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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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John McDonnell interview: "We’re going to destroy Osborne’s credibility"

The shadow chancellor on the Spending Review, Jeremy Corbyn's leadership and why trade unions will have to break the law. 

When I interviewed John McDonnell in March, before the general election, he predicted that Labour would be the largest party and confessed to a “sneaking feeling that we could win a small majority – because I think the Tory vote is really soft”. As the long-standing chair of the Socialist Campaign Group, McDonnell anticipated leading the resistance inside Labour to any spending cuts made by Ed Miliband. Eight months later, he is indeed campaigning against austerity – but as shadow chancellor against a Conservative majority government.

I meet McDonnell in his new Westminster office in Norman Shaw South, a short walk down the corridor from that of his close friend and greatest ally, Jeremy Corbyn. The day before George Osborne delivers his Spending Review and Autumn Statement, his desk is cluttered with economic papers in preparation for his response.

“The message we’re trying to get across is that this concept of the Tories’ having a ‘long-term economic plan’ is an absolute myth and they’re in chaos, really in chaos on many fronts,” he tells me. McDonnell points to the revolt against cuts to tax credits and policing, and the social care crisis, as evidence that Osborne’s programme is unravelling. On health, he says: “He’s trying to dig out money as best as he can for the NHS, he’s announced the frontloading of some of it, but that simply covers the deficits that there are. Behind that, he’s looking for £22bn of savings, so this winter the NHS is going to be in crisis again.”

Asked what Labour’s equivalent is to the Tories’ undeniably effective “long-term economic plan” message, he said: “I don’t think we’re going to get into one-liners in that way. We’ll be more sophisticated in the way that we communicate. We’re going to have an intelligent and a mature economic debate. If I hear again that they’re going to ‘fix the roof while the sun shines’ I will throw up. It’s nauseating, isn’t it? It reduces debate, intellectual debate, economic debate, to the lowest level of a slogan. That’s why we’re in the mess we are.”

Having abandoned his original support for the Chancellor’s fiscal charter, which mandated a budget surplus by 2020, McDonnell makes an unashamed case for borrowing to invest. “The biggest failure of the last five years under Osborne is the failure to invest,” he says. “Borrowing at the moment is at its cheapest level, but in addition to that I’m not even sure we’ll need to borrow great amounts, because we can get more efficient spending in terms of government spending. If we can address the tax cuts that have gone ahead, particularly around corporation tax, that will give us the resources to actually start paying again in terms of investment.”

He promises a “line-by-line budget review” when I ask whether there are any areas in which he believes spending should be reduced. “My background is hard-nosed bureaucrat . . . we’ll be looking at where we can shift expenditure into more productive areas.”

From 1982 until 1985, John McDonnell, who is 64, was chair of finance at the Greater London Council under Ken Livingstone. After vowing to defy the Thatcher government’s rate-capping policy he was sacked by Livingstone, who accused him of manipulating figures for political purposes. “We’re going to look like the biggest fucking liars since Goebbels,” the future mayor of London told him. McDonnell, who later described Livingstone’s account as “complete fiction”, has since resolved his differences with the man now co-chairing Labour’s defence review.

After his election as the MP for Hayes and Harlington in 1997, McDonnell achieved renown as one of New Labour’s most vociferous opponents, rebelling with a frequency rivalled only by Corbyn. His appointment as shadow chancellor was the most divisive of the Labour leader’s reshuffle. “People like Jeremy even if they don’t agree with him. People don’t like John,” one MP told me at the time. Mindful of this, McDonnell has sought to transform his image. He has apologised for his past praise of the IRA and for joking about assassinating Margaret Thatcher, rebranding himself as a “boring bank manager”. But there are moments when his more radical side surfaces.

He told me that he supports workers breaking the law if the trade union bill, which would limit the right to strike, is passed. “It’s inevitable, I think it’s inevitable. If the bill is introduced in its existing form and is used against any particular trade unionist or trade union, I think it’s inevitable that people will resist. We established our rights by campaigning against unjust laws and taking the risk if necessary. I think that’s inevitable and I’ll support them.”

“Chaos” might be how McDonnell describes Osborne’s position but the same term is now daily applied to Labour. The party is riven over air strikes in Syria and the renewal of Trident and MPs are ever more scornful of Corbyn’s leadership.

While Corbyn has so far refused to offer Labour MPs a free vote on Syria, McDonnell says that he favours one and would oppose military action. “My position on wars has always been that it’s a moral issue and therefore I veer towards free votes . . . We’re waiting for Cameron’s statement; we’ll analyse that, there’ll be a discussion in shadow cabinet and in the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party] and then we’ll make a decision. I’m still in a situation where I’ve expressed the view that I’m opposed to the bombing campaign or engagement. I think the history of the UK involvement in the Middle East has been a disaster, to say the least . . .This isn’t like the Second World War where you have a military campaign – you defeat the enemy, you sign a peace agreement and that’s it – this is asymmetric warfare. In addition to the risks that are in the battlefield there’s a risk in every community in our land as a result of it.”

Would he want any of the 14 former shadow cabinet members who refused to serve under Corbyn to return? “All of them, we’re trying to get them all back. We’ve got Yvette [Cooper] helping us on a review we’re doing about the economy and women . . . It’s an open door policy, I’m trying to meet them all over these next few weeks.”

Livingstone, a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee, recently called for Simon Danczuk, who revealed details of a private meeting with Corbyn in the Mail on Sunday, and Frank Field, who told me that MPs should run as independents if deselected, to be disciplined. But McDonnell takes a more conciliatory line. “With Simon [Danczuk] in particular and the others, it’s just a matter of saying look at the long-term interests of the party. People don’t vote for a divided party. They’ll accept, though, that within a party you can have democratic debate. As I said time and time again, don’t mistake democracy for division. It’s the way in which you express those different views that are important. All I’m saying is let people express their views, let’s have democratic engagement but please don’t personalise this. I think there’s a reaction within the community, not just the party, against personalised politics. It’s not Jeremy’s style, he never responds in that way. It’s unfortunate but we’ll get through it. It’s just minor elements of it, that’s all.”

McDonnell disavows moves by some in Momentum, the Corbyn-aligned group, to deselect critical MPs. “What we’re not into is deselecting people, what we want to try and do is make sure that everyone’s involved in a democratic engagement process, simple as that.

“So I’ve said time and time again, this isn’t about deselection or whatever. But at the same what we’re trying to say to everybody is even if you disagree, treat each other with respect. At the height of the debates around tuition fees and the Iraq war, even though we had heated disagreements we always treated each other with mutual respect and I think we’ve got to adhere to that. Anyone who’s not doing that just lets themselves down, that’s not the culture of the Labour Party.”

In private, the 90 per cent of MPs who did not support Corbyn’s leadership bid speak often of how and when he could be removed. One point of debate is whether, under the current rules, the Labour leader would automatically make the ballot if challenged or be forced to re-seek nominations. McDonnell is emphatic that the former is the case: “Oh yeah, that’s the rule, yeah.”

McDonnell’s recent media performances have been praised by MPs, and he is spoken of by some on the left as a possible replacement if Corbyn is removed or stands down before 2020. His speech to the PLP on 23 November was described to me by one shadow minister as a “leadership bid”. But McDonnell rules out standing in any future contest. “No, no, I’ve tried twice [in 2007 and 2010], I’m not going to try again, there’s no way I would.”

Despite opinion polls showing Labour as much as 15 points behind the Conservatives, McDonnell insists that the party can win in 2020. “Oh definitely, yeah, you’ll see that. I think this next year’s going to be pivotal for us. We’re going to destroy Osborne’s credibility over the next six months. But more importantly than that, we can’t just be a negative party . . . we’re going to present a positive view of what Labour’s future will be and the future of the economy.

“Over the next 18 months, we’ll be in a situation where we’ve destroyed the Tories’ economic reputation and we’ve built up our own but we’ll do it in a visionary way that presents people with a real alternative.”  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.