Things that keep happening
Summer 2014, balmy nights, no uni, too much booze: Anna and Jonas meet in the Leipzig University library. They drink vodka, laugh and spend a night together. Jonas doesn’t want a relationship, neither does Anna. No obligations, no expectations.
By Friederike van Stephaudt
At a mutual friend’s birthday party held in the garden of Jonas’ shared house, Anna and Jonas see each other again. They get drunk, he holds back somewhat. Anna staggers about on a nearby kids’ playground, Jonas accompanies her – just in case. They kiss. Then Anna’s mind goes blank – until she finds herself in Jonas’ bed. He wants sex, she doesn’t. She says No, he disregards this No and then spends more than 30 minutes ignoring what she wants, her right to self-determination, her words. Jonas rapes Anna.
His word against hersThat’s how Anna tells the story to the narrator figure – who remains without name or profile – in Bettina Wilpert’s novel Nichts, was uns passiert (Nothing that happens to us). The positions, views and experiences of the characters – in addition to Anna and Jonas there are also friends, acquaintances and relatives with something to say – are described and compared in this text like fragments of an interview transcript. The narrator (of ambiguous gender) withholds any moral evaluation or judgement regarding the credibility of what is said.
Jonas maintains that Anna wanted sex with him that night too. That he even explicitly asked her and used a condom. So it’s her word against his when Anna reports Jonas to the police after weeks of depression, rage and loneliness. Jonas is surprised, shocked and helpless.
The accusations against Jonas are made public, people talk – and when they finally realise that Anna is the alleged victim, she also becomes the talk of the town. It isn’t long before words like “false statement” or “defamation of character” are flying back and forth. But a group of female activists also emerges, whose aim is to take action against sexual attacks and support the victims of these.
Through the narrator’s hard-to-define voice, the reader feels pushed into a position of judgement what with all the statements, accusations and assumptions. Nobody knows who is lying and telling the truth here. Or whether it’s actually about something completely different. The fact remains: it’s her word against his.
Contribution to the #MeToo debateMany people have read the novel as a contribution towards the #MeToo debate, as this deals with equal rights as well: equal rights for voices – regardless of whether they are male or female, or occupy a position outside these categories – and intent.
Nichts, was uns passiert is a novel that gives rise to conversations, discussions and doubt. Everything remains unclear and yet one thing does become clear: that we must always talk, argue and doubt. Accusations must be taken seriously and victims must be protected. Anna feels that she’s been abused, and that fact alone should suffice to trigger a debate. Wilpert gets one of her made-up activists to speak on this subject: only three per cent of rape accusations are false statements, only five per cent of all perpetrators are reported, and courts find in favour of the victim in less than one-fifth of cases.
Wilpert, Bettina: Nichts, was uns passiert.
Berlin: Verbrecher Verlag, 2018. 167 S.