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.