Marsho studies History
It’s a rainy day in your hometown, sometime during the winter break. You’ve come back for the holidays, and after a couple days of being cooped up in your family’s home, you decide to go see your friend from secondary school at the only decent coffee shop in town for the sake of gentle socialisation and your sanity.
You walk into the mostly empty café and spot your friend in a corner booth table. You flash her a smile and a quick wave before speed-walking over to give her a warm hug.
After a brief catch-up on all the things you two have been up to since you last saw each other over the summer, you begin indulging in your favourite conversation topic – what the people you went to school with are up to now.
“They broke up… again.”
“Big surprise there.”
“Hopefully this time they realise that they are allowed to expand their dating pool outside a two-mile radius from their homes.”
This back and forth goes on for a while until you start to form a familiar face in your mind, one that used to sit by you in Physics, wearing a persistent and smug grin.
You throw the face’s name into the conversation, anticipating a comment on his latest unflattering haircut, but you are met with a disdained look.
Your friend explains that the face was responsible for an assault. One against a friend of yours who attended the same school. She goes on to tell you about the details, as gut-wrenching as they are, all in a very matter-of-fact manner.
And there’s no shock, no surprise there. Just a sinking feeling.
The face has a name, of course, that was highlighted in the petition that was sent to his university, demanding that an abuser not be granted the privilege of walking through the campus. But, as these tales go, he managed to get away with not even a slap on the wrist.
Because this is how these tales go. “What else can we expect from boys from school?”
Boys from school would throw water bottles around the bus, targeting the quietest kids who would sit at the front. They would yell names at the top of their lungs whenever a chubbier girl walked past. They would giggle at the back of the classroom whenever someone seemed too passionate about a presentation they were giving. And more often than not, they were uncontested. So why would this case be any different?
Despite the fact that in England and Wales, one in four women are raped and sexually assaulted, only one in a hundred cases are reported a year. Men have an impenetrable level of authority within gendered hierarchies and face absolutely zero repercussions. All their problematic actions from a young age will further this idea that they can get away with doing anything that they do. Why do women face more consequences for speaking out against their abuser than the abusers themselves? They undergo meticulous scrutiny from many different sources, most of whom will be inclined to side with the abuser, with little to no consideration for the physical and emotional impact that it has had on the victim.
The psychological effects of sexual abuse can be extremely detrimental to the victim, which could prove to be further damaging when the threat of the perpetrator remains present, due to the miscarriage of justice. Many survivors fear retaliation from their abuser or just from society in general. This, combined with the fact that rapists are very rarely convicted justly, results in a majority of cases going unreported.
The discomfort of calling out the abuser which could result in social disorder often seems to hinder and overshadow any feelings of granting justice to the abused. The friends of the abuser are hesitant if not outright averse to accept accountability for their friend, as they may believe it also reflects onto them as people, especially if they decide not to sever ties. The validity of the accusation is also often met with heavy scepticism, as people sometimes prefer to believe a potential rapist rather than a potential liar if this potential rapist is someone close to them. Therefore, there is never a truly safe space in which women are able to call out their abusers without being challenged.
Capitalist structures create environments in which women are seen as liabilities in comparison to men, which is why institutions such as workplaces and universities favour the inclusion of men. This, in combination with the various societal elements that fail to protect women, leads to the question: Why lose out on a valuable asset because of a claim that could easily be disproven?
Boys from school helped pave the way for men to get away with acting on their ‘compulsive’ and ‘uncontrollable’ desires. Often, society at large deems these desires to be justifiable, but not the protests against them. Which is why so many kids who reported the bullying and harassment were met with the same generic response, in which they were told to ‘get over it’, whether explicitly or implicitly. These patterns have continued to exist long after boys leave school and enter the real world, creating conditions where men are protected by societal and institutional powers.
Boys from school never really change – why would they if they have never felt the pressure to? They go from pushing the boundaries of respect in a school canteen to violating them completely in an office. In order to humanise the victims, they need to be compared to mothers or sisters, but never as separate individuals deserving of common decency. Ultimately, these attitudes towards female victims of sexual assault are drawn from the general constructions of gender, race, and class that have been ingrained into society. Dismantling these notions means completely dismantling these deeply ingrained ideas of hierarchies within society.
^1 – Criminal Injuries Helpline, 2023, Sexual Assault – 2023 Data, https://criminalinjurieshelpline.co.uk/blog/sexual-assault-data-stats/#:~:text=The%20charity%20’Rape%20Crisis’%20has,or%20sexual%20assault%20every%20year. Accessed 18/01/23