Rape Culture Writ Large: Wading Into The Comments Section

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A column by Vanessa De Largie asserting her regained power after rape was attacked by the usual suspects.

On April 6, my article Every Orgasm I Have is a Show of Defiance to my Rapist was published on News Corp’s opinion site RendezView. My article was written with the very best intentions. It was written as a survivor not a victim.

In 1997, at age 20, I was raped in my hometown of Perth after being kicked out of a one-night-stand in the early hours of the morning. I was drunk. I was wearing a short dress and I’d gone home with a guy – only to be given my marching orders.

The aftermath of rape is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. For me it was worse than the assault. One is trying to come to terms with an event that has happened to them without their permission. One is trying to be the person they used to be but that person is dead.

My article explored female sexuality and rape from my personal experience. I hoped that my story could nourish other victims whilst opening up a dialogue about sex after rape – a topic rarely discussed.

I was taken aback to read the vicious commentary on my article. Comments voicing doubt, blame and shame – three components of rape culture. My honesty, respectability, mental-health, age and looks were all under fire.

Some readers loathed me for my audacity to have a voice at all. According to one male reader, I was just an attention seeker and he regretted the time it took him to read the article. Another suggested that I get myself a life. Funny, I thought I already had one.

I reread my article with the aim of trying to understand their reactions but it left me baffled. The article was about survival. It was about having my sex brutally raided by a stranger but not letting that raid wreck my forward journey as a sexually liberated woman.

My article didn’t man-bash. It clearly states that I don’t blame all men for my rape. I also acknowledge my own discomfort at hatred directed towards men. As comments appeared over the course of the day. I realised that this poison was spat by readers who struggled with female empowerment. They wanted me to remain a downtrodden victim. As “Lady” expresses below:

Lady: I think it really diminishes the effects of rape and sexual assault by carrying on about it as if it some sort of empowerment or personal growth experience. I am very offended by this article and the author.

Lady is showing his/her ignorance of the experience of rape. Of course sexual assault is a personal growth experience! One is changed the moment it happens. The growth begins in the aftermath as you start to digest what has happened to you without your consent.

I wonder what Lady was offended by most? The fact that I have gone on with my life? The fact that I’m happy or the fact that I have an amorous and unapologetic sex life? I’m sorry Lady, I should be in a corner somewhere paralysed by the assault. Perhaps that would make you feel less offended?

Art believed my looks were the reason for my empowerment after rape::

Art: Even at 38, she’s a real hottie… and that’s the story…. and always will be. She is one of those women who are very attractive to men. I’m sorry for her abuse and lingering psychological hang-ups…. but being a ‘dolly’ must make it easier for ‘x’ to get that self esteem back? Or study, and get into counselling etc. and help other pretty targets, of which there would be so many.

Yes, because being “a real hottie’ at 38 must be anomalous. But I digress. Can someone please explain to me what looks have to do with moving on from sexual assault? Rape and its aftermath is internal not external. The struggle is mental not cosmetic. The most popular comment was from DM.

DM: I’m not sure how to really interpret this piece being a victim myself, the way you talk about “owning rape” it’s like you are empowering the perpetrator allowing them to “teach a lesson” very confusing commentary and potentially hurtful.

I’m sorry that DM is also a victim him/herself. The fact is DM, my rape taught me many lessons. I am a completely different human being. My sexual assault is a fact, so it is pointless for me to pretend that it didn’t happen. Owning the horror of the experience has given me back my power.

The majority of the comments were blaming me or shaming me and when they weren’t doing that, they were accusing me of fabricating my assault. And people wonder why rape victims stay silent? Who needs this f**king shit?

Concerned by the feedback, I contacted Sarrah Le Marquand, editor of RendezView, for a response regarding the commentary on my article.

“RendezView does tend to attract a much higher volume of reader comments than most other news and opinion sites in Australia – in fact the average number of submitted comments is just over 100 per column. Unfortunately a by-product of that can be a high level of criticism and personal attacks directed at the contributors, many of whom are women.

As a columnist myself I can honestly say I am very rarely shocked by anything I see directed at me – I see so much vitriol every day that nothing surprises me anymore. But as an editor I do feel very protective of our contributors, particularly someone such as yourself who is speaking out about a harrowing experience such as having been raped. Obviously it is disappointing to see that bravery met with some callous and ignorant remarks.

Since RendezView launched just over a year ago I’ve truly lost count of the number of conversations I have had with female columnists about the issue of hostile comments. Many of our contributors have also written for sites such as Daily Life, Mamamia and The Huffington Post and they all without fail find they get a much gentler reception in those forums than they do at RendezView – and I’m sure you would probably say the same.

But that only confirms just how important it is that women’s voices be increasingly heard in the mainstream media, even if writing for a large and mainstream readership means there’s a higher risk of a negative reception. It’s obviously essential that we talk about issues such as feminism, sexual assault and domestic violence to an audience that might not be as used to such conversations than say the audience at a mummy blog or independent publisher, even if that regrettably means they sometimes lash out.

I would never condone awful comments being directed at female columnists. And I would understand and fully support any contributor who decided they did not want to appear on a site where the reaction can be so brutal. But I also believe that women refusing to be silenced by such comments is the strongest statement we can collectively make. And it has been genuinely heartening to have so many women come forward wanting to air their views and share their stories and not let a few angry men scare them away.”

I’ve released two books about my journey through domestic violence and rape. One was published by a Seattle publisher, the other is self-published. I’ve written and advocated about these issues in umpteen articles but for all my writing and speaking – these abhorrent beliefs in people don’t change.

I’d like to end by saying that I’ve been judgmental of female commentators – naively believing they provoked these kind of responses. It wasn’t until I experienced it first-hand, that I understood the impact it has on the targeted individual.

When you blame, shame, doubt and make jokes about a victim of sexual assault – just remember that you are actively contributing to rape-culture.

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Vanessa De Largie

Vanessa De Largie is an actress, author, writer and sex-blogger. Apart from New Matilda she's written for the Huff Post, RendezView, and Daily Life. You can follow her on Twitter at @VanessadeLargie.

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