in order to prove to you that I am not ashamed, that I am still alive, that I am worthy of being heard. That I’m not broken.

In her powerful victim statement, the woman at the centre of the Standford rape case said “to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting. I believe you. I am with you.”

I hope that extraordinary young woman knows that we are with her too, that we believe her, that we will fight for her. 

And we must. We must keep fighting.


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