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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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A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The so-called “milkmen’s kids law” would seek protection for men who feel they have been duped into raising children they believe are not biologically theirs – at the expense of women’s rights.

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored Seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter” – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Maas’ proposal, announced on Monday, examines the problem carefully and sensitively before merrily throwing a woman’s right to privacy out of the window. It would compel a woman to name every man she had sexual intercourse with during the time when her child may have been conceived. She would only have the right to remain silent in cases should there be serious reasons for her not to name the biological father (it would be for the court to decide whether a woman’s reasons were serious enough). It is not yet clear what form of punishment a woman would face were she not to name names (I’m thinking a scarlet letter would be in keeping with the classy, retro “man who was present at the moment of conception” wording). In cases where it did transpire that another man was a child’s biological father, he would be obliged to pay compensation to the man “duped” into supporting the child for up to two years.

It is not clear what happens thereafter. Perhaps the two men shake hands, pat each other on the back, maybe even share a beer or two. It is, after all, a kind of gentlemen’s agreement, a transaction which takes place over the heads of both mother and child once the latter’s paternity has been established. The “true” father compensates the “false” one for having maintained his property in his absence. In some cases there may be bitterness and resentment but perhaps in others one will witness a kind of honourable partnership. You can’t trust women, but DNA tests, money and your fellow man won’t let you down.

Even if it achieves nothing else, this proposal brings us right back to the heart of what patriarchy is all about: paternity and ownership. In April this year a German court ruled that men cannot be forced to take paternity tests by children who suspect them of being their fathers. It has to be their decision. Women, meanwhile, can only access abortion on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy, and even then counselling is mandatory (thereafter the approval of two doctors is required, similar to in the UK). One class of people can be forced to gestate and give birth; another can’t even be forced to take a DNA test. One class of people can be compelled to name any man whose sperm may have ventured beyond their cervix; another is allowed to have a body whose business is entirely its own. And yes, one can argue that forcing men to pay money for the raising of children evens up the score. Men have always argued that, but they’re wrong.

Individual men (sometimes) pay for the raising of individual children because the system we call patriarchy has chosen to make fatherhood about individual ownership. Women have little choice but to go along with this as long as men exploit our labour, restrict our access to material resources and threaten us with violence. We live in a world in which it is almost universally assumed that women “owe” individual men the reassurance that it was their precious sperm that impregnated us, lest we put ourselves and our offspring at risk of poverty and isolation. Rarely do any of us dare to protest. We pretend it is a fair deal, even that reproductive differences barely affect our lives at all. But the sex binary – the fact that sperm is not egg and egg is not sperm – affects all of us.

The original 2015 ruling got it right. The male demand for reassurance regarding paternity is an infringement of a woman’s right to privacy. Moreover, it is important to see this in the context of all the other ways in which men have sought to limit women’s sexual activity, freedom of movement and financial independence in order to ensure that children are truly “theirs”.  Anxiety over paternity is fundamentally linked to anxiety over female sexuality and women’s access to public space. Yet unless all women are kept under lock and key at all times, men will never, ever have the reassurance they crave. Even then, the abstract knowledge that you are the only person to have had the opportunity to impregnate a particular woman cannot rival the physical knowledge of gestation.

We have had millennia of pandering to men’s existential anxieties and treating all matters related to human reproduction, from sex to childbirth, as exceptional cases meaning women cannot have full human rights. Isn’t it about time we tried something new? How about understanding fatherhood not as winning gold in an Olympic sperm race, but as a contract endlessly renewed?

What each of us receives when a child is born is not a biological entity to do with as we choose. It is a relationship, with all of its complexities and risks. It is something worth contributing to and fighting for. Truly, if a man cannot understand that, then any money wasted on a Kuckuckskind – a living, breathing child he could get to know – has got to be the least of his worries. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.