Why I Didn’t Report

Trigger warning: this article contains an intensely personal account of rape and sexual assault that occurred on the UBC campus. The article also discusses depression, self-harm and anxiety.

In February 2013, I was raped.

Like most people on the last day of Spring Break, I was at a party. Loud music, mixed drinks, dancing, talking, kissing, locked doors, darkness. Rape.

It took me six months to call it rape. It took me six months of depression, crippling anxiety and bloody razor blades to become aware of the fact that the events of February 22nd 2013 were not my doing. It wasn’t that I was wearing a low cut top, or that I’d had some wine or that I stayed behind to talk to him despite my friends’ warnings; it was that he took advantage of me. He was – he is – a rapist.

He doesn’t deserve more than a few sentences, but I am determined to note one thing about this experience. I knew him, just like 80% of survivors know the person who raped them. Not only did I know him, I trusted him. He was older, wiser, someone I had been convinced to trust. We were both scholarship students; both (supposedly) cherished by the University, both chosen from our high schools as leaders, and therefore both intricately entwined in each other’s lives. The heteronormative and hierarchical spheres in which we socialized led me to trust him. These spheres indoctrinated me to worship him as superior because of his age, his ‘trustworthy’ good looks, his traditional heterosexual appeal and his ‘harmless’ flirting. They held him as a god because of his excellent manliness, coupled with his academic success that the University loved so, so much. (What sort of person would say no to him?) These spheres – my friends, my peers, my advisors – were complicit in my rape.

My friends, all straight girls, downplayed experiences of harassment because our communities were focused around traditional relationship structures. Essentially, our conversations were centered around the ‘opposite’ sex, future husbands and potential mates. The men we knew insisted that “compliments are harmless,” “flirting is just a bit of fun” and “girls should lighten up.” I was nineteen, alone in Canada, and feeling like a freak because I didn’t have a boyfriend. So, I believed them. I believed them at the party, when my drink was being topped up. I believed them when the bathroom was inescapable. I believed them when my face was against the sink.

However, none of this erases the fact that there is only one person at fault here: the rapist. Never should the blame be removed from his shoulders and never should his actions be excusable. But we are all products of our society. I find no peace or closure in labelling him as a monster, as a sick and twisted individual, exempt from societal influences and acting alone in his crimes. Yes, he is all of those things and many more despicable adjectives — but he and I were both socialized such that this moment was inevitable. We had absorbed and inherited, throughout our lives, norms, customs and ideologies that caused him to be a rapist and me a victim. This does not mean that he did not make an active decision to commit a crime, or that his actions are in any way excusable. It means that our society has created a rape culture – one that is ripe with rape jokes, victim blaming, slut shaming. A culture that equalizes rape with success and acquits rapists – so that rape is inexorable.

Every seventeen minutes a woman in Canada is raped.

Four out of five female undergraduates in Canada have experienced violence in a relationship.

Half of all women in BC will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

Fifty percent.

That’s over a million women.

So he’s not abnormal. He’s just like the boyfriend/friend/brother/husband/colleague of 1 in 4 North American women. Not to mention he’s a Frat Boy: he’s 300% more likely to rape. And me? I’m a woman. My body is subject to legislation, sexualization, exotification, fetishization, objectification and correction, so it leads me to contemplate the expectations of a heteronormative rape culture such as this one. Our society has created the perfect platform for violation of female or feminized bodies, as it is founded upon patriarchy, violence, colonialism and the sexual power and privilege of cisgender heterosexual men.

I was convinced to see a counsellor. But I found UBC Counselling to be so conspicuous, so obvious, so terrifyingly close to student services like Enrolment Service Professionals and the careers center that I was afraid that I would run into someone I knew. The experience was troubling even before I sat in a dimly lit room with an older man who insisted on mis-remembering my name. The déjà vu was triggering. I decided to stick it out; I had to recover from my mental illnesses. I couldn’t bear the thought that not only had my body been violated, my mind had been broken too. Months of crying, insomnia and the inability to walk on campus without breaking into a paranoid sweat were just a few elements of the long term rape of my spirit. Not only was I struggling under the weight of social stigma against mental illness, I was crushed by the idea that these psychological burdens had been inflicted upon me. I found UBC Counselling neglectful and frustrating, from the long waits to the constant focus on my academic success rather than my overall well-being. However, the most triggering part of the experience was the counsellor’s insistence that I report the incident.

I didn’t want to report. I didn’t want to report because my rapist existed in so many of my social and academic circles. I imagined that the devastation caused by a court trial would destroy our tight-knit community and cause me to be alienated. What if no one believed me? What if I went through all the trauma of engaging with the racist, sexist, oppressive court system and he went unconvicted like 99% of rapists? What if his popular status, like that of Jian Ghomeshi, called people to support him and silence me? What if people assumed it could explain my queerness? What if people used it against me in feminist discourse? What if it discredited me in job prospects?

What if I had to relive the ordeal over and over and over again?

Support for survivors:

  • malesurvivor

    While I agree largely with this piece, it erases the experience of people who do not identify as female. Many men and gender non-binary folks are raped and assaulted every day. I do not mean this in a “but what about men?” sense. My point is that it erases the experiences of many sexual assault survivors who are in positions of privilege but do not report for many of the same reasons you discuss.

    I am a male survivor of sexual assault. I did not report the assault, nor have I told anyone about it. Many of my reasons are the same as here. I know my attacker – I’m forced to see him every day. I know that reporting the incident would almost certainly not result in justice. I know I would alienate many (if not most) of my friends while forever changing how the rest of my friends see me. I knew I would face people telling me “You’re a guy – you can’t get raped” or “You must have enjoyed it, that’s how the biology works”.

    Please don’t erase my experiences or those of other men. It hurts and contributes to the idea that men cannot be raped. It’s one of the reasons so few men report rape.

    • Jordan Boschman

      The patriarchal structures and attitudes that are called out all over this article are the exact same ones that make it so difficult for men who are victims to come forward. A woman coming forward about their experience does not erase the experiences of men or otherly gendered people. Don’t ask those more systematically discriminated to make a special caveat in their experience for yours. If you need to speak out about your experience, or those of men or otherly gendered people, you can write an article yourself in order to add to the conversation, instead of accusing others of subtracting from it with their own personal expression. Despite your mention of those outside the gender binary, and your explicit statement that your post is no a “but what about men?” point, it is.

      I have no doubt about the trauma and difficulties of your experience, and someone, of a community that experiences these assaults exponentially more than members of your community, telling their story does nothing to erase that. The same forces that silence you on this issue are the ones that continuously silence women, and all communities that experience rape and sexual assault are bettered by a discourse that gives the victims space to tell their experience. You aren’t erased by a woman explaining that her rapist was enabled by a patriarchal, heteronormative culture. In fact, she is letting everyone know what social forces and responses are culpable in silencing victims: women, men, and others alike. Just because these pressure come most often from men doesn’t mean that they don’t also silence men whose experiences fall outside the patriarchal discourse. That’s the power of the logic of normativity and patriarchy: that which is outside them must be devalued or otherwise diminished. Don’t blame women, still struggling so much to have their sexual assaults believed by men, for men’s reluctance to believe your sexual assault.

      • malesurvivor

        I feel like you missed my point. My issue was the article ignores the same patriarchal power structures act on men and women. Erasure is more than just directly trying to erase an identity by purposely excluding them; it includes leaving voices out of a discussion even accidentally. I understand that I am saying “what about men”, I see your point. But this is a discussion in which male survivors need to be included – the power structures that prevent women from reporting rape are the same ones that prevent men from reporting rape and also the same structures that prevent gender non-binary people from reporting rape. This is a discussion that needs to involve all survivors of sexual assault if a wholly intersectional picture is to be painted.

        • Jordan Boschman

          Yes you’re right, an intersectional approach is essential. Part of that, in my opinion, is an understanding of how much structural power differences, via gender for example, matter in negotiating space and respecting voice. We seem to agree that women’s and other genders’ struggles with these issues are key, and men suffering from the same patriarchal oppression are most often most benefited by joining and supporting this struggle of other genders. Men, acknowledging how this struggle is shared differently amongst differently gendered identities and communities, can certainly have their own efforts and groups to advance interests specific to them in this struggle and their victims. But men, coming in to social spaces created to address other genders’ experiences in this struggle, like discussion of this article, and asking why their experiences aren’t represented is a significant element of the problem. This article obviously isn’t intended to be a broad critique of how sexual assault discourse happens, but rather is a personal expression of someone’s experience and what they view responsible for it. That is not the place for men, even men similarly victimized, to ask “what about the men”?

    • TalonUBC

      Thank you for sharing your concerns and your experience. We hear you and are so sorry you had to go through that. Your experience of rape should not be erased.

      We think that writing about one’s personal experience with sexual assault, and the ways that particular “feminine or feminized bodies” are affected by particular systems of oppression should not, and does not automatically, erase other experiences. Talking about experiences is not necessarily a zero sum game, where talking about one kind of experience takes away from talking about other experiences.

      However, when that one kind of experience becomes dominant and materializes in a way where space for other voices is taken away, there is a problem and there is violence. We live in a world where non-binary and male survivors have limited access to resources and support for abuse and sexual assault because of the dominant discourses of rape as always committed by men against women.

      Your comment presents an opportunity for us to think about how to hold space for all voices in these discussions more broadly. We would also like you to know that we are are open to sharing your and other folks’ experiences in the Talon if you feel it’s a useful avenue. You’re, of course, welcome to submit and publish anonymously.

  • Roninette

    This article could’ve been written by me. Down to the age, my concerns, how I was treated by Counselling (the emphasis was on how it impacted my schoolwork, if I didn’t prosecute they would be reticent with me)…That was in fall of 2008. Nothing changed since then. Fuck.