On Rape

And the miscarriages of justice

“On Rape aims to call out

the institutional rape culture
prevalent in societies around de world”

I chose this topic, the second chapter of A History of Misogyny, in the same way as the first chapter, On Abortion. It was triggered by a local news story that impressed me deeply. In 2018 five men who had gang-raped an 18-year-old woman were initially  set free by the Spanish Court after being sentenced for abuse rather than rape. This would eventually call into question Spanish legislation and spark the largest feminist protest in the country’s history.

With the rise of the #MeToo movement, I wanted to understand why some institutional structures of justice, law and policy were not only failing survivors, but actually encouraging perpetrators through their preservation of particular power dynamics and social norms. 

By looking back to at history, I could identify gender-based stereotypes and myths, global prejudices and misconceptions, that have prevailed and perpetuated the culture of rape. Through a painstaking research on the miscarriages of justice and attitudes of victim-blaming, this work is a personal analysis of cultural, social and political contexts around the world, that still normalise sexual violence today. 

Laia Abril’s new long-term project A History of Misogyny is a visual research undertaken through historical and contemporary comparisons. In her second chapter On Rape, Abril focuses on the institutional rape throughout a series of conceptual portraits, that together with their testimonies symbolises the different systemic rape cultures —inside marriage, the church, the army or the school. In this occasion, Abril uses history to track back the origin of the laws and beliefs —from marry-your-rapist law, rape as a weapon of war, the construction of virginity or the genesis of rape schedule— reacting to her research journey with a personal audio-visual essay.

In the military everything we do is “mission first”. Women in the force are seen as weak and emotional, a liability. We constantly downplay our injuries and refuse to be a victim. Before I really came to terms with the fact I had been raped, I had only shared small parts of my story. Eventually I told my boyfriend what my commander had done to me and when I saw the tears and pain in his eyes, I finally understood something really bad had happened. I was still struggling with identifying myself as a rape victim — it didn’t seem like a fair title to claim for myself — when he was arrested, discharged but set free after a new case. I grieved for the young girl and I hated myself for not reporting him years earlier. He was indeed a rapist. However, the first time I told my story publicly was years later at an all-women  veteran’s retreat. I could feel it bubbling up inside me, so I tearfully shared the “relationship” I’d had with my commander, still unable to see how severely he had manipulated me into [a year of] sexual subservience. It was a terrifying relief to finally speak aloud the shame that had festered inside me for so long. But what really set me free was when one of the female leaders looked me in the eye and told me that it was not my fault. — Meredith, US