Category Archives: rape

A brief overview of everything that’s wrong with that anti-rape nail polish

Content note: this post discusses rape and rape culture

Some male students have decided to ride in on their white horses and protect women on their campus. How? By developing a nail polish which supposedly detects date rape drugs. I have so many problems with the concept, I have to split them down into reasons. In no particular order, here are my issues with the product.

1. Shifting responsibility: Under rape culture, responsibility for rape is shifted from the perpetrators to the victims. What could we have done to prevent it? Do that, or it’s our fault. Unless we behave like saints, rolling around in our rape-proof bubbles in the safety of our own homes, we’ll be blamed. Such safety products frame rape as something women need to prevent rather than something men need to stop doing. Four men together could have set up an initiative to help stop their fellow men from raping, but instead they chose to develop a fucking nail polish that changes colour in the presence of certain date rape drugs.

2. The method of testing is ridiculous: The nail polish works by sticking your finger in your drink and seeing if your nail polish changes colour. Now, people who have ever visited a university bar might spot a problem with this: university toilets are absolutely disgusting, and usually lack the washing facilities to get your hands sterile for fingering your drink. So, hooray for maybe not drinking something that’s riddled with rohypnol, but the safe drinks are going to be swimming with piss-bacteria and the sticky Jagermeister that just won’t come off..

3. Rohypnol and GHB are not the only drugs: These drugs are reasonably commonly-used in drug rape, but are far from the only ones available. In fact, given the great public awareness of these two drugs as date rape agents, existing testing kits are on the market, and some dealers are switching their game up to drugs you cannot detect this way. I was once spiked with MDMA to “loosen me up”, meaning rape drugs aren’t even limited to downers. Unless this nail polish were to detect anything that wasn’t booze and sugar, I somehow doubt it will be much use in a vast quantity of cases.

4. Gimmicky nail polish is almost always crap: I have bought a lot of new nail polish in my life, getting excited over advertising campaigns that tell me that my nail polish will be two-tone, or not require a top coat, or can be peeled off without nail varnish remover when the night is over. Almost every time I have done this, the process of painting my nails has gone Horribly Wrong. The texture of gimmicky nail polishes is usually weird: too loose, too thick, requires about a million coats, somehow manages to coat your entire hand in indelible red goop. I can only imagine how inadequate a nail polish with a built in chemistry lab will be. And on the off-chance it went on just fine, I’ve a feeling I’d spend half my night trying to source some GHB because colour-changing nail polish would be cool. 

5. It’s really not appropriate for men to be developing anti-rape products: For two broad reasons, men are the worst possible candidates for developing safety products for women. Firstly, because they don’t know what it’s like and what we need. What we need, as I outlined above, is for them to stop raping us, please. And secondly, more chillingly, since men are overwhelmingly more likely to be perpetrators, it’s kind of chilling. Tweeter @Sarah_Wolley pointed out the fact it’s four men making the product, and some statistics put perpetration rates close to one in four.

6. There are a lot of products that serve as drug testing kits already: Nail polish is a somewhat ridiculous one, in a world where you can get a little strip of paper you dip in your drink, or a glass that changes colour, or a little nozzle you put over your bottle to prevent anyone dropping anything in.

7. Will women who don’t wear nail polish become targets? As a woman, I’m fucking paranoid about getting raped. I think most of us are. This thought may, therefore, be catastrophising, but in a world where fucking catastrophes happen, I don’t think it’s an invalid concern. If rapists want to spike drinks undetected, they could easily go for the women who aren’t wearing nail varnish. Since I often cannot be arsed to wear it, particularly because of the short lesbian nails on one hand, would that make me more of a target to them?

8. Not that that matters anyway: The thing is, your rapist isn’t as likely to be a rando in a bar, spiking whatever drinks he can drop a roofie into. He’s more likely to be your friend who walks you home when he realises you’ve been spiked, your boyfriend who you stayed in and ate pizza with instead of going out to the big wide rapey world, the policeman who you report your spiking to.

9. Would you buy a fashion product from these guys? Really, would you?

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Raping women is legal if it’s a policeman doing it

Content warning: this post discusses rape and police violence

The CPS today explained that they’ve decided it’s not illegal for policemen to pretend to be real people, insinuate themselves into the lives of women it’s literally their job to try and incarcerate, and trick them into sex and childbearing. Their full justification for this is pretty grim reading, riddled with rape apologism and a soupçon of cissexism, and you can read it here.

I cannot even begin to imagine the slap in the face this is for the survivors, who have worked hard to drag the violations they experienced into the light. It is revolting that what happened to them is not considered an act of violence, when it so patently is. The law, as always, is all backwards, set up to protect the powerful and allow them to perpetrate acts of violence against women with impunity.

The fact is, these men lied. They lied about who they were, about what they did, about what they believed. They built a castle of lies, and tricked women into building intimate relationships with them, for the purposes of information gathering. The endgame of this deception was to lock up these women, and everyone these women knew, to silence them and to stop them. There is probably not a woman alive who would actively consent to what these policemen had in mind. This is why we discuss what happened in terms of rape: because of the lack of consent. The legal system, for the most part, defines what is and isn’t rape around what they want their chums to get away with, so by their standards, of course it isn’t rape.

It’s not that the legal system isn’t fit for purpose, because it is. It’s just that the purpose it serves is not in our interests.

There’s a knock-on effect of all this, trickling down to women like me. Under rape culture, we’re paranoid about getting raped–and it’s a just paranoia, because it’s phenomenally likely to happen to a lot of us at some point. Under this state-sanctioned rape culture, there’s this additional retroactive paranoia for those of us who aren’t good girls, who make likely targets for a predatory cop. I find myself flicking through the comrades I have slept with, wondering desperately to myself if any of them were cops. There were those I let myself get close to, and then they disappeared. Were they undercover policemen, who got what they wanted and fucked off back to base?

To my knowledge, they were all just arseholes, and while all cops are bastards, all bastards aren’t cops. However, the niggling, wearing anxiety is still there, and I suspect this is precisely what the pigs want. Ultimately, they want us frightened and ground-down, as it positions us as unable to resist.

I’ve said before that being deeply critical of the police is a very important feminist position to hold, and I’ll say it again until I’m blue in the face. These men are a gang of perpetrators, who will gladly inflict sexual violence upon us to suit their needs. Never forget that.


Does Rolf Harris’s conviction mean anything?

Content note: this post discusses rape and sexual violence

The news has just broken that entertainer Rolf Harris has been found guilty of all of the charges of indecent assault he was tried for. My thoughts go out to the survivors; I hope that they feel a sense of closure and justice after they bravely came forward.

Harris’s conviction follows hot on the heels of Max Clifford, who was convicted and imprisoned for similar offences early this year. Does this mean that the tide is finally turning on the rapists and the abusers, the men who use their power to violate?

Sadly, the answer is, probably not. Rolf Harris sexually assaulted these women more than three decades ago. It has taken this long for the climate to be right for his survivors to seek justice. This timespan is completely unacceptable, allowing Harris to live out his life before the state even started to care.

The picture is still gloomy for survivors. While the CPS may brag that rape convictions are at an all time high, it still translates into a measly 1070 convictions in a year, despite over 15,000 reports. And even when convicted, what does that mean? If you get raped by a powerful man, the negatives can easily outweigh the benefits of reporting: take, for example, the woman who had the misfortune of being raped by footballer Ched Evans. Her name was leaked to the internet by keyboard warriors, and her rapist will be playing football for Sheffield United again before long.

Perhaps at some point in the future, the state will consider the perpetrators of today finally worthy of their attention. I fear a kind of delayed-reaction mechanism, a focus on the historic rather than the current. By looking at it like that, it’s easy to view structural conditions favouring rapists as a thing of the past, as though rape culture stopped at some point in the Seventies. It absolves responsibility of the present, despite the fact that things are still objectively terrible where we’re standing.

In a way, this blog stands as a sort of “IN B4 THE INEVITABLE COMMENT PIECES ABOUT HOW THE SEVENTIES WERE A HIVE OF RAPE AND NOW WE’RE ALL RIGHT JACK”.

But more than anything, I want to reiterate my admiration for the courage of the women who came forward in a system which still tends against believing survivors, in a system where powerful men are worshipped and women degraded, in a system which seldom doles out any justice for survivors. I couldn’t do what they did, and neither can millions of others. I hope they feel peace at last.


In which I think out loud about a film I watched: Under The Skin

Content note: This post contains spoilers for Under The Skin, and a discussion of rape and sexual violence. 

This week I finally got round to seeing Under The Skin, Jonathan Glazer’s sci-fi film about sex and aliens and stuff. As I mull it over, I still can’t quite digest my feelings about it; I’m not sure if I necessarily liked it, but it certainly made me feel things. It was beautiful to look at, providing an arty and distinctly alien view of Glasgow, and the sound engineering was absolutely stunning. Scarlett Johansson delivered a spectacular performance as the alien protagonist. It was pleasingly oblique, with plenty of room for interpretation (or polite befuddlement).

What touched me hardest was that I’ve never seen a film which has summed up my own feelings about heterosexuality so perfectly. We see the world through the eyes of an alien wearing the body of a beautiful woman, and her confusion and disgust at the way men react to her. We see her making polite small talk with men who want to impress her, we see her horror as she enters a meat market night club, and we see her weary acquiescence to being cared for by a man in a time of need. All of it is presented as disorienting and weird, oddly repetitive, and thoroughly and completely unsexy. This is largely how I feel in my interactions with men who I can tell want to have sex with me, and I don’t blame her at all for spending a lot of the second half of the film running away.

For a predatory alien, it is also rather striking how conditional her power is. She is only capable of killing when she has successfully lured men back to her house and undertaken the procedure for suspending them in oil. At all other times, she is helpless, apart from one brief window of opportunity where she is presented with a weakened and near-unconscious man. Even under these ideal conditions, it is hinted at that the alien is not acting of completely her own volition: throughout, we see her shadowed by a male motorcyclist minder.

The climactic scene of the film cements these themes, as her conditional power and the strangeness of heterosexuality converge. A man attempts to rape the alien in an isolated forest. She is powerless in this situation, away from her safe space and up against a man physically stronger than her. It is only the rapist’s disgust that prevents the rape: in the violence, her skin is torn from her body, and her true form is revealed. This disgust does not save her: she is set on fire by the rapist and is ultimately killed.

I didn’t like the ending at all, because it was a story I have heard all too many times before, albeit with a metaphor of an alien tacked on. Sadly, it seemed inevitable from a narrative perspective.

This is, of course, my reading of the film as a queer woman. I almost can’t see how it’s not about what I think it’s about, but I know it can’t be. This was a film made by men, and as such, the likelihood of them setting out to make a film exploring these themes is phenomenally unlikely. So I sit and wonder exactly what they had in mind. Is it working through fear of female sexuality? Are they trying to equivocate the alien’s predation with that of the rapist at the end? Knowing this film was made by men makes me understand it less. And yet, if this film had been made by women, this exact same film, I don’t doubt that rather than being lauded, it would have been panned as these themes would have been more readily accessible and the mainstream is not ready for a film like that.

I recommend watching, if you haven’t already. Technically, it’s a brilliant film, and I’d love to know if others saw what I saw.


Let’s question why men want anonymity for rape defendants

Content note: This post discusses rape, sexual assault and rape apologism

Fresh off the back of his own trial for a series of sexual offences, Nigel Evans has called for anonymity for defendants. Evans got off as his own defence put his behaviour down to “drunken overfamiliarity”, and throughout the trial he came off as at the very least a massive creep and young people are more likely to be on guard around him in the future.

Evans’s plea is one much repeated among those who seek to protect perpetrators of sexual violence. The call comes up again and again, a repeated screech. The thing is, the evidence shows that anonymity for defendants in sexual offences only protects rapists and abusers.

Between 1976 and 1988, the UK had anonymity for rape defendants. It led to a number of practical problems, including a very major and horrific one: if a rapist escaped custody, there was no way of warning the public that a dangerous rapist was on the loose. There’s also the very important fact that when a perpetrator is named, more survivors tend to come forward. Take for example, the case of John Worboys, the “Black Cab Rapist”. Once Worboys was named, a large quantity of survivors came forward, which helped to convict him. Before this, the police had dismissed allegations against Worboys from survivors who came forward individually.

The evidence shows clearly that anonymity for defendants only helps rapists and abusers, so why are men so keen to defend it? Even as I tweeted about Evans, I was besieged by men–the sort of men who thought themselves good, rational types–saying they believed in anonymity for defendants. Two equally irrational lines of argument cropped up: first, the tired old one about false allegations, and second something about equality.

The thing about false allegations is dull and takes seconds to puncture. The rate for false allegations is low, possibly lower than most other crimes. This persistent myth calls open season on rape survivors, and makes it harder for them to come forward. Clinging to this myth harms only survivors, and it is a completely irrational belief to hold. Men should be more worried about dying from alcohol poisoning than being falsely accused of rape.

As for equality, fuck that shit. The anonymity protection for survivors is a tiny nod to the fact that the system is entirely stacked against them. Anyone who thinks adding on anonymity for defendants is equality doesn’t understand what the word fucking means. They’re calling to stack the system further against survivors.

So with these two irrational arguments punctured, we need to wonder why men are so keen to protect rapists and abusers. My own personal theory is that they know in their hearts they, too, have something to hide. They remember that night where she was too drunk, they remember that boy who was far too young, they remember that time they had to wheedle and fight for it. They remember these things and they feel afraid, afraid that one day someone might be empowered to speak out. They can pretend away that any allegations would be false, but the truth is that these things were lines crossed, and deep down they know it.

It’s the only way I can explain why men are so persistent in pursuing something with no founding in evidence. Why else would they support something which only protects perpetrators?


In which I review a book that I read: Playing The Whore

Since I heard that Melissa Gira Grant wrote a book about sex work, I’ve been desperate to get my grubby mitts on it. Having now read Playing The Whore: The Work Of Sex Work, I want to recommend that every single one of you reads this fucking book.

Weighing in at just 132 pages, I’m astounded Gira Grant managed to pack in so much vital–and radical–analysis in such an accessible format. Central to her thesis is the concept of a “prostitute imaginary”, a cobbled-together bundle of myths which occupies our minds. These myths are systematically examined and dismantled through a feminist lens. Everything you thought you knew about sex work is a lie, it seems. Did you know, for example, that among a sample of over 21, 000 women who do sex work in West Bengal, there were 48, 000 reports of violence perpetrated by police, but only 4000 perpetrated by customers?

Gira Grant has a theory as to why this may be the case. The forces of public imagination surrounding sex work run strong. Misogynists, law enforcement and feminists alike view a sex worker as always working, as nothing but a sex worker. She (as Gira Grant points out, this stereotype is always of a cis woman) is somehow deviant and subjected to stigma for her deviance. Simultaneously, focus is on representations of sex, rather than the concrete. We only see sex workers being arrested, or peek through a peephole to see what we want to see. With all of this going on, the voices of sex workers can easily be ignored, creating this situation:

These demands on their speech [in testimony in court and the media], to both convey their guilt and prove their innocence, are why, at the same time that sex work has made strides toward recognition and popular representations that defy stereotypes, prostitutes, both real and imaginary, still remain the object of social control. This is how sex workers are still understood: as curiosities, maybe, but as the legitimate target of law enforcement crackdowns and charitable concerns–at times simultaneously. And so this is where the prostitute is still most likely to be found today, where those who seek to “rescue” her locate her: at the moment of her arrest.

The book travels in a spiral, revisiting the same points over and over again to the joint problems of violence and coercion from law enforcement, and how other women, especially feminists, aren’t helping–and in fact, attempts to rescue can often make things worse, such as demonstrated in a case study in Cambodia, where attempts to “rescue” sex workers have led to many women being dragged away to “rehabilitation camps”, repurposed prisons where women have died or set to work long shifts behind a sewing machine.

A lot of what we as feminists have been doing wrong is related to “whore stigma”, which Gira Grant explains goes beyond simple misogyny:

The fear of the whore, or of being the whore, is the engine that drives the whole thing [a culture which is dangerous for sex workers]. That engine could be called “misogyny”, but even that word misses something: the cheapness of the whore, how easily she might be discarded not only due to her gender, but to her race, her class. Whore is maybe the original intersectional insult.

It is a desire to reverse away from “whore stigma”, which predominantly affects sex workers, but can also hit women who are not sex workers, which links with a lot of problems within mainstream feminism: Gira Grant theorises that it is no coincidence that feminists who are anti-sex work are also often transphobic. And, likewise, anti-sex work laws are often used against trans women and women of colour, from unfair targeting for stop and search, to disproportionate incarceration.

It makes for uncomfortable reading at times, this litany of our own mistakes as feminists, and perhaps nowhere is it clearer than in an analysis of objectification, and the feminist line that sex workers increase objectification of women. The evidence upon which these assumptions rest is dealt with in short order, and Gira Grant highlights the dehumanisation and objectification of sex workers at the hands of women, as silent props, and, often depicted in a frighteningly demeaning fashion.

In dismantling the myths, Playing The Whore offers glimpses of the reality of sex work, the diversity of all that this umbrella covers. The book explains neatly how sex work fits in among other forms of work, of how once upon a time, sex workers and housewives were sisters in arms. At times, I wish the book were far longer, as I feel as though there are tantalising hints of analysis to come which never quite develops but is merely teased. Although this book is neither explicitly anti-capitalist nor explicitly ACAB, conclusions of this nature bubble under the surface, never spelled out, for this is not quite within its scope in its current form.

This book is a must-read feminist book. I would go so far as to place it as a crucial Feminism 101 text. The first feminist book I ever read way Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, whose ideas I am still struggling to unlearn, as it gave me a shameful attitude towards sex workers and femmes for years I will never get back. Playing The Whore casts a critical eye on patriarchy while actively dismantling the stigma many women face, and teaches the central feminist values of listening, and solidarity. For readers more versed in feminist theory and praxis, it allows us to evaluate our past mistakes and encourages us to rebuild on more solid ground. By rights, this book could and should shake up feminism for the better.

But sadly, I fear it will not, for I fear the forces Gira Grant outlines are too powerful to be brought down by this smart little book. We have had centuries of clinging to a prostitute imaginary while coming up with numerous excuses to silence the voices of sex workers. I believe that this book will largely be ignored by the mainstream with their stake in speaking for and over sex workers. A recent review of Playing The Whore by a liberal cis white feminist took umbrage to Gira Grant’s centring of sex workers in a book about sex work, and decided that she would rather read about “demand”. Mainstream feminism wants sex workers decentred from discussions directly pertinent to their livelihood, it wants to keep sex workers on the margins. It will not listen.

Gira Grant knows this, which is why she concludes with a rousing cry for decriminalisation, in the hope that the rest will follow. This conclusion, and the solidarity Gira Grant asks for are concrete things which we as feminists who do not do sex work can support.


Dear Amanda Marcotte

Content note: This post discusses rape

Dear Amanda Marcotte,

I read your piece in Slate justifying a decision to incarcerate a survivor of rape to force her testimony with a kind of slack-jawed disgust, slowly morphing to a deep and visceral sense of terror.

I was horrified to read what happened to the woman who, having survived something so vile, was arrested and incarcerated until the trial. My heart shuddered at the thought that could happen. And the bile rose up in my throat as you said, over and over again, that this was all right. You say that in domestic violence cases, a lot of survivors recant their testimony because of the abuser, and go on to speculate that perhaps this is what happened with this woman. You say that there’s nothing that can be done to heal this in time for lawyers to get what they want, as though that’s the important thing here. You pretty much out-and-out blame women who do not comply with the justice system for any future violence that may be perpetrated.

Your article is sickening and frightening to me, a rape survivor who never reported what happened to me to the legal system. I’ve had to deal with many shades of bullshit from rape culture in my time, but you’ve given me something new to feel horror over. It had never occurred to me that some people might decide to blame me for any other things that might be perpetrated by that man. It had never occurred to me that the state could lock me up if they wanted to for not wanting anything to do with them, and self-professed feminists would cheer them on. I know that men who rape often don’t stop at one. And yet, what happened to me was deeply personal and I chose to deal with it in the way that made me feel safest. I feel like, for the most part, what I needed to happen, happened: all I wanted was him out of my life and to not have to talk about it in great detail to anyone.

As a feminist, I believe that the needs of the survivor are the only thing that matters in any instance of sexual violence. The way of starting to heal a deeply personal violation is also deeply personal, and deeply individual. For some survivors, this might be the route through the legal system. For others, it might be making sure everyone knows the name and face of the perpetrator as a warning. For others, perhaps recognition of what happened and reconciliation with the perpetrator is possible. For others, maybe setting the perpetrator on fire. It’s individual, it’s unique, and all of these are valid if that’s what the survivor wants.

Under rape culture, the wants and needs of survivors are ignored twice. First, in the initial violation, and second, in the response. We have our autonomy completely stripped of us by a state which supports and enforces rape culture, by peers who support and enforce rape culture, and, apparently, by people who consider themselves prominent feminist commentators who are also doing their best to sweep the wants and needs of survivors under the carpet when they get a little inconvenient.

So fuck your “greater good” guilt trip. Any greater good which involves kidnapping and incarcerating women is not worth it at all. Fuck your decision to ignore the wants and needs of survivors; you are just as bad as the rest of the rape culture which spawned your ideology. Fuck your supporting a move which will only put survivors off speaking out about what happened.

There is only one thing that matters, Amanda Marcotte, and that is what survivors want. Our role, as feminists dismantling rape culture, is to support each individual survivor unconditionally, in whatever course of action she chooses. Any other course is just rape culture, rebranded.


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