At 16 years old, before I even came out, I was attacked and raped in my own bed by one of my colleagues. At 17, I struggled. At 18, I still struggled. At 19, I put my foot down and found myself writing about my experience, frustrated by the silence around rape among men.
It’s not easy coming out as a survivor of sexual assault – and the reactions aren’t always wholly sympathetic. Take the 15-year-old girl who was abused by footballer Adam Johnson, and who provoked the ire of Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins over the weekend. On Twitter, Hopkins wrote: “A child? YOU ARE KIDDING ME? Looking to impress her mates by snagging a footballer. Hey presto. From slag to wag.”
The victim-blaming continued: “Adam Johnson is the new Cecil the Lion killer. Except, Cecil is a 15 year old girl who wanted to impress her mates by playing with guns.”
“Adam Johnson is not a Paedo. At 15, I was not a child. And if either are victims, hers is of stupidity. His, of short-term financial success."
When Johnson was convicted last Wednesday, the Crown Prosecution Service issued a statement which said the footballer "chose to exploit that fame to actively pursue a 15-year-old girl for his own sexual gratification, in full knowledge of her age”. Somewhat of a contrast to Hopkins’ point of view, then.
The CPS statement continued: “The victim in this case has endured months of abuse and personal attacks online. Had Adam Johnson wished to do so, he could have spared her further alarm and distress. I would like to thank her for her bravery in coming forward and giving evidence.”
We cannot keep allowing survivors of sexual assault and rape be sidelined as liars, provocateurs and teases. Tweets claiming that said 15-year-old should dress more appropriately or “act less promiscuous” just perpetuate the same old damaging stereotypes of sexual assault and sexual assault victims.
When I was raped, I was dressed in a rather unflattering polo-neck and baggy chinos. The man who pressed my face into my own bed, in my own house, and violently took my virginity certainly didn’t care what I was wearing.
Katie Hopkins' most offensive moments
Katie Hopkins' most offensive moments
1/16 Katie Hopkins on 'plus size'
'To call yourself 'plus-size' is just a euphemism for being fat. Life is much easier when you're thinner. Big is not beautiful, of course a job comes down to how you look.'
2/16 Katie Hopkins on naming children
‘I think you can tell a great deal from a name. For me, there are certain names that I hear and I think ‘Urgh’. For me, a name is a shortcut of finding out what class that child comes from and makes me ask, ‘Do I want my children to play with them?’ There’s a whole set of things that go with children like that and that’s why I don’t like those sorts of children. ‘Hi, this is my daughter Charmaine’. I hear: ‘Hi, I am thick and ignorant.’’
3/16 Katie Hopkins on gender equality
'Women don't want equal treatment, they couldn't handle it if they got it. It's a tough world out there. What a lot of women are actually looking for is special treatment. What women need to realise is that they have to toughen up.'
4/16 Katie Hopkins on immigration
'I've always said if you go into a school playground and shout Mohammad, you'll probably get 100 children running towards you!"
5/16 Katie Hopkins to Benefits Street's White Dee
'Do you not feel like the patron saint of druggies and dropouts?'
6/16 Katie Hopkins on tattoos
'Are tattoos just a badge for the stupid? For me, and for lots of people like me, when you see tatoos you think of someone who is just looking for attention, who hasn't managed to find a way in their life through conventional means and who is just shouting 'I want attention! I want to be looked at!'
7/16 Katie Hopkins on addiction
‘I don’t believe what Russell Brand says about addiction. I just don’t buy it. Gazza likes drinking, let him crack on. He is enjoying himself.’
8/16 Katie Hopkins on The X Factor
'The X Factor 2013 has ended in a painful showdown between a fat mum in a jumpsuit (Sam Bailey) and a small boy in whatever his mum laid out for him on his bed (Nicholas McDonald)'
9/16 Katie Hopkins on the Egyptian uprising
'The difference between most mothers and me is that I didn’t sit around drinking coffee at baby group for 12 months after the birth of my baby. No, in three weeks I was back in my suit, back at my desk earning profit for my business and I don’t see why other women shouldn’t do the same.'
10/16 Katie Hopkins on maternity leave
'Egyptian uprising continues to look like Bonfire Night. Protest fireworks. Right up there with angry cup cakes.'
11/16 Katie Hopkins on 'gingerism'
'Ginger babies. Like a baby. Just so much harder to love. A ginger person with tattoos called Jayden? The triumvirate of horror!'
12/16 Katie Hopkins on affairs
'I lied to get someone else's husband because I wanted him. I give myself 8 out of 10 for ruthlessness for that one.'
13/16 Katie Hopkins on the elderly
‘Personally I hate mobility scooters. I find their owners intolerable. Ran past a mobility scooter going up hill. Made me giggle. I need to grow up and stop being an arse.’
14/16 Katie Hopkins after the Glasgow helicopter crash
'Life expectancy in Scotland is 59.5. Goodness me. That lot will do anything to avoid working until retirement.'
15/16 Katie Hopkins on Ramadan
'Channel 4 broadcasts Islamic calls to prayer for Ramadan. A 30 day reminder that minority rules in the UK. Any more PC, it'd be a bloody laptop.'
16/16 Katie Hopkins on self-harming
'I am advised by the Twitterati to 'cut myself'. I grazed myself on my house gate yesterday. Will that suffice?'
The trolling of sexual abuse victims from an ‘influencer' such as Hopkins not only shows her up as a bit of an arse, but serves as reminder of how rape victims are continuously and perpetually regarded as the criminal for speaking out. When an issue that leaves physical and emotional scarring – as well as a lengthy and often traumatising court case - is disregarded as some sort of conspiratorial plan for self-gain, publicity or money, it’s a sad reminder that society as a whole doesn’t value those brave enough to report what happens to them. In most cases, in fact, we condemn them.
According to charity Rape Crisis, 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales every year. For women this number is a shocking 85,000, and needs to be tackled immediately. Only 15 per cent of women are thought to report their sexual attacks – and male sexual assault charity Survivors UK believe that 97-98 per cent of men don’t report what happened to them. I’m included in that figure.
Reactions like Hopkins’ continue this cycle in two important ways. Firstly, they frustrate efforts to open up any proper, objective narrative about rape and sexual assault. They keep people silent because they don’t know how to say the words. And secondly, they actively silence people – and provide rapists with get-out-of-jail-free cards – by reiterating that every sexual assault is at least partly the victim’s fault.
How, then, can those statistics ever change?
The long-term effects of a violation of your body are often as hard to deal with as the initial attack. From self-harm to eating disorders, unsustainable relationships and intimacy issues, unsafe sex, disruption in studies or work and the perpetual feeling of self-disgust, rape is known to be a factor in myriad mental health problems.
It is just as important to talk about the longer-lasting effects as it is to open up the dialogue surrounding the assault itself. Skipping off into the sunset with imaginary compensation is hardly a realistic option.
Nothing is going to change if the same big-mouthed trolls continue to paint survivors as worse than their attackers. Frankly, it’s a travesty that sex offenders like Adam Johnson are lent projected immunity by adoring fans, but when a victim of sexual abuse comes forward, she is punished.