The devil on your back

Warning: This post will discuss sexual violence. If you need someone to listen to you, please call RAINN at 1.800.656.HOPE, or visit for an online hotline.

Yesterday, I saw this graphic come across my twitter feed on a number of occasions. The first time I saw it, it felt like being punched in the gut, and I sat, weeping, in front of my computer.

I wasn't crying because I didn't know the statistics (or know them as much as anyone can - rape is underreported). I am one. But there's a difference between reading that 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail, and seeing those rows and rows of figures. There's a difference between seeing a statistic that highlights how many women survive, and how many men commit the crime. (Yes. I am aware that rape is not solely a crime committed by men against women, and I do not mean to minimize anyone's suffering, but in the vast majority of cases, this is man on woman violence.)

I had a professor once, who, when introducing the subject of rape in the class, apologized to the men present who might have been falsely accused, because that was a horrible thing. He offered no such apology to the women in the room who had survived the crime.

In the American legal system, if you are prosecuted for a crime, you can either be found guilty, or not guilty. Not innocent. When there is a verdict of not guilty in a trial for a robbery, people assume that the police got the wrong person, or that the prosecutor didn't prove the case. They don't assume that since the victim had a history of being financially generous, a reasonable person could have assumed they consented to having their money stolen. No one says it was suicide when there isn't a conviction at the end of a murder trial. But when a woman is raped - after the evidence has been collected from the crime scene of her body, after it has been argued over (those bruises on your thighs, are they there because you like rough sex, or because he pried them open as he pushed into you?) - if there is a verdict of not guilty, she becomes the slutty bitch trying to ruin some guy's life. He becomes innocent.

It is easier to believe that women are liars than that men are rapists. But just because something is easy, that doesn't make it true.

Amanda Palmer blogged about Steubenville recently (and that comes with a trigger warning, too). She posted art of her own, but really, it's this picture of her that haunts me. Because I wish, sometimes, that it was possible to burn everything to the ground and start again. To immolate a culture that tells women that what they wear matters but doesn't tell men that about their behaviour. Where colleges offer presentations to sorority girls on how to keep drinks safe at frat parties, but don't tell the guys throwing those parties, that hey, it's not okay to put something in a woman's drink that makes her pass out, that doesn't tell them that just because she can't remember, doesn't mean it wasn't rape. Where the people in power in the government can talk about "actual rape" "legitimate rape" and have those words just become soundbites.

It fills me with poison. It fills me with rage.

But even in this, God, even in this I am a writer, and I see those flames, and I think of the phoenix, I think of those of us who have risen from our own ashes, and who have put our lives back together. Who have walked through that fire and come out the other side. And there are too many of us. But you are not alone.