Schooled for Rape
by: Camille Melissa Waring , March 28, 2021
by: Camille Melissa Waring , March 28, 2021
I live on Clapham Common in London. From my window, you can see the exact spot on the Common where, on the evening of Wednesday, 3 March 2021, Sarah Everard was last seen alive. The night she disappeared, I was on the Common as well, trying to outrun the thoughts of my own sexual abuser, who had re-entered my life only two days earlier after an absence of twenty-one years. Clapham feels like a village, a small community in sprawling South West London. Clapham Common is a place of solitude for me and my friends, an escape from a garden-less London flat. The sexual violence of men placed Sarah and me in proximity that ominous night, but I was the only one who returned home safely. It terrifies me knowing we were there at similar times and on the same day.
I am tired and angry about the sexual violence of men. I feel exhausted and almost defeated. The sadness I experience sometimes feels overwhelming. The time for polite discourse and actions has passed. Last year, when feminist Mona Elthahawy remarked on the Australian television show Q&A, ‘How many rapists must we kill before men stop raping women? I am not talking about the death penalty. Fuck the State and its monopoly on violence; I am talking about our power and the power we have to fight patriarchy’ (Elthahawy 2020), she caused outrage, and the episode was banned following complaints by men. The criminal justice system is ineffective at tackling sex and violent offences committed by men. It is insulting to women that in Britain the defacing of a public statue gets more time served in prison than the rape of a woman. (Walker 2021) The inanimate reproduction of a man’s body is valued more by our misogynistic society than the real life body of a woman.
Some men tweet the hashtag ‘Not All Men’ and spend more time trying to convince women they are good men than they do questioning their own behaviour patterns. Men create murky grey areas around sexual violence to excuse the sexual offences of other men; we then slut-shame women, control them, and blame them for their own victimisation. We tell women how not to be raped instead of telling men not to rape. Sarah did everything she was told to do in order to stay safe, yet still that was not enough. There is no real justice in the criminal justice system for the female victims of men. I know this to be true from personal experience. We need to redefine what justice means; the idea that I need my rape experience validated by a court system that relegates rape victims to the status of sluts is repugnant. Rape conviction statistics reflect the painful reality that we do not believe female victims of sexual violence. (Barr & Topple 2020)
Meanwhile, in the face of Sarah’s death, women send a flurry of terrified WhatsApp messages about security buddies, and call each other when we arrive home. It is telling that we all reported a creepy bloke we thought might be the offender to the Metropolitan Police only a few days after Sarah’s disappearance. Many of us called Crime Stoppers and our local Police stations to report this crime. White-hot incandescent rage was a feeling shared by so many of these women. We wanted to smash things up and to vent our anger. Not all men, they say, then which men? How do we know which men are not ‘those kind’ of men? We all needed to reclaim the open park land known as the Common for Sarah; sadly, it would seem that the most dangerous thing for the women of Clapham Common is the men who are meant to serve and protect us.
I was first sexually assaulted as a ten year-old girl, taken away from my sisters and cousins for just a brief moment of sexual violence that had an enduring impact. A five-minute encounter rendered me ripe for exploitation by other men. I was raised in a single-parent family, my mother tasked after my father’s sudden death with raising four young girls on her own at the age of thirty-two. In our society, my vulnerability meant that I was a sexual violence ‘victim’ just waiting to happen. When I was a fourteen year-old, already abused by one man in authority, already traumatised, I was prime meat for the consumption of a sex offender looking for easy prey. As a desperately sad teenager, I was about to learn the harsh realities of the brutality of male violence. I had the unfortunate fate of crossing paths with a sadistic sexual rapist—a school teacher who took less than nine months to go from grooming me, to raping me and then to repeatedly, sadistically, raping me. I have never recovered from having to sit in a class and be taught by a man in 1990 and then again in1992 who, in his free time, was sodomising me whenever he had the opportunity.
What started as singling me out with a remark about how he thought I was pretty, blew up into three years of sadistic violence from 1990-1993, and then to being relentlessly pursued. He subsequently had me trapped in an abusive relationship from 1994 to 1997. Self-harming and with a compulsive eating disorder, I became fuelled by wanting to become so painfully thin that he could not see me anymore. I finally broke and reported him to the Police. By this point, I had been trapped in a nasty cycle of sexual violence for seven years. He continued to torment me in the criminal justice system, by dragging me through a three-year police investigation, a brutal six week rape trial where he faced over sixty-five rape and sexual violence offences against young girls and women. I did not tell the Police everything, I was too embarrassed, and I also felt unable to fully articulate what he had done to me. I fought him in criminal court, and I battled him in civil court, and this was an incredibly bleak period in my life. Instinctively I did not trust the Police then, and I do not trust the Police now—the violent chaos that rained down at the Vigil for Sarah validated my lifelong distrust of them. Later in adulthood, I was stalked by no less than a Metropolitan Police Officer, a man who still lives very close to me in Clapham Common. He was the first person who came into my mind when Sarah disappeared. Sadly, I was not surprised her alleged attacker was a serving London Metropolitan Police Officer.
I had been on Clapham Common the night Sarah vanished, because my rapist school teacher popped up on my Instagram feed in some perverted trip down sex offender memory lane. He had posted self-portraits from 1990 and the year 2000. The years he started grooming me, and the year we were battling it out in court. I asked him to remove the photos; he has not. I was on Clapham Common the night Sarah disappeared, attempting to suppress the repetitive thoughts of myself as a child lying next to my rapist, trying to work out what to do and trying not to move when he would repeatedly trace his thumb along my spine. On 3 March 2021, I was running in the dark, full of rage.
I refuse to take any security measures at night. I have been served up for the consumption of patriarchy by being the victim of scores of sexual, violent incidents, so many that I often cannot distinguish them from each other. As an adult, I refuse to amend my behaviour because of the threat of the way men will act if I do not follow an assumed script about how to avoid their violence. The sadistic violence I experienced as a child has hardened the woman who refuses to budge in the face of men’s violence. I walk the streets at night; I run in parks in the late evening; I stand my ground when men harass me; I scream profanities at men when they think I am a target. I run on Clapham Common every night and I refuse to stop. It breaks my heart that millennial women experience the same level of sexual violence I endured before some of them were even born.
The Vigil was organised by Reclaim These Streets; like me, they battled in the criminal courts to be heard. The organisers were threatened with arrest if they were seen on Clapham Common. When I found out the Vigil had officially been cancelled, I texted my friend and said I was still going; she came to support me. I was determined to go. I had so much rage and sadness within me after seeing my rapist on Instagram and after hearing what has just happened to Sarah. I felt an overwhelming sadness for other women, and I was unable to quell the rape flashbacks I was experiencing. On the walk over to the Clapham Common Bandstand, in the dark and cold, just before 6pm, my friend recounted the story of when, as a ten-year-old, she felt very uncomfortable when a male teacher tried to persuade her to get into his car. As a ten year old she had a precocious understanding of the violence of men that made him scary to her. She felt a fear and discomfort that she could not name. I was not at all surprised and we linked arms.
I was grieving—this felt like a funeral. The Vigil was not only about activism—it was not a protest. It was not for men and it most certainly was not for the Police. The obscenity of the Police attending a Vigil for a woman allegedly kidnapped and then murdered by a police officer is staggeringly offensive; COVID pandemic be dammed. The visuals of burning candles, bunches of flowers, women standing in silence, hugging each other, crying, and messages scribbled onto cardboard, were in stark contrast to the florescent bright yellow vests of the police jackets of men (and some women) who bulldozed their way through the women, and who came to the Vigil looking for a fight. For me, and I imagine for many women, that Saturday night was an outlet for fears and for rage, a chance to stand in solidarity with women who had been subjected to the violence of men, to stand with women who did everything right. We wanted to mourn the children or women we were before being violated by men. The violence of men changes the woman that you are, as well as the woman who you were meant to be. We were at this Vigil to stand up and be counted. We were there to mourn Sarah’s loss as well as the many losses of other women, who were not as lucky as me to survive the violence of men. I think about all the times that school teacher took me out to rape me. I feel tremendous guilt for surviving the violence of men, when many of my fellow women have and do not. I do not hate men; pity is a more appropriate word. If you were to ask if I respect them, I would not have an answer.
We arrived at the Vigil at just around six in the evening. We later learnt that having placed daffodils for Sarah, Kate Middleton had only recently left. There seemed to be hundreds of mourners, the majority wearing masks. It was dark and cold. There was an endless stream of people. The atmosphere was bleak, but supportive. There was a feeling of collective mourning and a united stand. A sense of a need for healing of sorts, and recognition that enough is enough. This was not just about a chance to yell at patriarchy, the establishment and authority, although that was very cathartic. I was one of the hundreds who chanted shame as the Police started to drag women off, and hey, mister, get your hands off my sister—yelling at the obscenity of Police who were physically aggressive at a Vigil for the mourning of a woman who was allegedly murdered by one of their own. I witnessed at least twelve police officers march a young woman away from the crowd; I witnessed the crowd chanting at them. Yes, I was in the mix of it, and I absolutely will not apologise for this. The last couple of weeks have been incredibly traumatic for me, and the murder of Sarah Everard just further punched my already broken heart. I am furious that the answer to ending violence, especially sexual violence against women, is as simple as not being a rapist, and is also the answer to what men can do to help women feel safe. Not killing, raping, or abusing women is a very effective way to get rid of the ‘not all men’ hashtag—if only men stopped creating grey areas around what sexual violence is in order to excuse their creepy sex offending behaviour as just ‘men being men.’
There were flurries of messages flying back and forth before the event about the number of Police flocking to the Common. Like a lot of men, the Police were there to pick a fight. Vans of Police unloading at Clapham South (the Southern end of the Common) well before dark, almost as if they were waiting for darkness to fall. It was as though they come looking for a protest, but found a Vigil and turned it into a publicity stunt about enforcing pandemic laws. The Police travelled in packs to that Vigil, just like a pack of rapists.
The Vigil was a gathering of women bonded by the violence of men. I went to the Vigil to heal, to stand in solidarity with others, to hold hands with a friend, to walk around Clapham Common in the dark, arm in arm, to reclaim Clapham Common, to scream at the state, to do something, to reclaim the streets. We must do something. It could have been me, and it could have been any of us. Clapham Common is my home. We stood at the Vigil for hours, in the cold and dark; we placed flowers, stared at the outpouring of grief in the blooms and messages that others had left behind. It was not a violent place until the Police decided to make it so. The Police started picking on women and dragging them off into their dark vans. Some less confrontational Police in blue jackets started yelling dispersal notices, threatening us with arrest if we did not leave; the sudden change in atmosphere was escalating because of men’s violence. The violence of men brought us together, and now we, again, as women, faced their physical brutality.
We decided it was safer for us to go home. Coming together to cry with other women was what I needed to forgive myself for not being able to outwit two male sex offenders when I was a child. I needed this Vigil as a space to apologise to Sarah for failing her: every one of us is complicit in rape and the culture of violence—violence against women happens because of bystanders who enable and embolden it.
Eltahawy, Mona (2020), Twitter Post from 17 September 2020, https://twitter.com/monaeltahawy/status/1306697783206961152 (last accessed 10 March 2021).
Topping, Alexandra & Caelainn Barr (2021), ‘Rape Convictions Fall to Record Low in England and Wales’, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/jul/30/convictions-fall-record-low-england-wales-prosecutions (last accessed 18 March 2021).
Walker, Peter (2021), ‘Bill that Curtails Ability to Protest in England and Wales Passes Second Reading. The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/mar/16/bill-that-curtails-ability-to-protest-in-uk-passes-its-second-reading (last accessed 18 March 2021).
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