I’m in a serious financial crisis. Here’s what you can do to help

Something I’ve come to love about this network is how it rallies round. Every so often when a FTBlogger has a personal crisis, they ask for colleagues and site readers’ help and get it in spades. I’m hoping the rule holds, because it’s my turn.

I’m in a serious financial crisis. Twice before, I’ve asked for assistance when things were dicey; at present, things are worse than dicey.

As someone working solely as a freelancer I have zero job security: my income depends on a steady flow of work which doesn’t always materialise. Business comes and goes, and due to a cocktail of a long-term brokeness, late payments and a light-on-the-ground period, I recently slipped past my overdraft limit. Although I was only slightly over it, my bank charged me over a hundred pounds ($162) straight away.

Those fines stack up over time. In the couple of days since I notified the rest of the network privately and asked for help, I’ve managed to get back under the limit – but only just. If I slip back past it, I’ll be punished financially again; the first time around it left me unable to buy food for two days, and as it is, I only have enough to live on for a short period more.

The fridge is empty; my shoes have holes in them; I can’t afford public transport across town. While I expect business as usual to resume in a few weeks’ time, once cheques have cleared, work is coming in again and editors return my calls, I’m currently at rock bottom in a financial emergency.

There are three ways you can help.

1) DONATE TO THIS BLOG

Last month I got more traffic than I’ve ever had before. Before that hits had peaked in September 2013 and gradually slumped – the point they started to pick up dramatically was this April when I first asked readers to support me. Since then the trend has reversed, showing steady growth.

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Note, this September’s figures represent only the first half of the month.

Your donations aren’t just helping this blog survive – they’re helping it to thrive. Having supporters who invest in me has provided a loyal readership I didn’t have a year or even six months ago. My living depends on how much I get noticed, and the more this blog grows, the more sustainable my work is. (Repeat the cliché about writing being work: we’re still working on ways to make the blogosphere pay the way print media once did, and for now reader support is what writers like me partially rely on.)

The link to my donation page is in the subtitle above, the ‘Support this blog’ button below and here. I’m not going to name an amount I need or suggest how much to give, should you choose to: the stark reality at present is that I can’t turn anything away, and the more help I get now the less I’m likely to need in future. I’ve accepted sums in the past ranging from single digits to the low hundreds, and I’ll continue to.

In the long term, especially in terms of helping the blog prosper, small monthly donations can make more difference than larger one-offs: most of my groceries are paid for readers who ‘subscribe’, contributing a once-a-month amount of their choice to help fund my work. Using the ‘Subscribe’ button in the pane on the left (scroll down), you can give €5, €10 or €15 a month; failing that, use these links to give €5, €10 or €20 regularly or make a regular donation of your chosen amount, checking PayPal’s ‘Make this recurring’ box.

(By the way: if this is your first time reading me, you can see some of the greatest hits here. If you can’t help me out right now but feel like you might in future, keep up with my work here.)

2) HIRE ME

I don’t accept that asking readers to make my work pay is ‘begging. (Classism among atheists, in fact, is something I’ve written about.) If you value my writing enough to fund its continuation, clearly you’re getting something back. It’s true, though, that – unless you’re a commissioning editor at a publication seeking writers (in which case, email me) – it’s not a service or product particular to you. Thankfully, I have other talents.

If you want to help me out while getting something in return – hire me.

Design

I’ve recently been taking on graphic design work for other secularists and bloggers. Below are a few of the things I’ve made: logos for Hiba Krisht’s blog A Veil and a Dark Place and Wesley Fenza’s, Living Within Reason, as well as a banner for Heina Dadabhoy’s blog Heinous Dealings.

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Currently, I’m working on numerous exciting projects with other FtB folk – you’ll find out all that in due course.

Here’s what the clients above said about me:

Alex was in regular communication throughout the process. He would routinely check in to discuss ideas and design concepts. He made sure that the concept, colors, and overall feel were to my satisfaction before engaging in too much design work. I was incredibly pleased with his design, and am proud to display it on my website and elsewhere. (Wesley Fenza)

Alex’s banner design for my blog is tailored to reflect the ethos and aesthetic of my writing. Throughout the design process, he was attentive to feedback and conscientious about creating a design that would complement my tastes and take my public image concerns into consideration, producing a logo that fit into the linguistic and cultural aesthetic I was looking for while subverting stereotypes and reductive racial tropes. (Hiba Krisht)

Alex was both willing to listen and active in providing ideas from his expertise. I couldn’t be happier about my banner, which not only represents me well, but also shows how thoughtful, skilled, and insightful he is. (Heina Dadabhoy)

If you’re looking for graphics work – especially (though not only) if you’re part of the skeptical or secular scene – get in touch here, via email or on Twitter.

Editing

When I’m not writing or designing, I’m a copy editor working with clients on every kind of text from online journalism to print publishing, short stories to self-help and advice. By all accounts I’m very, very good.

While I work regularly with authors who’ve spent years in publishing, I specialise in editing for new writers, whether still starting out or writing for the first time. Here’s what three such clients said about me:

Alex’s friendly hand and precise comments helped me transform my writing into something unique. Tailored guidance and rapid feedback – a truly outstanding service.

His style is very good, helpful and non-patronising – with a jokey edge, but the message gets across.

Alex was both insightful and professional, helping me do my best creative writing – with his effortless guidance, I was able to pin down exactly what it was I wanted to express. The key, though, is that he is accessible and easy to work with: a real gem.

A recent client, student Maria Marcello, hired me waning to write under a pseudonym about sexual assault; previously, she had no writing experience. After I’d worked on it with her, her first piece went viral online, was republished at the Guardian, the Independent, the Daily Mail, the Huffington Post and openDemocracy and has had over 65,000 hits on her own blog (her whole blog’s views from the last two weeks are approaching 100,000).

Maria has this to say about working with me:

Since I’d never written anything before, Alex’s editing has been invaluable to me. Not only is he an absolutely amazing editor, but he’s publicised my work and encouraged me to write more. If you’re looking for a copy editor, I couldn’t recommend Alex more highly.

Kaveh Mousavi, a current client and author of the blog On the Margin of Error, adds:

I have come into contact with hundreds of editors in my life, so when I say Alex is a fantastic editor I do not speak with a lack of experience. He is fast and he is thorough, he thinks about every word and its implication, he understands and respects your world and your voice, and his insight is frank.

Finally, Greta Christina (of Greta Christina’s Blog) has this advice to offer after working with me a year ago:

If Alex is offering you his services, TAKE HIM UP ON IT. Alex did two extensive rounds of copy editing on Coming Out Atheist, and he is one of the best copy editors I’ve ever worked with. I can’t recommend him highly enough. Seriously. Hire him.

Rates are usually hourly, but – as with everything else I do – are reasonable and extremely flexible. Again: email me or say hello on Twitter.

3) GET PEOPLE YOU KNOW TO DO (1) AND (2)

If you’re not going to hire me or donate to this blog, chances are you know someone who will. If you want to help me out, please spread the word: share this post with friends, contacts or people you know are looking for writers/editors/graphic designers. Retweet it if you use Twitter; post it to Facebook, if you use Facebook.

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide – this is an hour of need for me, and I appreciate it hugely.

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Recommended reading: Dawkins, Harris, Shermer, homeless queer youth and invisible disabilities

Things happened recently. Other things happen frequently and were recently discussed.

  • ‘The Forsaken: A Rising Number of Homeless Gay Teens Are Being Cast Out By Religious Families’, by Alex Morris (Rolling Stone)
    Since 2002, when President George W. Bush issued an executive order that permitted faith-based organisations to receive federal support for social services, an increased amount of federal funding has gone to churches and religion­affiliated organizations where LGBT youth may not feel welcome.
  • ‘Too many LGBT kids are still homeless. And we still throw money at marriage?’, by Zach Stafford (Comment is free)
    Young LGBT people who experience homelessness commit suicide at a higher rate (62%) than heterosexual homeless youth (29%), and are 7.4 times more likely to experience sexual violence than their heterosexual counterparts. They have higher risk of mental health problems and unsafe sex practices leading to the acquisition of HIV. Young people between 13-24 are the only age group to experience an increase rate of infection from 2007-2010, with much of this incident linked to young gay and bisexual men.
  • ‘4 Ways to Be an Ally to People with Invisible Disabilities’, by Sara Whitestone (Everyday Feminism)
    It’s a constant juggle between wanting to do as much as I can without hurting myself while dealing with the social repercussions of my fluctuating abilities. The most common thing I hear from strangers is, ‘But you don’t look disabled’ or ‘You don’t look sick.’ In my experience, strangers confront me every time I go out in public to validate my disability to them in some way – and this is a common experience.
  • ‘Sam Harris Is Just Factually Wrong – Globally, Atheism Has No Gender Split’ (Greta Christina’s Blog)
    Harris recently gave an interview to the Washington Post. When asked why the vast majority of atheists . . . are male, he said this this: ‘I think it may have to do with my personal slant as an author, being very critical of bad ideas . . . There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys’. There are a lot of possible responses to this. The first one that springs to my mind, and to many people’s minds, is, ‘Fuck you, you sexist, patronising asshole.’
  • ‘Will Misogyny Bring Down The Atheist Movement?’, by Mark Oppenheimer (Buzzfeed)
    Movements cannot, if they are to continue growing, be led by men who talk like Penn Jillette or act like Michael Shermer. Their language and behaviour would be a huge problem if they sought a political career, a Supreme Court nomination or a college presidency, yet they are exalted as leaders of an ethical and philosophical movement.
  • ‘Dawkins Tries Again (or, 16 pieces of evidence against Michael Shermer)’, by Stephanie Zvan (Almost Diamonds)
    As I pointed out to Dawkins on Twitter this morning, we have significantly more evidence against Shermer than [he suggests].

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Help Catholic abuse survivor Sue Cox win an award

I wrote my most-read post ever last month, much of which referred to religious abuse or trauma. At one point I mentioned Sue Cox, who was raped by Catholic clergy as a child – today as a founder of Survivors Voice Europe, she campaigns internationally against the actions of the Vatican and for victim support. In the video below from 2011 (promoting the Secular Europe March) she talks about her activism.

Recently Sue was nominated – then shortlisted – for one of this 2014’s Inspiration Awards, which recognise the contributions of outstanding women. The organisation’s site says this about her:

Sue is a powerful, tireless and inspirational advocate and speaker on the subject of childhood sexual abuse and the ensuing mental health effects of such trauma.

After recovering from clergy abuse which resulted in alcoholism, self-harm and an eating disorder, she is now a counsellor and healthcare tutor who heads up two organisations; SMART UK which teaches healthcare professionals within the NHS, armed forces and criminal justice system to understand about the brain and addiction; and an International Charity, Survivors Voice Europe, who spearheaded the campaign at the UN (CRC) to investigate the Vatican and the sexual abuse of children.

Not afraid to stand up for the rights of survivors and for people to truly understand the effects of abuse,  Sue’s passion and focus is on empowerment, connection and identification of all survivors.

Having known Sue several years and admired her courageous vigour several more, I can testify to all the above. The work of secular campaigners against clerical abuse deserves recognition – so, moreover, does she.

To help secure her the award for which she’s been nominated, go to the organisers’ website and vote. It’s only possible to do this by voting in all seven other categories as well, and all the nominees have stories worth reading: it’s worth noting in particular that three other candidates (for two different awards), Jackie Moon, Bethan Rimmington and Ellie Morrissey, also work in the field of sexual abuse recovery.

All my respect to Sue Cox, and the very best of luck.

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“The first stage of an abusive relationship isn’t violence. It’s making the victim fall in love with you”

I remember the first time I told anybody about my abusive then-boyfriend. It was in late May this year, and he’d hit me earlier in the day. I went out and drank more than I should have. I wanted to forget him, forget our argument, forget he’d ever abused me — more than anything, I wanted to talk to someone about him, but was scared he’d find out. Even two miles away I felt he was watching me.

One of my friends ended up sitting next to me, talking about how he was going clubbing. He spent five minutes trying to persuade me to join him, with me inventing excuses as to why I couldn’t. Eventually I snapped. ‘Just shut up, okay?’ I told him. ‘Unless you want me to get beaten up when I get home, I’m not going clubbing with you.’

I’ve mentioned the singular Maria Marcello on this blog before, whose editor I’m lucky enough to be. In a new piece, she weighs in on the Ray Rice/Janay Palmer domestic violence case and the idea victims of abuse should simply walk out.

The fact I loved my ex — the fact I would sooner have died than seen harm come to him — is what makes the experience most traumatic. Before I met him, I always said I’d leave instantly if I found myself experiencing abuse: recognising his for what it was meant acknowledging I’d broken that promise to myself. I wanted to highlight my own flaws, to justify his behaviour somehow so I could justify staying with him.

Telling women like Palmer to ‘just leave’ ignores that the first stage of an abusive relationship isn’t violence: it’s making the victim fall in love with you.

Read the article here. Be warned, it contains some seriously graphic scenes of partner violence, emotional abuse, harassment and sexual assault/rape, as well as the resulting emotional trauma.

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Project Runway’s fäde zu grau makes and wears ‘ATHEIST’ t-shirts

Greta Christina will be mad she didn’t catch this.

Remember that Project Runway contestant fäde zu grau, mit seinem komisch ausgesprochenen Namen? (If you didn’t know, it’s a pun on ‘fade to grey’.) Mid episode, I spotted him wearing this shirt.

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Being from the DDR, it’s not surprising if he’s an atheist – but he seems to make the shirts himself too.

fäde2Interviewed by Project Runway‘s producers, he says the following:

If you had to name your label, you’d call it…
I do have labels that I work on right now, nothing selling yet, only for myself. One is called ‘messfit’ (a combination of ‘messy’ and ‘misfit’) another ‘happy atheist.’

Perhaps he could collaborate with the Atheist shoe company in Berlin – their shop is only a few streets from my house.

Highlight text for spoilers: Sadly fäde was sent home in the latest episode, but perhaps we’ll see more of him in future.

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About that “green eyed monster” article Dawkins wrote

Every so often I see a 2007 article called ‘Banishing the Green-Eyed Monster‘ reposted from Dawkins.net. (It seems originally to have been a column in the Washington Post‘s ‘on faith’ segment.) Most of the friends who share it say positive things about it, including that challenging compulsory monogamy shows Dawkins still has chops as a social critic.

Certainly there are a couple of good bits.

I want to raise [a] question that interests me. Why are we so obsessed with monogamous fidelity in the first place?

I admit that I have, at times in my life, been jealous, but it is one of the things I now regret. Assuming that such practical matters as sexually transmitted diseases and the paternity of children can be sorted out (and nowadays DNA testing will clinch that for you if you are sufficiently suspicious, which I am not), what, actually, is wrong with loving more than one person? Why should you deny your loved one the pleasure of sexual encounters with others, if he or she is that way inclined?

Even sticking to the higher plane of love, is it so very obvious that you can’t love more than one person? We seem to manage it with parental love (parents are reproached if they don’t at least pretend to love all their children equally), love of books, of food, of wine (love of Chateau Margaux does not preclude love of a fine Hock, and we don’t feel unfaithful to the red when we dally with the white), love of composers, poets, holiday beaches, friends . . . why is erotic love the one exception that everybody instantly acknowledges without even thinking about it? Why can a woman not love two men at the same time, in their different ways? And why should the two — or their wives — begrudge her this?

I’m not denying the power of sexual jealousy. It is ubiquitous if not universal. I’m just wondering aloud why we all accept it so readily, without even thinking about it.

I’m afraid, however, that much of the rest fills me and numerous nonmonogamous skeptics I know with extreme discomfort. While the topic’s on the table, I thought I’d lay the problems with the article out.

Here’s how it starts:

Is sex outside of marriage a sin? Is it a public matter? Is it forgivable?

No, of course sex outside marriage is not a public matter, and yes, of course it is forgivable. Only a person infected by the sort of sanctimonious self-righteousness that religion uniquely inspires would apply the meaningless word ‘sin’ to private sexual behaviour.

It is the mark of the religious mind that it cares more about private than public morality.

I wouldn’t apply the word ‘sin’ to cheating, which appears throughout the piece to be how Dawkins interprets ‘sex outside of marriage’, but I would call a breaking a promise of monogamy unethical where one’s been made; I think most poly people would. That’s what distinguishes polyamory from cheating: there’s no promise of monogamy in the first place. Deceiving your partner into a relationship they haven’t agreed to, often with added risk of venereal infection, humiliation or just unhappiness, is a matter of consequence, harm and consent, not an arbitrary religious taboo.

Continuing the ‘private behaviour’ theme in reference to the Lewinsky scandal:

Lying to Congress by saying, ‘I did not have sex with that woman’ should not be an impeachable offence, because where a man puts his penis is none of Congress’s damn business.

In point of substance, no complaint. But ‘where a man puts his penis’? Really? As if rather than an active partner, Lewinsky were just some high-heeled cock holster.

Generally speaking, references to penis-in-vagina sex as someone sticking it somewhere sound pretty rapey to me. If the sex you have is consensual, both people are doing something.

The revolting hue and cry that our religiously inspired society habitually raises over private sexual ‘morality’ serves as a dangerous distraction away from important matters of public morality such as the Blair/Bush lies about Iraq’s weapons.

Back to the public/private distinction we had earlier. The suggestion is that since sex isn’t world politics, it isn’t up for ethical debate. It can be: rape is usually, for instance, a private act. The requirement for sex to be ethical (or at least ethically immaterial) isn’t privacy, it’s that everyone involved agrees to what goes on. That’s not the case when one partner cheats on another.

Agony Aunt columns ring with the cries of those who have detected – or fear – that their man/woman (who may or may not be married to them) is ‘cheating on them’. ‘Cheating’ really is the word that occurs most readily to these people.

Indeed – because it means to participate while breaking the rules, and relationships can have rules.

Here’s one key point. Nonmonogamous people also cheat – it’s just that breaking the rules means something other than seeing an extra partner. (It might mean, for example, having a type of sex off-limits outside the primary partnership.)

The underlying presumption — that a human being has some kind of property rights over another human being’s body — is unspoken because it is assumed to be obvious.

That’s not why we shame people who cheat in monogamous relationships. We do it because their partners are entitled to say on what terms they form a relationship with someone else, and to expect that mutually agreed rules be upheld. (Lots of people require monogamy emotionally or aren’t comfortable without it. Asking prospective partners for that – who are free to say no and move on – is their right.)

In one of the most disgusting stories to hit the British newspapers last year, the wife of a well-known television personality, Chris Tarrant, hired a private detective to spy on him. The detective reported evidence of adultery and Tarrant’s wife divorced him, in unusually vicious style.

Here Dawkins’ attitude to women reveals itself again. How dare the former Mrs Tarrant end a relationship she hadn’t agreed to? How dare she divorce a man – angrily, no less! – who deceived her?

What shocked me was the way public opinion sided with Tarrant’s horrible wife. Far from despising, as I do, anybody who would stoop so low as to hire a detective for such a purpose, large numbers of people, including even Mr. Tarrant himself, seemed to think she was fully justified. Far from concluding, as I would, that he was well rid of her, he was covered with contrition[.]

‘Bitch.’

The explanation of all these anomalous behaviour patterns is the ingrained assumption of the deep rightness and appropriateness of sexual jealousy.

Or the fact Tarrant’s wife didn’t want to remain married to a man seeing other woman without seeking her consent. One of the two, I’m sure.

Polyamorous people often still feel jealousy. Partners angry they’ve been cheated on often don’t. The point is the betrayal of trust.

From a Darwinian perspective, sexual jealousy is easily understood. Natural selection of our wild ancestors plausibly favoured males who guarded their mates for fear of squandering economic resources on other men’s children. On the female side, it is harder to make a Darwinian case for the sort of vindictive jealousy displayed by Mrs. Tarrant.

Evo-psych. Manbrains and ladybrains. Need I say more?

The British writer Julie Burchill is not somebody I usually quote (imagine a sort of intelligent Ann Coulter speaking with a British accent in a voice like Minnie Mouse) but I was struck by one of her remarks.

Women. Feminists. Whiny voices. Grr.

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The Rational Heart: a symbol for rational nonmonogamy

A quick announcement, folks.

Wesley Fenza, lawyer that he is, has licensed the symbol I created for his blog so anyone, provided they credit me, can use it as they like – here’s the Wikimedia Commons entry.

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We’re calling the symbol the Rational Heart. As well as starting life at his site Living Within Reason, it denotes rational nonmonogamy and relationship anarchy in general, especially among skeptics.

What does that mean? Well, here are some thoughts on the design, which some people have said they plan to wear or embroider on bedsheets.

The Rational Heart rejects the worship of monogamy and its unearned privilege over polyamory as legacies of a puritanical religious past.

The Rational Heart represents love as poly people experience it: a whole composed of many individual relationships.

The Rational Heart acknowledges the multitude of interlocking, overlapping shades of love.

The Rational Heart sees logic and reason as key parts of happy, ethical relationships that aid emotional communication, not bleak or unromantic obstacles to love.

The Rational Heart stands for nonmonogamy as positive, lucid and consequence-based ethical choice, not emotional recklessness.

The Rational Heart stands for reciprocation, mutually acknowledged rules and partnerships based on adult consent, not coercion, exploitation or betrayal.

If you wear or display this symbol, that’s what you believe in.

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The real male equivalent of a female rape victim getting drunk

This was something I said yesterday.

Let’s try this again.

The male equivalent of a woman getting drunk is not a man leaving his house unlocked, leaving his car unlocked, leaving his front door open, walking down the street with £20 notes sticking out of his pockets or walking around with his wallet hanging out.

You know what the male equivalent of a woman getting drunk is? A man getting drunk. And when men get drunk, they’re usually not sexually assaulted.

84 Facebook likes, 22 shares, 13,965 views at Imgur and the top post at r/feminism with 436 points: the numbers say the Internet liked it.

More to come. (Thanks to Marianne Baker for screengrabbing this, and Maria Marcello’s trolls for inspiring it.)

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What if rape at university wasn’t impossible to prove?

Discretion advised if graphic details of this subject upset you.

Somewhere or other, you’ve probably read the last post on this blog by now. Other versions of Maria Marcello‘s article ‘I Was Raped At Oxford University. Police Pressured Me Into Dropping Charges‘ have appeared at the Guardian, the Independent, the Daily Mail, the Tab, the Huffington Post and openDemocracy – the fact it’s the first thing she’s ever written is why you should follow her and why I’m privileged to be her editor. (It’s also why if you’re looking for one, you should hire me. Just saying.)

In the follow-up she published today, Marcello dissects what users at the Mail told her. Among other things, many fixated on her assumed inability to prove she was raped after falling asleep drunk.

I would ask this lady[:] Just what does she know about the event?

If you are so drunk that you have lost your memory or passed out how can you remember if you consented or not?

What evidence can she provide that she said ‘no’ to the main she claimed raped her?

How do you know you were raped if you don’t remember the night? In the period between being put to sleep and waking up with a man next to you, consensual sex could have been initiated, due to the heavy state of intoxication.

If you’re drunk and passed out, then who knows what happened? She could have dreamed the whole thing!

There would little to no evidence to bring a successful prosecution in this case. No DNA, no witnesses, no other evidence apart from a statement from someone who was so drunk they were passed out at the time with only a dim memory as their evidence.

In other words, her assault was just another case of ‘he-said-she-said college rape‘ where nothing could be proved.

As she notes in the sequel, the point of the original post was how much she could prove.

According to the Crown Prosecution Service and the Sexual Offences Act, extreme inebriation makes consent impossible. To prove her attacker raped her, Marcello had to establish a) that she was in such a state and b) that he had sex with her. What evidence did she – or rather, since I was with her at the time, we – have?

Well:

  • We had Marcello’s word, mine and up to three other people’s that she was so drunk she had to be helped to bed (i.e. couldn’t walk unassisted).
  • We had photos and several minutes of close-up video footage taken of her on the floor, unable to speak coherently and obviously extremely drunk.
  • We may also have had forensic evidence of how much alcohol she’d consumed had police physicians examined her. (The CPS advises they present this sort of evidence to courts in rape trials.)
  • We had Marcello’s word that she woke up while her attacker was having sex with her.
  • We had the word of guests who believed this was about to occur when they left.
  • We had the rapist’s statement witnessed by half a dozen people over dinner that he’d had sex with her, and possibly other statements to this effect.
  • We had bruises on her upper thighs and her statement she had difficulty walking, which police physicians would have confirmed had they examined her.
  • We had several used condoms which were presented to police.
  • We had clothes and bedsheets covered in forensics which were presented to police.

This was the case a police official informed she didn’t have once they’d got her upset and alone, before making her decide on the spot whether to press charges. The pretext for making others leave the room, gut wrenchingly, was that she not be coerced out of doing so.

Says Marcello of the official:

She said she got called to investigate a number of rape reports each day and her job involved deciding which of them it was worthwhile to pursue and which it wasn’t. In her opinion, as she made clear from the start, mine fell into the latter category.

I have to wonder: if this wasn’t a case worth pursuing, what was? I’m not a lawyer, but my guess has always been that if she’d been allowed to speak to one before making her choice, they’d have told her it was stronger than average. Even without the forensics, it should have been enough for her college to expel the undergrad who raped her – if a student’s shown to have broken the law any other way, they don’t have to lose a court case before there are consequences.

The received wisdom about rape, especially where alcohol’s involved, is that it’s impossible to prove – a matter by definition of one person’s word against another’s. Since that day in Maria Marcello’s kitchen, I’d always assumed her case must be exceptionally good.

When Stephanie Zvan said this, as so often when I read her, my assumptions changed.

We know victims of sexual assault skew young. According to Britain’s Home Office, women aged 16-19 are at the highest risk of sexual victimisation, closely followed by those aged 20-24, and are four and a half times as likely as the next hardest hit age group to experience rape. (Marcello had just turned 20 at the time of her attack.) In other words, university-age women are the most raped demographic.

000We know that, according to a rightly maligned set of government posters, ‘one in three reported rapes happens when the victim has been drinking’. I’d speculate that since only one in five rapes is reported and alcohol commonly used to dismiss complaints, the real-life figure is higher – and that it’s especially high on campuses and among young people where drunkenness is more common in social settings, men and women live in close quarters and a culture of sexual assault has been widely observed.

‘I’ve heard lots of stories similar to mine’, Marcello writes, ‘from people assaulted [at university].’ All factors suggest the reality we’re looking at is a very high number of rapes that share the broad outline of hers: heavy social drinking, a vulnerable or unconscious woman and a man who ‘took advantage’.

She had, I take it you’ll agree from the list above, a large amount of evidence both that she too drunk to consent and that her attacker had sex with her. But how much more was it than the average woman in her situation has?

Hours afterwards and with law enforcement’s tools, it’s not that hard to prove two people had sex – or at least, that someone with a penis had sex with somebody else in one of the ways the law requires for rape. Often seminal fluid can be found, either in used contraceptives or the when victim is examined. Often there are physical signs they were penetrated, including internal injuries. Often there are external marks left on them or forensics at the scene that point to sex. Sometimes the attacker thinks they did nothing wrong and <i>tells people</i> it happened, in person or by other (e.g. online) means. Sometimes they’re interrupted in the act, whether or not the witness views it as assault.

Many women in Marcello’s situation, I’d guess, have at least some such evidence.

Proving the absence of of consent can be more complex, but it doesn’t need to be when someone’s so drunk they can’t walk, talk or consent to sex. The video footage we had always struck me as an exceptional clincher, but then drunk photos and videos often appear on students’ social media accounts. Even when drunk victims aren’t filmed, they may be seen collapsing or needing help by far more people than a handful in their room – by crowds at a college party, for example. They may be assaulted after receiving first aid, being admonished by bouncers or no longer being served by bar stuff – all evidence of drunkenness. They may still be suffering symptoms of severe intoxication the next day, or have signs of it in their system police physicians can record.

Many women in Marcello’s situation, I’d guess, have at least some such evidence.

It’s still true, of course, that proving rape isn’t quite as straightforward as proving a crime where issues like consent aren’t involved. But it’s not true drunken college rapes are simply a case of he-said-she-said: on the contrary, extreme inebriation where demonstrable makes the absence of consent much more clear-cut.

Writes Marcello:

There would be more convictions if the police process didn’t pressure women with viable evidence to drop their reports. In 2012–13, official treatment of victims like me meant only 15 percent of rapes recorded by the police even went to court.

According to a report at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, official treatment of victims like her means evidence of vulnerability that should guarantee conviction – including drunkenness as well as things like disabilities – is routinely used precisely to dismiss reports, stop charges being pressed and get rapists off.

The best way to convict more is to stop telling victims with a strong case that they have no evidence.

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