Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body - Sara Pascoe (2016)

CONSENT

Musings on Fear

While I was at university, a girl I knew had her house raided by the police. Someone living there (not her) had been selling drugs and they’d arrested him and searched the whole house. And then my friend got arrested too because in her room they had found loads and loads of books about Hitler. She was in the second year of a history degree, and guess who she was studying? So she had to sit in an interrogation room and answer questions about how much she ‘liked’ the Führer and which of his ideas was her ‘favourite’, until the police were convinced she wasn’t planning something awful.

While I have been researching this book, I have occasionally imagined a similar situation happening to myself. If I was assaulted, by someone I knew or didn’t know, I would go to the police. I would undergo physical examinations and scrapings and I would provide as much detail and evidence as I could. And if I was one of the ‘lucky’ few, if the Crown Prosecution Service thought they might have enough for a conviction, I would go to court.

I play different versions of this trial in my head all the time. I am always practising it. This could be my pedestal to correct notions of female sexuality, how I could confront the routine terrorising of the victim, if the victim was me. Point out how inappropriate they are – but I couldn’t be too calm, too collected, or the jury wouldn’t believe me. No, I’d still have to be broken and weepy, just composed enough. I go through the things in my life that would be brought up to sully my reputation. Most of them were pre-twenty; I prepare arguments in explanation that are not ashamed or apologetic but that point out the irrelevance of my sexual history to the night of the attack. But I always get caught on how I would explain all my books:

DEFENCE COUNSEL
You were obsessed with rape—

I worry about it every day, I have done ever since I was a child and found out what it was. And now I worry about writing about it and possibly upsetting people who have personal experience that they do not find reflected, or who just plain disagree with me. I worry that writing on this topic might encourage a twisted psychopath to come and get me. And then in the trial that I have been preparing for all my life, this chapter will be judged and inspected for clues that my obsession was based on desire rather than fear, or that I had engineered this situation for research or point-making.

DEFENCE COUNSEL rises and walks towards the victim.

DEFENCE
Isn’t it true that you like sex?

SARA
Yes.

DEFENCE
That you have stood on stage in front of hundreds of people proclaiming yourself to be horny—

SARA
That’s a joke I do—

DEFENCE
Done long routines about being sexually unsatisfied with your partner?

SARA
I’m a comedian—

DEFENCE
Advertising your willingness and availability—

SARA
No I didn’t—

DEFENCE
You yourself told this court that you have slept with over twenty people—

SARA
Yes. And I didn’t accuse any of them of raping me, suggesting that I can tell the difference between when I wanted it and when I didn’t—

DEFENCE
Your flat is full of books about rape, case studies and
textbooks. Your web history is all sex-related. You’ve
been planning this, and now you’re enjoying it.

I worry about not being believed. I worry about the people who are hurt twice – once by their assailant and then further by the way our legal system treats victims. I worry that rape is being accepted as part of life, something that happens to people. I worry that many of us do not agree on definitions or that we can’t empathise with each other’s experience. And the only solution I can think of is that we have to talk about it, as upsetting and stressful as that may be, we have to talk about it more.