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22 October 2014

My attacker was jailed. Do I have to be grateful?

As a female victim of male violence, things could always be worse. But despite what society and the media tell us, there are no “small mercies”, and we don’t have to be grateful.

By Rhiannon Cosslett

The man who tried to strangle me to death got four years in prison. Was that too much, too little? At the time it didn’t matter, I was just happy that he was off the streets, that the police had believed me, that, in the end, I didn’t have to give evidence in court after entering through the same door and lingering in the same corridor as the friends and possibly family of the man who attacked me. I was grateful that I would be able to try and put my life back together without the fear that he would come and find me. A little while later, I received some money from the Criminal Injuries Compensation fund. This, I learned, was the government’s way of saying sorry for not being able to keep me safe as I walked home that night. “Our bad,” essentially. And I was grateful.

“At least you’re not dead,” some people said, also (and this was unspoken) raped. It’s true that I wasn’t, and I was supposed to be grateful for this too, I think. So much gratitude. I knew there would be days when I would be unable to get out of bed, days when I would not be able to get to work. There was the day when I realised that I would have to leave my job, the day when I realised I could not keep going on without medication, but still, I was grateful. I had spent periods in my early twenties wishing, in that early twenties way, that I was dead, and it was only when that death became a distinct possibility that I realised this was the last thing I wanted to happen. For this realisation, too, I was grateful.

I wonder how grateful the family of Reeva Steenkamp are feeling now. The man who killed her is going to prison for five years, but his sentence could have been as little as ten months under house arrest, and he could be out in as little as (that same number, again) ten months. Are they grateful that at least he is to be behind bars? That the judge has listened to their anguish, their anger and their pain and decided not to be more lenient? Should they be content with small mercies? No doubt they will be told by some that they should take comfort in this, but as a victim of male violence who is still recovering, I say: fuck small mercies.

It is a small mercy, Judy Finnigan as much as informed us last week, that Ched Evans’ victim was raped without a knife being involved. He’s out of prison now after having served exactly half of her sentence, while her identity has been leaked yet again. His reputation, we are told, has been ruined. We are told this in the same passive voice that Simon Jenkins used in his recent Guardian piece, headlined: “Oscar Pistorious Should Not Be Going to Jail.” “Men such as Pistorius have had their lives ruined, their failings exposed” – two small mercies, you’ll note. A few days ago, in the Observer, Barbara Ellen: “Like all Rapists, Ched Evans Will Never be Really Free” – another small mercy. Evans will be “branded forever” and we, women, need to recognise “the power of the rape conviction”. Small mercies, everywhere, girls. Be grateful.

Pick them up, the media tells us. Pick them up, these little scraps of so-called justice, these small mercies, and put them in your pocket and take them away with you. Things could be worse, we’re told, especially with rape. Accept there are degrees of rape [the Sunday Times, Daisy Goodwin], be grateful that things were not worse. Take comfort in the words of Germaine Greer: “Insofar that rape is an assault by the penis, it’s one of the least destructive assaults.” Take comfort in the words of Sarah Vine [the Daily Mail, 15 October]: “Judy’s Right, Some Rapes are Worse Than Others”.

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As a female victim of male violence, things could always be worse. Even if things are so bad that you turn up in a body bag, your family are supposed to take comfort in the fact that justice, in some way, will be served. It might not be their idea of justice, but, if they’re lucky, he will go to prison, and for this they should be grateful. We’re all supposed to be so fucking grateful, all the time.

But I am not grateful. I am ashamed. As a victim, a journalist, and a woman, I am ashamed. But I am not ashamed of myself, as society still tells me that I should be, for various reasons (being out late, being drunk, wearing high heels) I am ashamed of the media, dominated as it is by white, rich, upper-middle class men and right-wing, post-feminist women who seem to have internalised their orthodoxy. I am ashamed, even, of the newspaper that employs me, a newspaper whose values I believe in. When I read that Simon Jenkins article, I cried. It’s probably just the remnants of my PTSD, but I am sick and tired of being told that, as a woman and as a survivor and as someone who feels deeply for the victims and the families of the victims of male violence, that I should thank heaven for small mercies. So many things to be thankful for; I am all thankfulled out.

Because there are no small mercies. There are dead, raped, and traumatised women, and men who, again and again, go unpunished. Don’t tell me things could be worse than that.

This article first appeared on rhiannonlucycosslett.tumblr.com and is crossposted here with permission.