A few days ago, a friend sent me a vile link. It stated that on 24 April, there’s a coordinated plan to commit rape and sexual violence towards women. As a survivor, it chilled me to the core. I wasn’t sure whether to write about this or not. I questioned giving any publicity to such a twisted, sick idea. But a lot can happen in 24 hours. Enough is enough. It’s time to speak out.
Trigger warning: This article discusses sexual violence towards women and contains content that some readers may find distressing.
We are survivors, not victims
After hearing about the ‘plan’ that allegedly started in the US on TikTok (the platform has denied finding such content), it moved closer to home. I live in a university town in Cornwall. Friends shared screengrabs suggesting that around 100 men intended to rape and sexually assault female students here. As a result, women here feel justifiably threatened. Some are worried enough that they don’t feel safe going out this weekend.
This isn’t because these women are victims. Far from it. It’s because, while statistics reveal the shocking truth about the number of women who’ve survived and reported sexual assaults, violence or rape, this is only the tip of the iceberg. “Sexual offences,” as the Office for National Statistics notes, “are often hidden crimes that are not reported to the police.” Attacks are far more prevalent against women than men, and men account for 98% of all perpetrators. Globally, meanwhile:
1 in 3 women across the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. That’s ONE BILLION WOMEN AND GIRLS.
And let’s not forget that a serving Metropolitan Police officer was recently charged with murdering Sarah Everard, or that police brutally attacked protesters at Clapham Common and in Bristol and London.
Is it any wonder that women don’t feel safe right now?
Don’t ever forget that every single woman who’s ever faced sexual or domestic violence is a survivor, not a victim. We don’t need saving – we’re rising to reclaim our voices, our agency, our power. Victims are the women who tragically don’t survive. The devastating truth is, as the Femicide Census notes, “on average, a woman is killed by a man every 3 days” in the UK.
But responses to these vile threats in my local area doubled down on the travesty of violence against women even further.
Not a ‘hoax’
Screenshots seen by Phoenix Media Co-op note an ‘escalation of threats’, indicating that some “individuals” have planned to “do far more nefarious things than sexual assault”, with some men allegedly travelling to the area. One advises local women not to go out in the evening ‘for their own safety’. Another cites legitimate fears and ‘distress’ from women about the so-called ‘national rape day’, stating that some women feel too afraid to leave their homes. One text, meanwhile, exposes a chilling ‘plan’ suggesting that named women have been selected as targets.
A local newspaper, however, reported that Falmouth University:
described the messages as an “abhorrent” hoax originating from social media site Tiktok, which encouraged sexual violence.
They also said there is “no evidence” the posts are genuine or that there is a genuine threat.
And there you have it. Women’s experiences undermined, yet again. Played down, yet again, as ‘victims’ with false fears. ‘Don’t worry your pretty little head,’ this misogynistic denial screams, ‘it’s all just a nasty joke.’ Calling this a ‘hoax’ completely undermines women’s legitimate fears about these social media posts and endemic violence against them. It totally fails to acknowledge that women who’ve heard about these vile TikTok messages have either survived sexual violence or know someone who has.
“Relentless misogyny and male violence”
Beth Williams, co-founder of Reclaim These Streets: Cornwall, told Phoenix Media Co-op there can be absolutely no excuse for calling these threats a ‘hoax’:
The language and intentions expressed on social media around this issue are not a joke, hoax or an isolated incident. A hoax is defined as ‘a humorous or malicious deception’. There is nothing humorous about toxic, threatening behaviour. There is nothing humorous about misogyny.
There is nothing humorous about the epidemic of male violence against women and girls. There is nothing humorous about women and girls yet again being made to feel as though they alone have to take responsibility for their own safety in this world. Instead of brushing this under the carpet, let’s call this what it is – yet another manifestation of the relentless misogyny and male violence that women and girls endure on a daily basis.
And worse still, even if this did start as some twisted, attention-seeking ‘joke’, does that stop any man from feeling emboldened enough to act out the vile threats?
“Her fault, her fault, her fault”
Exeter University (which shares Falmouth campus) came top in a survey reporting experiences of “abuse or harassment” at UK universities. A screenshot of a university message to students, shared with Phoenix Media Co-op, makes no reference to violence but instead reiterates a litany of lies: ‘unwelcome comments’, ‘negative online campaign’ and ‘hoax’. Falmouth University’s ‘stay safe’ guidance meanwhile, plays into some of the most dangerous ‘victim-blaming’ tropes.
Categorically, safety ‘advice’ at universities must stop blaming women’s behaviour. How long do we need to scream into the void that it’s men who need to be educated and take full responsibility to end sexual violence?
We’re lunging ever closer to Margaret Attwood’s dystopian world of the Handmaid’s Tale. As she writes:
It’s Janine, telling about how she was gang-raped at fourteen and had an abortion. But whose fault was it? Aunt Helena says, holding up one plump finger. Her fault, her fault, her fault. We chant in unison. Who led them on? She did. She did. She did. Why did God allow such a terrible thing to happen? Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson.
If women feel concerned or afraid, each and every one of them must be heard; not blamed – not dismissed with dangerous denials. This only perpetuates the additional violence of mistrust against women and the endless rounds of shaming, blaming and disbelief that women face on a daily basis.
“We don’t need men to save us.”
As if that wasn’t bad enough, step forward the male saviours.
As news circulated about these threats, a Facebook group emerged seeming to offer solidarity to any women feeling threatened. Although clearly well-intentioned, this group was set up by a man. At the time of writing, the majority of posts are written by men offering to “have people stationed at pubs” and “walk people to bus stops and train stations”.
Nowhere is there any evidence of asking women what they think about this, or what support, if any, they’d like. There’s absolutely no acknowledgement of women’s intelligence or collective power and rage. Several requests to make the group private have been ignored. Very few women have commented, because the page quite simply doesn’t look safe.
As Williams also emphasised:
We don’t need men to save us. We don’t need men to walk us home. We don’t need men to give us safety tips.
We need men to take responsibility. We need men to share our outrage and call out misogyny and violence when they see it. We need men to stop perpetrating violence and abuse against us.
Men: it’s time to check your privilege
These men need to realise that this is not what being a good ally looks like, no matter how good their intentions are. What they’re actually doing is throwing women under the bus, yet again playing out age-old and damaging clichés about women being helpless victims who must be ‘rescued’ by men.
Being a proper ally only comes from respecting women’s agency. Don’t offer to walk a woman home and think that somehow fixes patriarchy – a system that you as a man ultimately benefit from. Treating any woman as a ‘victim’ who needs rescuing – no matter how valiant your intentions may be – simply perpetuates misogyny.
In 2020, as Black Lives Matter protests spread around the US and UK, many of us had to take a long hard look at our white privilege. Because knowing you abhor racism is not the same as acknowledging the benefits of white privilege. It was time for many of us to stfu and really do the work. It wasn’t comfortable. But it was vital in order to understand how systemic racism truly works and how we too often fail to acknowledge our own privilege. It was vital for us to really understand how to be true allies and not charge in as white saviours.
Now, it’s time for men to take this on board and do the same. Check your privilege and then check it again. Just for starters, ask yourself if you’ve needed to do all of the things barrister Harriet Johnson noted following Everard’s murder:
Every woman you know has taken a longer route.
Has doubled back on herself.
Has pretended to dawdle by a shop window.
Has held her keys in her hand.
Has made a fake phone call.
Has rounded a corner and run.
Every woman you know has walked home scared.
Every woman you know.
— Harriet Johnson (@HarrietEJohnson) March 10, 2021
To be fair, underneath its damaging ‘hoax’ headline, Cornwall Live did give a comprehensive list of support services and helplines for anyone affected to contact. Information is power, and sharing this information is actively needed.
Another local initiative asked local businesses to #LeaveTheLightsOn to show solidarity and support to women. Spot the difference. This is an act of true solidarity because it does give women agency and challenges the flawed assumption that we all need, or want to, hide from threats of violence. We are active. We have agency.
Jade Phipps, who started this initiative with her partner Dan Rossiter, told Phoenix Media Co-op:
This online community – I won’t use the name they call themselves – is far more dangerous than people realise. For decades, the media has ignored violence against women as the hate crime it is, and it’s time we stand up to raise awareness and offer a safe space for women and any vulnerable person in Falmouth. I don’t think that the idea is perfect, but I do believe that imperfect ideas are how change begins, and #LeaveTheLightsOn came from simply asking ‘what can we do?’.
As members of the community, and a local business, we believe it’s always our duty to make Falmouth a better place to live, work and study. I know so many people and businesses feel the same way. How can we call ourselves a community if we don’t do everything we can to make people feel safe? I won’t comment on the police handling of the situation, because I try to focus on what we can do, but I do hope that the organisations with power listen and learn.
Enough is Enough!
Women justifiably and understandably feel scared and threatened by these vile and twisted threats. But that’s not because we’re weak victims; it’s a reflection of our continued experiences of violence. Whether against ourselves or our sisters, this violence permeates our reality. That doesn’t, however, mean we’re passive or that we’re not rising up to challenge systemic misogyny and patriarchy.
Since the Met violently attacked women at Clapham Common, demonstrations against the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill have been feminist-led. Women and marginalised communities have had enough. We’ve had enough of institutional violence, corruption and lies. We’re taking to the streets and won’t be silenced, because as the demo chants shout: ‘silence is violence’.
This sickening turn of events in a small Cornish town is a microcosm of what we’re up against nationally and globally. Local press, universities and well-intentioned men may want us to act like docile handmaidens, but that’s not going to happen. Generationally, women are sharing stories of pain but also stories of wisdom and solidarity.
Our stories are power. They’re collective voices of love and rage.
Ignore us at your peril.
If you, or any women you know, are affected by any of the issues covered here, support is available.
The Women’s Centre Cornwall: Women’s Rape & Sexual Violence/Abuse Helpline. Everyone on the helpline is aware of the current situation in Falmouth. Monday to Friday from 10am – 1pm, Monday and Thursday evenings from 6pm-9pm and Saturday mornings 10am-1pm. At other times, leave a message on the 24-hour answer-phone service and they will call you back. Call 01208 77099
Rape Crisis England and Wales: Call 0808 802 9999 Helpline hours: 12–2.30pm and 7–9.30pm
Women’s Aid: Call 0808 2000247
Samaritans: Call 116123
Main article image via screengrab