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Andrea Dworkin: The day I was drugged and raped

The feminist writer's harrowing account from 2000.

I was in Paris. I was 52. It was Thursday, 19 May, 1999. I was in a garden in a hotel. I was reading a book. French Literary Fascism. I was drinking kir royale. I had two. The second one didn't taste right. I didn't finish it. Then I became sort of sickish or weakish or something, and all I could think about was getting to my bed and not making a fool of myself in public view. I prayed: "Let me get to my room, please let me get to my room." I had ordered dinner from room service and the waiter, who had also made the drinks, had said: "It will be my great pleasure to serve you your dinner tonight." I conked out.

Then a boy was in the room with dinner. He had served me the second drink. I tried to get up and I fell against the far wall because I couldn't stand. I signed the check, but could barely balance myself. I fell back on to the bed. I didn't lock the door. I came to four or five hours later. I didn't know where I was. The curtains hadn't been drawn. Now it was dark; before it had been light, long before dusk.

I had internal pain. I hurt deep inside my vagina. I said to myself: "Well, it's cancer, and there's nothing you can do about it now so worry about it when you get home." I went to the toilet and found blood on my right hand, fresh, bright red, not menstrual blood, not clotted blood. I'm past bleeding. I tried to find the source of the blood. My hand got covered in it again. I found huge, deep gashes on my right leg from the middle of the back of the leg to the middle of the front. I couldn't stop the bleeding of the gashes so I tried to keep them clean.

A few hours later, I took a shower. I had a big, strange bruise on my left breast, next to the aureole, not a regular bruise, huge black and blue with solid white skin in the centre, as if someone had sucked it up and chewed it. I didn't feel good the next day or the day after. I thought I had been drugged and raped, but I felt confused. I couldn't stand the thought of making a wrong allegation. I thought that the bartender had done it, because he had made the drinks and he was on the room-service phone and he had flirted grandly with me, though I had not reciprocated. I thought that maybe the boy, who had brought me the second drink, was supposed to report that I had passed out. I thought the bartender had raped me. I didn't know if the boy had been there or not, but I thought yes.

I couldn't remember, but I thought they had pulled me down toward the bottom of the bed so that my vagina was near the bed's edge and my legs were easy to manipulate. I thought that the deep, bleeding scratches, right leg, and the big bruise, left breast, were the span of a man on top of me. I had been wearing sweatpants that just fell right down. I had been wearing an undershirt. Usually I covered myself, but I had felt too sick to manage it before the boy came in with the dinner. Besides, I don't know how he got inside since the door was dead-bolted. He appeared suddenly, already in.

In my own life, I don't have intercourse. That is my choice. I got an internal infection in the aftermath. How? It was horrible not knowing. I had literally no memory of what the man and the boy had done. It's like being operated on. You don't feel anything until you feel the pain that comes with a return to consciousness. I speculated that my body must have been relaxed, no muscles straining, no physical resistance or even tension. This repelled me.

The hours were gone, missing. My mind went over and over that day and night for weeks and weeks turning into months and months. I couldn't find the missing hours because they weren't there, in my brain. That is why drugs such as Rohypnol and gamma hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) are called amnesiac drugs. (Since I could taste something in my drink, it was probably GHB, called on the street Grievous Bodily Harm.)

I lost all hope. I couldn't defend myself. I had been helpless. I had decided long ago that no one would ever rape me again; he or they or I would die. But this rape was necrophiliac: they wanted to fuck a dead woman. Why? I was scared. I thought that being forced and being conscious was better, because then you knew; even if no one ever believed you, you knew. Most rape experts agree: how can you face what you can't remember? I tried to hammer through the amnesia, but nothing broke. I was so hurt.

A few days later, on a Sunday, at the suggestion of my mate, John, at home in Brooklyn, I placed a call from Paris to my New York feminist gynaecologist of more than a decade. I said that I thought I had been drugged and raped. She said that a gynaecological exam wouldn't prove anything one way or the other and that the call from me convinced her that she should have an unlisted phone number. I thanked her (I'm a girl) and collapsed in tears. On the plane trip home, I huddled and shook. I felt overwhelming grief as if I had died. I also felt grief for this sick world.

I started hating every day. I hated seeing the sun rise. I couldn't put one foot in front of the other and I wanted to put a butcher's knife into my heart behind my ribs. I was very lonely. I was consumed by grief and sorrow until I was lucky enough to become numb. I thought I could resist by not dying, but that might be too hard and maybe I was too old and too tired and couldn't do it any more. My body was a curse and had betrayed me. I couldn't figure out why they would want to do this and why they would want to do it to me.

I couldn't be consoled. I couldn't talk to anyone. How could I say the words to the people I loved, most of whom work precisely to stop violence against women: this is what he, someone or they, did to me. Yeah, I know I represent something to you, but really I'm a piece of crap because I just got raped. No, no, you're not a piece of crap when you get raped, but I am. John looked for any other explanation than rape. He abandoned me emotionally. Now a year has passed and sometimes he's with me in his heart and sometimes not.

I don't know why the world didn't stop right then, when the creatures drugged and raped me. I don't know how the earth can still turn. I don't believe that it should be possible. I don't. I think everyone should have stopped everything because I was 52 and this happened to me. I think every person should have been in mourning. I think no one should work or spend money or love anyone ever again. I ask: "Why me?" I say: "It can't have happened to me." I say: "My bad pheromones or karma brought the rapist pigs to me." I blame me no matter what it takes. I go down the checklist: no short skirt; it was daylight; I didn't drink a lot even though it was alcohol and I rarely drink, but so what? It could have been Wild Turkey or coffee. I didn't drink with a man, I sat alone and read a book, I didn't go somewhere I shouldn't have been wherever that might be when you are 52, I didn't flirt, I didn't want it to happen. I wasn't hungry for a good, hard fuck that would leave me pummelled with pain inside.

And after: I don't want it to have happened. I can't remember it. They took my body from me and used it. They were inside me. I felt for stickiness. There was none. I prayed that meant they had used condoms. (I'm waiting for the outcome of a second round of HIV and other STD testing. Immediately after a drug-rape, as I didn't know then, there are about 24 hours in which to get a urine sample and 48 to 72 hours to get a blood test.)

And then there is that I know too much. Forgive me for saying this, but it makes everything harder. I know a lot about rape. I study it. I read about it. I think about it. I listen to rape victims. I engage with prosecutors and lawyers and legislators. I write about it. I was raped before this. I remember being raped. I say that we're fighting back. I give speeches and say that women and girls are being raped and we need to do this and this and this. I know hundreds if not thousands of raped women.

But this is new. Rape with amnesiac drugs is new. It's so easy. In most studies on rape and pornography, about 30 per cent of men say they would rape if they could get away with it. They can. This is foolproof rape. The gang that couldn't shoot straight can do this kind of rape. You can do this hundreds of times with virtually no chance of getting caught, let alone having anyone be able to make a legal case in any court of law. And smart women with attitudes like myself can't stop these pieces of dog excrement through militance or violence or persuasion or just being reasonably polite.

See, if there were feminist vigilantes, I couldn't even ask a favour. I can't put the bartender in the hotel room with me. I know it was he and his little accomplice, but how do I know? The circumstantial evidence that leads to the conclusion that the rape happened does not identify the rapist(s). One point for prosecutors: this is poisoning as well as rape; always bring both charges.

As for me: about ten days after I came home, my 84-year-old father broke his knee. He was never out of a hospital or nursing or convalescent home again until he died on 4 December 1999. A few days before Christmas, I was hospitalised for bronchitis, pneumonia, cellulitis (an infection of the soft tissues in the legs - lethal if not treated with antibiotics) and blood clots. I had been wandering in delirium from a high fever on New York City streets until a young woman helped get me off the street and called John.

I was in the hospital a month, which caused my leg muscles to atrophy, so I am learning how to use them again. I used to worry about taking a Valium or two to fall asleep in strange hotels. Now I take on average 12 pills to sleep and they only work sometimes. How can I close my eyes and voluntarily become unconscious? For the first time in my life I go to shrinks, a lucid one who prescribes drugs and an empathetic one whose speciality is in dealing with people who have been tortured. I have been tortured and this drug-rape runs through it, a river of horror. I'm feeling perpetual terror, they both tell me. I stare blankly or I say some words. I'm ready to die.

Click here to read Charlotte Raven's 2006 review of Dworkin's memoir "Heartbreak".

Andrea Dworkin (1946-2005) was a radical feminist writer known for her work on pornorgraphy, war and sexual intercourse. Her account of being raped in Paris in 1999 was published exclusively by the New Statesman.

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This Ada Lovelace Day, let’s celebrate women in tech while confronting its sexist culture

In an industry where men hold most of the jobs and write most of the code, celebrating women's contributions on one day a year isn't enough. 

Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer program. In the 1840s Charles Babbage, now known as the “father of the computer”, designed (though never built) the “Analytical Engine”, a machine which could accurately and reproducibly calculate the answers to maths problems. While translating an article by an Italian mathematician about the machine, Lovelace included a written algorithm for which would allow the engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers.

Around 170 years later, Whitney Wolfe, one of the founders of dating app Tinder, was allegedly forced to resign from the company. According to a lawsuit she later filed against the app and its parent company, she had her co-founder title removed because, the male founders argued, it would look “slutty”, and because “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders. It just makes it look like Tinder was some accident". (They settled out of court.)

Today, 13 October, is Ada Lovelace day – an international celebration of inspirational women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It’s lucky we have this day of remembrance, because, as Wolfe’s story demonstrates, we also spend a lot of time forgetting and sidelining women in tech. In the wash of pale male founders of the tech giants that rule the industry,we don't often think about the women that shaped its foundations: Judith Estrin, one of the designers of TCP/IP, for example, or Radia Perlman, inventor of the spanning-tree protocol. Both inventions sound complicated, and they are – they’re some of the vital building blocks that allow the internet to function. 

And yet David Streitfield, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, someow felt it accurate to write in 2012: “Men invented the internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolised Mr Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died.”

Perhaps we forget about tech's founding women because the needle has swung so far into the other direction. A huge proportion – perhaps even 90 per cent - of the world’s code is written by men. At Google, women fill 17 per cent of technical roles. At Facebook, 15 per cent. Over 90 per cent of the code respositories on Github, an online service used throughout the industry, are owned by men. Yet it's also hard to believe that this erasure of women's role in tech is completely accidental. As Elissa Shevinsky writes in the introduction to a collection of essays on gender in tech, Lean Out: “This myth of the nerdy male founder has been perpetuated by men who found this story favourable."

Does it matter? It’s hard to believe that it doesn’t. Our society is increasingly defined and delineated by code and the things it builds. Small slip-ups, like the lack of a period tracker on the original Apple Watch, or fitness trackers too big for some women’s wrists, gesture to the fact that these technologies are built by male-dominated teams, for a male audience.

In Lean Out, one essay written by a Twitter-based “start-up dinosaur” (don’t ask) explains how dangerous it is to allow one small segment of society to built the future for the rest of us:

If you let someone else build tomorrow, tomorrow will belong to someone else. They will build a better tomorrow for everyone like them… For tomorrow to be for everyone, everyone needs to be the one [sic] that build it.

So where did all the women go? How did we get from a rash of female inventors to a situation where the major female presence at an Apple iPhone launch is a model’s face projected onto a screen and photoshopped into a smile by a male demonstrator? 

Photo: Apple.

The toxic culture of many tech workplaces could be a cause or an effect of the lack of women in the industry, but it certainly can’t make make it easy to stay. Behaviours range from the ignorant - Martha Lane-Fox, founder of, often asked “what happens if you get pregnant?” at investors' meetings - to the much more sinister. An essay in Lean Out by Katy Levinson details her experiences of sexual harassment while working in tech: 

I have had interviewers attempt to solicit sexual favors from me mid-interview and discuss in significant detail precisely what they would like to do. All of these things have happened either in Silicon Valley working in tech, in an educational institution to get me there, or in a technical internship.

Others featured in the book joined in with the low-level sexism and racism  of their male colleagues in order to "fit in" and deflect negative attention. Erica Joy writes that while working in IT at the University of Alaska as the only woman (and only black person) on her team, she laughed at colleagues' "terribly racist and sexist jokes" and "co-opted their negative attitudes”. 

The casual culture and allegedly meritocratic hierarchies of tech companies may actually be encouraging this discriminatory atmosphere. HR and the strict reporting procedures of large corporates at least give those suffering from discrimination a place to go. A casual office environment can discourage reporting or calling out prejudiced humour or remarks. Brook Shelley, a woman who transitioned while working in tech, notes: "No one wants to be the office mother". So instead, you join in and hope for the best. 

And, of course, there's no reason why people working in tech would have fewer issues with discrimination than those in other industries. A childhood spent as a "nerd" can also spawn its own brand of misogyny - Katherine Cross writes in Lean Out that “to many of these men [working in these fields] is all too easy to subconciously confound women who say ‘this is sexist’ with the young girls who said… ‘You’re gross and a creep and I’ll never date you'". During GamerGate, Anita Sarkeesian was often called a "prom queen" by trolls. 

When I spoke to Alexa Clay, entrepreneur and co-author of the Misfit Economy, she confirmed that there's a strange, low-lurking sexism in the start-up economy: “They have all very open and free, but underneath it there's still something really patriarchal.” Start-ups, after all, are a culture which celebrates risk-taking, something which women are societally discouraged from doing. As Clay says, 

“Men are allowed to fail in tech. You have these young guys who these old guys adopt and mentor. If his app doesn’t work, the mentor just shrugs it off. I would not be able ot get away with that, and I think women and minorities aren't allowed to take the same amount of risks, particularly in these communities. If you fail, no one's saying that's fine.

The conclusion of Lean Out, and of women in tech I have spoken to, isn’t that more women, over time, will enter these industries and seamlessly integrate – it’s that tech culture needs to change, or its lack of diversity will become even more severe. Shevinsky writes:

The reason why we don't have more women in tech is not because of a lack of STEM education. It's because too many high profile and influential individuals and subcultures within the tech industry have ignored or outright mistreated women applicants and employees. To be succinct—the problem isn't women, it's tech culture.

Software engineer Kate Heddleston has a wonderful and chilling metaphor about the way we treat women in STEM. Women are, she writes, the “canary in the coal mine”. If one dies, surely you should take that as a sign that the mine is uninhabitable – that there’s something toxic in the air. “Instead, the industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying ‘Lean in, canary, lean in!’. When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn't enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.” We need more women in STEM, and, I’d argue, in tech in particular, but we need to make sure the air is breatheable first. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.