We must be able to talk openly about our rapes without an unsolicited police investigation

Content note: this post discusses rape, child sexual abuse, the police, and rape apologism

MP Michelle Thomson did something very brave and highly unprecedented recently: she spoke about her rape in the House of Commons.

Sadly, however, I’m concerned that this courage might have negative consequences–for Thomson, and ultimately for other survivors. Police Scotland have announced they are now investigating Thomson’s rape, with no evidence whatsoever that Thomson requested, needs or wants a police investigation.

I’ve written before about how a lot of survivors do not report their rapes, and this is a perfectly sensible option that is best for them. As hard as it might be for people steeped in rape culture but with no experience of being on the wrong end of it to believe, many survivors do not want a police investigation. 

I keep thinking of the experience of the survivor in the Ched Evans rape case. This young woman never reported a rape to the police. She simply called because she was concerned her drink had been spiked. Yet from the moment she called the police, matters were taken out of her hands, and it spiralled into a rape investigation which ultimately became a rallying point for rape-enabling misogynists. The survivor has had to change her identity several times due to the harassment she has received.

I wonder what would have become of her if the police had allowed her to have a choice in how the case proceeded, to follow her lead and her wishes rather than just treating her as a witness. Would she have chosen a court case? We shall never know.

I think about how the mental health of those who report historic sexual abuse is scrutinised, evaluated and discredited by a media deeply invested in protecting old white men (and likely to include more than a few nonces itself; it’s unlikely the problem was confined to the BBC).

There is no mention that Thomson wanted the police to investigate her rape. She didn’t tell them 37 years ago when it happened, and let’s face it, it’s astronomically unlikely that a conviction would be possible now. So did Thomson consent to a police investigation? I don’t know, and therefore I cannot cheer that the police are finally pulling their hammy fingers out and doing something: because the something that they’re doing could make things worse for the survivor, and they may well be acting without her consent.

The idea of police acting without survivors’ consent is something which doesn’t just necessarily dissuade survivors from contacting the police. It also shuts us down from talking openly about our experiences. It’s pretty fucking terrifying that we could be dragged into all of the scrutiny that survivors must undergo if taking the police-court route, without choosing it. It’s frightening that the police might force this upon us simply to look like they’re doing something, in a lazy PR move.

As survivors, we must be able to talk openly about our rapes without the threat that the police may disempower us. It is vital that every step of dealing with a rape is done with the consent of the survivor.

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14 responses to “We must be able to talk openly about our rapes without an unsolicited police investigation

  • Net Denizen

    It happens with a lot of crimes, although I’m not sure how similar it is in UK compared to US. In the US, the state will act in lieu of the victim if the crime is considered severe enough. The state considers this to be in the state’s best interest to bring the crime to justice, regardless of the victim’s best wishes on the matter.

    • stavvers

      …and indeed regardless of whether it’s in the survivor’s best interest (see, e.g. what happened to the woman who survived Ched Evans)

  • oopster74

    Reading this, a big part of me was thinking “why wouldn’t you want someone who’s raped you to be investigated / punished etc”, but then after a few minutes of thinking about it, thought that maybe, they want to leave it in the past, and don’t want to drag it all up again stirring up old wounds, and that should be good enough. Another part of me is also thinking that the police should investigate regardless of a complaint, as the rapist maybe a serial rapist, and needs to be removed from society for the good of society. There’s no easy answers here. A friend of mine was abused at school by his parish priest. I didn’t find out till later as an adult when he told me, but I saw the affect it had on him and his behaviour at the time, and possibly still does today. I wish I’d have questioned my friend about what was making him act the way the he was at the time, I knew something wasn’t right, but never in a million years would I have thought what he told me. Makes me wish time travel was a possibility and I could travel back to deal with this sicko who hurt my friend, because if he’s done it to one, chances are he’ll have done it to others.

    I wish there was a simple answer, but there rarely is where things like this are concerned.

    • Katrina

      The outcome of the investigation will almost certainly be that there is insufficient evidence for a prosecution. This will get interpreted as her being a liar, which of course is not the case.

      • stavvers

        This is my fear. And all for an investigation she never asked for.

      • oopster74

        Even with the best of intentions, getting proof in these situations is difficult if not impossible. It’s normally a case of one persons word against another, and you can’t give more weight to one side or the other if you want a fair legal system.

        • stavvers

          Which is precisely why the legal system is an active hindrance to most survivors being able to speak about experiences, and we must all ditch our attachment to it.

          • oopster74

            I know it’s not what you want to hear, but the law has to be fair and impartial. It can’t presume one side is being truthful from t start otherwise we’ll have a system equally as bad as we have now. I don’t know what the ultimate answer is apart from education of everyone so that rape becomes a thing of the past.

  • raidersfan522

    Coming from someone who has been in a similar situation. She may not have said anything for so long because when something like this happens you feel ashamed and embarrassed violated and judged. I lost my voice my happiness and my security. Something like this happened to me years ago and I have finally found my voice and I am able to tell people what happened without fear of judgment and vulnerability its a work in process but little by little I am letting people know what has happened and I feel stronger and more independent less afraid of society. I still have not notify authorities nor will I why because I choose not to bring up what pains me inside and have to face my abuser again. So why bring it up not if I want no action taken, simply because I hope that someone will hear my story and know that it is ok to be embarrassed ashamed but its not your fault. I hope that I can help someone find their voice and happiness that has been taken away.

  • raidersfan522

    Coming from someone with a similar situation. After being sexually abused you feel embarrassed ashamed and judged you do not have the option to remain anonymous. Then feeling dirty and violated you have no voice I was sexually abused years ago and am just barely now realizing its ok to feel vulnerable and embarrassed and ashamed but its not your fault you didn’t ask for this. So why tell people years down the road not to dig up old wounds again but to heal the emotional ones that have impacted you for so long. To find your voice again to be able to be a stronger person. To let the would know yes it may have been years ago but I allowed myself to be a victim for all those years I no longer want to be a victim I wang to be a survivor

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