Hellosie, it’s Maisie. The reality of rape is still clouded in myth. This is what you need to know.


A study of more than 8,000 adults found that two out of five men and one-third of women thought that a woman was partially to blame for being sexually assaulted if she was out late at night, drinking and wearing a short skirt.

This isn’t shocking because it’s new – it’s shocking because it’s nothing new. Even today, in the midst of marches to highlight injustices against women, archaic attitudes still burn bright. There still exists a mind set that sees nothing extraordinary, repellent or plain wrong about blaming a woman for being sexually attacked simply because of the way she’s dressed or because she’s been drinking.

In the study, there was the usual boorish tosh from people who seem to think that droning platitudes about “personal responsibility” puts the little feminist ladies straight. Perhaps in some misguided attempt to play devil’s advocate.

It bewilderingly suggested that women in short skirts were looking for sex. Erm, no, not all women wearing short skirts are looking for sex and frankly who cares if they are? Looking for sex is not the same as wanting to be sexually attacked. The first is a matter of personal agency, the second is a crime.

As it happens, I’m all for personal responsibility – women looking out for themselves and each other. I remain a huge fan of the “girl pack”, which certainly helped keep me safe on many a wild night out, even when I was wearing one of my special “fuck me” mini-skirts.

However, I’ve come to realise that this angle is a tedious red herring – no one concerned about rape has ever argued in favour of people taking less personal responsibility. No one has ever said: “Women should definitely not look after themselves – they should place themselves in harm’s way at every conceivable opportunity.”

People who are concerned about rape issues want it to be acknowledged that the only person to blame for a sexual attack is… the sexual attacker. Not only because the person being raped has suffered enough without being somehow blamed, but also because the very notion of someone provoking their own sexual attack, with their choice of dress or behaviour, is offensive and ridiculous. Rape isn’t fundamentally about sex or attraction, it’s about violence, abuse, power and opportunity.

If it’s astonishing that two out of five men still require this basic education in who’s to blame for sexual assault, then it’s downright depressing that one-third of women are just as ill-informed. It suggests an attitude among some women that dressing and acting in a certain way deserves a certain vile outcome. A woman-on-woman psychological distancing, a treacherous sense of them and us, that is truly disturbing. Though is it really so surprising or just a reminder that there’s no convenient gender barricade for the kind of social conditioning that produces rape misinformation?

In truth, these prejudices swirl around us all the time, a poison gas to be breathed in by men and women alike. Thus, while it’s supposed to be men who succumb to Madonna-whore syndrome, women are not, it seems, immune. All of us are susceptible to this brutal compartmentalisation, dividing women into the pure and good (who don’t deserve to be raped) and drunken sluts who do.

If people want to talk about personal responsibility, then here’s an opportunity to demonstrate some – by fighting these prejudices all the way.

Devastating news: Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg isn’t your friend. Zuckerberg, who’s promised to combat fake news, may be a bit fake himself, at least where his chummy, spontaneous Facebook posts are concerned, including ones on jogging, reading with his daughter and some excruciating “joshing” with A-listers such as Morgan Freeman.

Apparently, Facebook staff produce their boss’s charming posts. Which sounds almost as though Zuckerberg were a billionaire CEO, heavily invested in personal “brand management”, who’s been putting emphasis on a more presidential, down-with-the-people image. Oh, hang on…

If we’re all feeling a little unfriended right now, it’s small comfort that Zuckerberg appears to be even less friendly towards his Hawaiian neighbours, some of whom are being strongly encouraged (involving legal action) to sell him land for his beachfront estate. Though it’s shocking to find that Zuckerberg isn’t our buddy, it’s even more upsetting to discover some people are so thick they believed the social media mogul was “liking” their cat photos. These people need to stop being so gullible – President Zuckerberg wouldn’t like that.

Scots may be gratified to learn that Mel Gibson was (sort of) responsible for sparking an interest in Scottish independence. Talking about his 1995 film, Braveheart, in which he played William Wallace, Gibson observed: “It certainly woke something up there in Scotland. I know they achieved partial autonomy and I think it is a good thing.” (It’s believed that Gibson was referring to the creation of the Scottish parliament, which followed the 1997 devolution referendum.)

All of which sounds wholly correct. It’s a historical fact that BB (“Before Braveheart”), people in Scotland didn’t realise that they were Scottish – they just thought that they were English with sexier accents or Irish with less sexy accents. Back then, in the dark days of BB, the Scots didn’t even know that Scotland was part of Great Britain. It was only when Gibson appeared as Wallace, shouting “Freedom!” while sporting tartan and wild unbrushed hair that Scottish people finally realised what had been going on with this “United Kingdom” malarkey and, boy, were some of them mad!

After his Braveheart observations, Gibson modestly said: “I like to stay out of the politics of other people’s nations so I won’t go any further.” Such a display of reticence was noticeably absent from his “Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world!” drunken outburst when stopped by Malibu police in 2006.

Sadly, it was also a lost opportunity for film buffs everywhere. I, for one, would love to get the inside track on how other of Gibson’s films shaped world events. Say, how What Women Want paved the way for modern feminism. Or how Mad Max made it all kick off in the Middle East This has film school module written all over it.


Hellosie, it’s Maisie. How rape survivors can be failed.


There is an image etched into my mind long after meeting Jane Doe, who was raped nine years ago while hiking in a country park in Hampshire which was extreme, and her terror during it when she thought she might be killed. What lingers and is also etched on my mind is of this woman three days later, huddled in a London flat, traumatised and alone, desperately ringing around sexual health clinics across the capital for help.

But that’s a fact that begins to demonstrate just how poorly some rape victims are served by a reporting and healthcare system that remains patchy, disjointed and poorly tailored to the needs of people in deep shock.

Jane, an American who has been based in the UK since her early 20s, her self-possession is immediately obvious – and in stark contrast to how she describes herself after the attack. “It’s like you’ve been gutted like a fish – it was like somebody had gouged the life out of me,” she says calmly. There has been progress in the treatment and attitudes encountered by rape victims seeking help, but no one is pretending that the quality of the service you get doesn’t depend on where in the country you live, and which professionals happen to be on duty at the time.

Other examples of the poor aftercare she experienced abound. When it became clear early on that her attacker would face trial, She contacted the independent charity Victim Support for help with understanding the criminal justice process. She was immediately referred to the London head office, whereupon she was told London couldn’t help because her rape had happened elsewhere in the UK. Counselling offered by a London sexual assault clinic was “mediocre” and unhelpful, and although she describes NHS cognitive behavioural therapy as “great”, it took nine months for her to reach the top of the queue. Although debilitated, panicky and unable to leave her home for long periods, she survived the wait. She points out that “other victims could become suicidal because there’s such a gap between the trauma and the care they get”.

Meanwhile, demand is soaring. With reports of sexual assault to police in England and Wales more than doubling in four years – from more than 16,000 adult and child rapes reported in 2011-12 to 35,798 in 2015-2016 – standards set by the Istanbul convention on combating violence against women suggest there should be three times more than the 45 specialist counsellors that currently operate in England and Wales. Cumbria, for example, doesn’t have a single Rape Crisis branch. At the end of March this year, the national Rape Crisis waiting list had reached 5,000.

The injustice this postcode lottery imposes on victims’ ability to recover is part of what should drive any campaign for better awareness of how disastrously sexual violence affects people’s lives.

“All the things that had brought me joy before, like hanging out with friends, seeing movies or exploring the world, I didn’t have any of that any more,” she explains matter-of-factly. “The sadness was not knowing if I would be ever able to regain that. It felt like the rest of my life was going to be this unending monotony of loneliness and anxiety.” Wealthier rape victims have the option to pay for timely trauma therapy. Poorer ones simply cannot. If you’re a mother of five, you still have to look after your kids.

If a rape victim pursues a complaint to trial, their chance of getting justice seems to be declining, too. The conviction rate for reported rapes in 2015-16 was 7.5% – half the 15% it was four years before. Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) records show that 58% of cases that reached court last year resulted in a conviction, which sounds better. However, the disparity between the two figures seems to highlight the immense difficulty perceived by the CPS in finding evidence strong enough for prosecutors to believe that a jury could convict.

Hellosie, it’s Maisie. With rape and sexual assault on the rise at musical festivals. The BS advice is ‘keep with friends’.


Festival season is a time of joy, sunburn and sloshing about in muddy fields. However, this booming industry – which attracts millions of attendees each year and contributed to the £4bn revenues generated by the UK’s live music industry in 2016 – has a very dark side. From family-oriented Latitude to the largely tweenage V festival, few British festivals seem to be immune from allegations of rape and sexual assault. Between 2014 and 2016, eight sexual assaults were reported at Reading festival, a post-GCSE venue for many teens. In 2013, a male nurse was convicted of attacking two women in the medical tent at Wilderness. Just last week, police announced that “inquiries continue” regarding a sexual assault on a bridge close to Glastonbury’s Silver Hayes dance field, and an alleged assault by a security guard at London one-dayer Lovebox has also been well publicised.

While many attacks happen out of the way of the main arenas of such events, others occur in the thick of the festival; in 2011, a 15-year-old alleged that she had been raped close to the main stage of Bestival on the Isle of Wight. I was also at the festival that year, and while thankfully I had a safe trip, I was flashed as I exited a toilet, again close to the main stage. Along with more serious cases, the incident compounded my fear that maybe festivals weren’t the safe, escapist realms I had hoped they were.

It is not an issue exclusive to Britain, either; earlier this month, news outlets around the world reported on a spate of sexual violence at Sweden’s largest festival, Bråvalla, which has been cancelled for next year after allegations of four rapes and 23 related attacks. In response, the comedian Emma Knyckare announced her intention to hold a “man-free rock festival”. Answering her critics, who claimed that this amounted to anti-male discrimination, Knyckare told the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet that “since it seems to be OK to discriminate against women all the time, maybe it’s OK to shut out men for three days?”

But is banning men from festivals really the way to deal with things? This is a question Fiona Stewart, the managing director and owner of the Brecon Beacons-based Green Man festival answered recently. As the only female festival-owner in the UK, Stewart has had to find her place within a male-dominated industry over the years, first heading up the Big Chill.

As for security at her own festival, Stewart oversees the whole operation, carefully choosing who will work on the ground from a number of different organisations. Green Man has got quite a gentle reputation, but with anything like this it’s actually pretty robust and vigorous. If you were to find yourself alone at the festival at 2am, there would be lighting, security points and stewards within easy reach. Whether as a result of her measures or a happy coincidence, reported assaults at Green Man are virtually nil.

If Stewart represents an industry view, then Girls Against is very much the voice of grassroots efforts. The group – which campaigns on and offline for increased festival and gig safety – comprises teenage girls from across the UK. The group’s most important endeavour since forming in 2015 was being a part of the Safer Spaces Campaign, run by the Association for Independent Festivals (AIF) and launched this May. As part of the initiative, Girls Against helped them to “instigate a 24-hour ‘blackout’ on festivals’ websites and social media to raise awareness of sexual assault”, as well as implementing a new safety charter (its tenets: “Zero Tolerance to Sexual Assault. Hands Off Unless Consent. Don’t Be a Bystander”). Among the signatories were Bestival, Secret Garden Party, Boomtown Fair and End of the Road.

While it was a project that caught the media’s attention, the group is focused not just on prevention but also on what to do once someone has been the victim of an attack.

Glastonbury festival strategies for preventing any attacks can be found on a webpage where the advice is limited to “keep with friends” and “avoid dark areas”. But the festival drew praise for helping someone find their feet again after an assault. In a blogpost that racked up thousands of shares on Twitter, entitled An open letter to Glastonbury, from a victim, Laura Whitehurst detailed how the organisers of the festival had helped her to attend the following year’s edition, after she was sexually assaulted by people she had planned to go with. As well as making special arrangements for her travel and camping, she was also given a letter that allowed her access to extra help from security if required. Ending her letter of thanks, she said that the organisers had “made me feel like a survivor again”. Although cases such as this and the AIF campaign are moves in the right direction, there is still more to be done. I think festival organisers are unsure what to suggest, so ‘stay with friends’ and ‘move if you feel uncomfortable’ are common solutions that may not be helpful in all situations.

I don’t see this as a male or female issue, I see this as a human issue.