CN: Detailed discussion of sexual abuse, rape, police.

Illustration by Author

“Is everything okay? I feel like I’ve raped you.”

This is the message I received a few days after a non-consensual sexual encounter that was the culmination of months of blackmail, online grooming, and manipulation. I hadn’t spoken to my rapist since that afternoon. After he left, I sat on my bed and called my best friend, crying down the phone, spilling everything that had happened. I didn’t tell another soul until months later, suddenly breaking down in a counselling session. I was 14, and the police were instantly involved.

I thought that handing over my phone and access to my Facebook account would make the process simpler. After all, there was evidence of everything in my inbox: admissions of coercion, messages threatening to post pictures of me online, requests for me to perform certain acts for him. So I did it.

To have my personal information trawled through and shared with my family was a violation of my privacy, almost as traumatising as my abuse itself.

The process was long and difficult, and left my data misused and my privacy violated. I came home one day and the look of disappointment on my father’s face said more than his words ever could: “The police called today. They say that the messages you sent Tom were some of the most sexually explicit things they’ve ever seen.” That day, I stopped being a child in his eyes. The police had more or less told him that I’d brought it on myself.

To have my personal information trawled through and shared with my family was a violation of my privacy and was almost as traumatising as the abuse itself. Thinking I would never be believed and that my integrity and victimhood would continue to be interrogated at every turn, I dropped the charges.

The very definition of rape is that you don’t want it to happen. To ask a victim to hand over their phone to have their messages and call log trawled through implies that you think, perhaps, they said or did something that enabled this to happen. This belief perpetuates the notion that victims are ‘asking for it’. If we believe that consent is something given in the moment — a freely given, consistent and enthusiastic ‘yes!’ — there is no message on any victim’s phone that would change whether that person did or didn’t consent to sex at the time.

I understand that false rape accusations happen, but these are very rare. There is no data that suggests rape is falsely reported at a different rate to any other crime, so why do we take such drastic measures to ensure that the victim is telling the truth? It seems to me that sexual assault is viewed through a special lens of misogyny afforded to very few other crimes. People expect victims of assault to be women (which is not only damaging to them but to victims of other genders too), and sexist ideas persist wherein simply having a female body makes you a blameworthy temptress. The result of this is that the innocent until proven guilty attitude applied to accused perpetrators is taken to the extreme: false report until proven otherwise. And when assault can be so hard to prove, it is the victims that suffer.

Sexual assault is viewed through a special lens of misogyny afforded to very few other crimes.

Is it any surprise that assault is so drastically underreported, with even fewer cases going to trial? According to RAINN, 23% of rapes are reported to the police, in comparison to 61% of robberies. I am reminded of the recent case of a girl’s underwear being used to demonstrate that she invited her rape: “you have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.” Victims are placed under suspicion at every turn, their integrity doubted, and their sexuality weaponised. I was 14 and groomed online — of course I said some sexually explicit things. The fact that this was used to undermine my case only goes to demonstrate the misogyny that underpins the act of going through a victim’s phone.

To make this invasion of privacy the norm in assault cases is a step in the wrong direction in a system that is already failing victims. In a society so coloured by sexism, it is sad but unsurprising that private messages are misinterpreted and mishandled. For this to be an effective way of gathering evidence in court cases, we would need an entire overhaul on how our society views women and our sexualities.

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