We Must Keep Talking About Rape

Thirty-five years ago my fifteen year old friend told me she had been raped. We were in an O level art lesson at school and she came out with the details, just like that. I have no idea what prompted her to tell us but the fact that one of her attackers was, as she spoke, sitting across from us, leering at her might have had something to do with it.

I’m going to call her Karen. This is not her name. 

Karen explained that recently Boy #1 and Boy #2 had turned up at her home. Boy #2 held her down while Boy #1 raped her. She was calm but seething as she spoke. There were no tears, no hysteria just a bitter quality to her voice. As I write this I am instantly transported back to that day.

I remember feeling shocked but nothing more. I certainly do not recall advising her to go to the police, tell her parents or siblings, nothing. We just accepted it. It had happened. It was awful. Move on. That was the 1970s for you. We never spoke about it ever again: not to her, not between ourselves and certainly not to the boys involved.

Last night I watched the first episode of The Detectives about the work of Rochdale’s serious crime unit which specialises in dealing with rape. These were officers who had been through training to deal both with the victims and the perpetrators of this vile crime. It was heartening to watch them work through their interviews, allowing the perpetrator to construct an elaborate alibi whilst gathering overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

They also dealt with historic allegations of rape and sexual assault which had come to light following the investigation into Jimmy Savile. In this instance they were dealing with DJ, record store owner, and friend of Savile, Ray Teret. I knew Teret’s name in the late 70s and early 80s. I probably listened to his shows. 

In the 1970s radio stations and record shops held a certain fascination for teenagers whose lives seemed to revolve around music: the charts, Top of the Pops and the Radio 1 seaside road shows. Another friend – I’ll call her Jane – had a family member who was a DJ at Piccadilly Radio (Teret worked there too) in Manchester. On Saturday mornings we thought nothing of catching the bus into ‘town’ and heading to the studios – a ten mile journey that took at least half an hour and which was often packed with lairy United fans on match days since the route went right past Old Trafford. Our mission was to get the autographs of our favourite DJs and Jane would try to use her family connection to get beyond reception and hang around, hoping for a glimpse. We were 13/14 years of age. The same age as the girls in the programme.

Another haunt was the Underground Market where there was a record stall – a subterranean hangout for serious music fans. Jane claimed to have seen a new band there – Adam and The Ants. So week after week we would head back to see if they put in an appearance. They never did.

When I watched Cathy giving her evidence about working in Ray Teret’s record shop as a twelve year old it made me think how close Jane and I must have come to being similarly enticed. We were in awe of people who had the slightest connection to the music industry.

After the programme finished all these memories came flooding back. I have no idea what happened to Karen. Jane and I kept in touch for a while after we left school. But Boy #1 has quite a distinctive combination of names. I put it into the search bar of Facebook and his picture came up. Top of the list. I clicked on his profile picture and there he was, smiling that same lascivious smile from thirty- five years ago. He doesn’t look fifty. In the picture he is surrounded by his family: attractive wife, two boys and a girl in her early teens. I felt sick. I showed my husband: “that’s him; that’s the rapist.” I scrolled though his timeline: badly-spelled pithy remarks, comments about United’s recent form (ugh, he’s a fan) and a comment from May 7th about how he’d vote for Nick Clegg because he has a fit wife. I felt sick again. 

I wondered whether I should do anything? Say anything? But say what? And to whom? Thirty-five years later I am just someone who heard another girl’s account. I hope that Karen prospered after leaving school. I hope that she has friends and/or a loving family. I hope that she has not had cause to dwell too often on that revolting attack. But I feel a huge amount of guilt about what happened to her and what didn’t happen to him. I hope that he never perpetrated another assault on any other woman. I hope that every time he looks at his daughter he is filled with remorse for his fifteen year old self’s actions, but somehow I doubt it. I can see that smile now and still it sickens me.

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