Discussing ‘This Is Not For You’

The theory and research behind Mary Morgan's short art film in which she addresses her sexual assailant for the first time.

This Sunday, August 16, marked four years since I was drugged and raped. This year on the anniversary of that night, I premiered my short art film ‘This Is Not For You,’ in which I address him for the first time. 

The film is based in theory and research that argues rape is a cultural and societal issue. My autobiographical film works to reclaim the narrative around rape, as well as show the realities of rape, and ultimately change how we treat the rapists versus victim, how both are represented, and how we as a society talk about sexual assault. Representation and discourse need to change about rape, rapists and victims. 

Let’s dive into an overview of the theory that This Is Not For You is based in. Each paragraph that follows deserves its own full discussion, but I wanted to provide the information for you in a digestible way, as opposed to sending you a full book. 

The #MeToo movement launched sexual assault into the spotlight and worked to highlight the common nature of the crime. Despite this, sexual violence is still prevalent, and continues to be normalized and trivialized in our society. On average, an American is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds. Nearly one in five women in the U.S. have reported raped, and one in 20 report experience with sexual violence other than rape. That’s just what has been reported. Justice for victims remains elusive. Rape is the single most unreported crime in the United States, and the most under-prosecuted when reported. Research shows that only 310 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to the police. Only five in 1,000 perpetrators will go to prison.

Statistics prove that sexual assailants are still getting away with assault, despite decades of rigorous lobbying and extensive law reform. Beyond the lack of legal justification for victims of sexual assault, society continues to let victims down in the way it treats them versus treatment of rapists. Women are fearful to come forward for so many reasons, but ultimately, because they are afraid they will not receive justice, and will endure a second victimization by the system. The lack of belief in victims and the lack of a legal structure that goes after perpetrators means women are fearful in reporting sexual violence. No one is more aware of the tendency for women not to report rape than rapists. This lack of accountability inherently tells men that they can get away with sexual violence, and tells survivors that reporting their crime only has a slight chance of justice.

How society treats rapists versus victims is steeped in history. Many of the ways society reacts to rape accusations is rooted in popular ‘rape myths.’ Rape myths became a topic of interest in the 1970s, and in 1980 defined as “prejudicial, stereotyped and false beliefs about rape, rape victims and rapists.” Rape myth acceptance includes the cognitive, affective and behavioral effects of beliefs that blame the victim and exonerate the perpetrator. Rape myths entail blaming the victim for their rape; expressing disbelief in claims of rape; exonerating the perpetrator; and alluding that only certain types of women are raped.

The narrative around rape was historically written by men. Men wrote theories about rape; they wrote descriptions of what the “rapist” was; they wrote laws to accommodate other men; they established cultural precedences in how victims were treated; they determined the methods to stop rape. It wasn’t until the 1970s that women’s voices even entered the conversation on rape. The focus turned from preventing or deterring rape by educating women on how to avoid it, to stopping it altogether by attacking the systems which foster its occurrence. Yet it still remains a devastatingly prevalent part of culture, and justice in a social or legal sense remains elusive for the majority of victims. 

There is also a long history in how society has described rapists versus victims, and how culture has represented them. The misrepresentation of rapists and victims has shaped how we classify these terms, and how society treats either. False depictions of rapists versus victims has allowed rapists to get away with their assaults, and furthermore, has established a culture in which rapists do not classify what they’ve done as rape, because they do not believe they fit the imagined picture of a “rapist.” Victims do not receive justice because they are treated in accordance with how we treat the rapist. The conceived notion of a “victim” has created a system in which survivors of assault are shamed, blamed, criticized, or disbelieved. Representation plays a huge role in allowing rapists to exonerate their actions, and plays an equally large role in determining what a victim should look like. 

In no other crime in our society is the burden of proof of innocence placed on the victim. Rape cases are unlike most other crimes, because the credibility of the victim is often on trial as much as the guilt of the accused. Because of longstanding rape myths, and a history of excusing rapists, victims are forced to prove they’re innocent in the eyes of jurors. In order to exonerate rapists, the public and the legal system looks to prove there’s something wrong with the victim. Once she is made “unideal” in terms of defending herself, it becomes easier to shift the focus, blame and scrutinization to the victim. Rape trials are often described as “a second raping” by survivors, that’s how brutal they are for the victims. 

Contemporary society continues to silence and confine women in its treatment of victims of sexual assault. Even when survivors of sexual assault are allowed to tell their stories, they are typically constrained by the necessity of telling about a rapist’s projected experience or rationale, and still cannot tell their own story. Too often we allow the rapist and society as a whole to define the narrative. The survivor is oftentimes the last voice to be heard. I refuse. 

This is my story to tell, not his. I will not let him define me. I am reclaiming the narrative around rape. 

I will likely never have justice. But that does not mean I will be silent. This film is my testimony.

Watch it at: thisisnotforyou.info