Asking For It, by Louise O’Neill, tells the story of eighteen year old Emma O’Donovan. She is confident, popular and beautiful. One evening she goes to a party with her friends, willingly takes illegal and prescription drugs, along side a lot of alcohol, and wakes up the next day on her front porch with no recollection of what has happened. She doesn’t know how she got there or why every part of her body aches.
Two days later, she discovers a Facebook page titled “Easy Emma” with sexually explicit images of her unconscious body being sexually and physically violated by boys she’s known all her life. There are comments on the images calling her “slut” and “whore” and stating that she was “asking for it” because she had chosen to drink too much, even though she is clearly unresponsive in the pictures.
After deciding to press charges against the men who committed the crime, she is ostracised by her small Irish town; her mother and father blame her for what had happened and she becomes known as the Ballinatoom Girl. The word “rape” becomes a dirty word that tarnishes the O’Donovan household. People have an opinion on the case all over Ireland, and Emma has become what she’d always wanted: the centre of attention.
Everyone needs to pick up this book and read it. It is such a pivotal piece in understanding the rape culture that is ingrained in our society. Throughout the latter half of the book, it is clear that the word rape is something the protagonist cannot come to terms with or grasp. It feels as if it leaves a clogged texture and acidic aftertaste in her mouth. She keeps blaming herself for what happened, and the Jenga-effect it has had on her family.
The conviction rate for sexual assualt cases are incredibly low. Only 1,153 rapes are convicted out of the 16,041 rapes that are reported. Putting a case together can take up to 2 years. That’s 730 days of a victim waiting for a possibility of closure.
This was a huge reason for Emma not wanting to carry on with the court case. When she says she worries that it might happen to someone else, her own mother says,
“I’m sure it won’t. They’re good boys really. This all just got out of hand.”
If ever there was a time I wanted to backhand a fictional character, this is it.
I digress. What’s interesting is that the book makes you question your own moral standing on consent and rape. To begin with, Emma as a character is far from likeable. She’s narcissistic, and incredibly selfish. There are moments when you think “I wish someone would just put you in your place. Just knock you down a peg or two.”
Something really interesting about the story is the reinforcement of the fact that, before the incident, she was a sexually active, confident and promiscuous character who had willingly had sex with other people, and this was held against her. The night she was assaulted, she was unconscious. She was penalised because she didn’t say no. Because she couldn’t say no. It shows just how much blame is put on the victim of a sexual assault.
You wouldn’t blame a shopkeeper for a robbery, so why is this any different?
I’m fed up of finding condescending comics of what consent means. I’m sick of hearing about ‘jailbait’, or how easy a girl looks because she decides she wants to wear a tight dress or short skirt. I’m tired of listening to people suggesting that, at a time of non-consenting sex, the victim is partially to blame.
This book highlights exactly what is wrong with the law and our society when it comes to rape and the blurred lines surrounding it. The slut-shaming has to stop. The perpetrators need to be held accountable for their actions, rather than blaming women and men across the world for “putting themselves in dangerous situations” by “not drinking too much” or “walking home with a friend”.
From a young age we’re taught to be in control of our bodies, but we don’t actually own them. I don’t want this to be a piece about man hating, because there are so many good men out there. But we need to teach this generation and the next not to rape. They need to learn the sanctity of consent. We need to change the stigma so that victims of sexual assault feel valued and believed.