Sadly, Lacey’s harrowing story is not an uncommon one. In England and Wales, 1 in 2 rapes are against women, and 1 in 4 women. Sexual abuse against women is an epidemic, and the sheer regularity, rate and volume this is happening at means there are many, many passive bystanders.
Silvia*, tells me her story. “I went camping with some of my boyfriend’s university friends and a couple of our high school friends when I was 19. He was supposed to come as well, but he got ill and insisted I go while he stayed home. We all stayed in a public cabin the size of a large bedroom. We drank and chatted and had a lovely night. I felt tired from the booze so I went to sleep first in my sleeping bag.”
“I have memories of hearing my earrings clinking, but otherwise I thought I slept straight through to the morning. I woke up at 6am under my covers with sore hips, one of the legs of my pajamas off my body, and my underwear pulled to the side. I assumed that I had gone to pee in the middle of the night and didn’t remember it, and I was just grateful I woke up first to fix it before anyone saw. Sore hips could easily be explained by the hike and sleeping on a wooden floor. On the drive home with my high school friends, the energy in the car was super weird but I assumed it was just the hangover,” she says.
“I found out days later from my then-boyfriend that one of his friends had penetrative sex with me (raped me) in the middle of the night, after the only other woman in the group had left to walk to a 24/7 petrol station store to get some tampons for herself.” Silvia explains that “My two friends witnessed me drunkenly calling my rapist my boyfriend’s name, and then saying no to his advances before passing out again. They also witnessed the rape.”
“During this conversation with my then-boyfriend, he broke up with me for ‘cheating on him’ but continued to be friends with our two high school friends who stood by and let everything happen. I felt incredibly betrayed by my friends and my then-boyfriend especially. I felt like all the trust I had in the young men I loved was completely broken, not just these three but every man I was friends with since we were children. I felt that their loyalty was to each other and that even when I was in immediate danger, my dignity and my safety was not important to them. Mostly I just felt rage.”
Both Lacey and Silvia were raped, and their pain was compounded by those who stood by and let it happen unchallenged. The trauma of sexual assault is so often made worse by the feelings of betrayal, guilt and shame projected on victims.
Chelsea*, a 30-year-old from London, experienced sexual assault in public: “On a bright morning, as I walked down a pretty street in the heart of a quiet residential neighbourhood, I noticed a guy heading towards me. Nothing about him seemed out of place. As I kept wondering why he was holding such strong eye contact, he grabbed and pushed me against a wall, holding my wrists tightly over my head as he unbuttoned my blouse. I can still feel how harsh he was. He grabbed my breasts, sliding his hand under my bra with such violence he left a red mark. In a split second he was running away. I shouted at him, full lung capacity. As I recomposed, I noticed people in the scene.”