A world without rapists would be a world in which women moved freely without fear of men. That some men rape provides a sufficient threat to keep all women in a constant state of intimidation, forever conscious of the knowledge that the biological tool must be held in awe, for it may turn to weapon with sudden swiftness born of harmful intent … Rather than society’s aberrants or ‘spoilers of purity’, men who commit rape have served in effect as front-line masculine shock troops, terrorist guerrillas in the longest battle the world has ever known.
—Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (1975, p. 15)
Living in a rape culture means adjusting to being hyper-vigilant about male violence to the point where risk management becomes second nature. It means living with the continuum of male sexual violence on a daily basis, from creepy and threatening looks and comments in the street, home and workplace, to online rape threats, attempted assault and actual assault. It means inhabiting a paradoxical space where the rape and murder of women is prohibited but everywhere eroticised and the object of laughter.
To take just one example of rape culture, the globally popular American fantasy series Game of Thronesfeatures a blond child bride being continually raped by her warlord husband. “But it’s all ok because a prostitute slave teaches the thirteen-year-old princess super sexy sex skills, and she proceeds to blow the warlord’s mind so throughly [sic] that they fall in love,” notes feminist Laurie Penny (2012)
Many men, when asked a simple question about why male domination exists, reply that it is because men are stronger than women. This answer seems innocuously simple-minded, but the explanatory statement that ‘men have power over women because they are physically stronger than women’ also means ‘men can rape and kill women if they want to’. There is no point replying that it is illegal to rape and kill women. The law does not come into it at all. It is as though the legal prohibitions against male sexual violence are little more than the sales pitch of a corporation eager to hide its criminal intent behind images of satisfied customers.
The majority of victims do not report, and the majority of rapists walk free (Miller et al., 2011; Fayard and Rocheron, 2011; Belknap, 2010). As the title of a 2013 articleby Nigel Morris in The Independent puts it: ‘100,000 assaults. 1,000 rapists sentenced. Shockingly low conviction rates revealed. Latest statistics also show difficulties in persuading victims to report attacks’. Although media attention on particular rapes occasionally stirs up public debate, these rapes are the exception to the norm simply because victims have broken their silence and the criminal justice system has been involved. One cannot but wonder how many people know of, or are friends with, men who have sexually assaulted women and children, and yet do nothing about it.
It has only been since the 1960s and 1970s that most western women have been able to work outside the home without needing permission from their husbands/owners. It is only in the last few decades that marital rape has been recognised in some nations as a human rights violation. In Australiamarital rape was outlawed as late as 1991 (Temkin, 2002). As late as 1993 the United Nations published the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In many countries young girls are still forced to marry their rapists.
Raping women and children continues to be a lethal form of oppression in advanced neo-liberal democracies. Victims of male sexual violence continue to be branded as ‘damaged goods’ and re-abused in the criminal justice system to such an extent that the majority of victims simply give up and opt out of the legal process (Fisher et al., 2000; Fisher et al., 2003). Lawyers are often reluctant to take on rape cases because they know they are difficult to win. Child victims of male sexual violence are subjected to ritualistic humiliation in courts (Taylor, 2004). Child pornography victims are subjected to malicious attacks by bourgeois academics in high-ranking American legal journals (Lollar, 2012).
Young women, who sustain the majority of sexual assaults, not only endure court-licensed abuse, but they are now also bullied online for daring to speak out. Raped girls are urged to kill themselves by pack verbal abuse that is all too often uttered as mocking jokes (Salek, 2013). Victim-blaming has become lethal.
In a novel by feminist academic Yvette Rocheron, Double Crossings (2009), a mother decides to commit suicide after she is brutally raped by a cousin, knowing that, if she lives, the crime will destroy her family and her life. “For her loved ones, a sublime act of love … She would go down knowingly … [T]he vitriolic defacement of women, the misguided abortions, the rapes. She was a thousand years old” (p. 271). There is no humour in this novel as the mother leaps to her death, merely a solemn awareness of the barbarism of a crime against women that leaves the murderous poison of social death in her body.
I have lost count of how many women—friends, students, colleagues, relatives, and acquaintances—have told me they have been raped. All of the rapists have gotten away with it while the women are burdened with years of unspeakable shame and self-hatred, or shunned by their families for daring to speak out about male relatives who raped them. The stories involve horrendous child sexual abuse, rape at knifepoint, abductions in vans, group rapes, women being drugged and raped, rapes by colleagues, partners and ex-partners. A woman who was raped by her grandfather told me recently that it took her 30 years to understand that her body belonged to her. Another woman, a feminist activist and journalist, after going public about being raped at knifepoint, was subjected to online abuse along the lines that she should be ‘raped with a box cutter’. When I read the comment about the box cutter it took a few moments to sink in that the man who had posted the comment was saying that he wanted to butcher her vagina with a knife. Not surprisingly, many women keep quiet about being sexually assaulted. And all of this occurs in a world in which women who speak out about male sexual violence, or any form of male domination, are routinely subjected to online rape threats (Lewis, 2011). Again, the majority of threats never result in prosecution and women are often told to ‘get over it’, ‘toughen up’ or ‘lighten up’ or have sex with a man. ‘She just needs a good fuck’, is how the all too familiar saying goes … Oddly, having sex with men is meant to dispel fear of being raped, as though women who have an accurate assessment of the dangers of rape culture are hysterics who just need sex. The idea that women enjoy being raped still persists (Suarez and Gadalla, 2010); and if women are assumed to enjoy being raped then their protests about being harmed by rape can easily be reduced to a farce.
More about Abigail’s book and how to order can be found here.
US Rapper Tyler The Creator unleashes a torrent of hate on Sydney activist
By Talitha Stone
I’m a 23-year-old psychology student from Sydney and in June this year, I was subjected to a horrific torrent of abusive tweets from fans of touring American rapper Tyler Okonma. I challenged Okonma’s lyrics which encourage rape and violence against women by vocally supporting a petition on change.org that suggested he shouldn’t be playing all-age shows.
At Tyler’s concert in Sydney the next day, he told his fans he hoped my children got STDs, and “dedicated” songs to me that included lyrics like “punch a bitch in her mouth just for talkin’ shit”.
The abuse started almost instantly. First a drip, then a rush, then a flood. I felt physically sick. He had 1.7 million fans, and it felt like every single one of them had some violence stored up for me – a promise to assault me, the threat that they would rape me, an expression of hatred for my life and my freedom.
It was terrifying at first, and then I started to feel totally disconnected from myself. When one of them said he was going to mutilate my body, I couldn’t comprehend that he could be talking about me. The messages were coming at such a rate I couldn’t keep up.
Tyler Okonma, aka Tyler The Creator, is a member of powerful hip-hop collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (usually abbreviated to OFWGKTA or Odd Future). It’s unclear how many members are part of the collective (somewhere between 25 and 60), but its best-known members are Okonma, Earl Sweatshirt, Syd tha Kyd, Hodgy Beats and last year’s Grammy-winning breakout artist, R&B singer Frank Ocean.
As a solo artist, Okonma has released three albums, his horrorcore-style lyrics taking in subjects such as violence, rape fantasies, murder and even necrophilia.
His lyrics include:
“F— Mary in her ass.. ha-ha.. yo, I tell her it’s my house, give her a tour, In my basement, and keep that bitch locked up in my storage, Rape her and record it, then edit it with more shit”
“You call this shit rape but I think that rape’s fun, I just got one request, stop breathin”
“I wanna tie her body up and throw her in my basement, Keep her there, so nobody can wonder where her face went, (Tyler, what you doin’?) Shut the f— up, You gon’ f—in’ love me bitch, Shit, I don’t give a f—, your family lookin’ for you, wish ‘em good luck, Bitch, you tried to play me like a dummy, Now you stuck up in my motherf—in’ basement all bloody, And I’m f—in’ your dead body, your coochie all cummy, Lookin’ in your dead eyes, what the f— you want from me?”
I received threats from Okonma’s fans constantly for two weeks and I still get the odd tweet of abuse today. In a tone eerily similar to Okonma’s lyrics they sent messages like: “shut the f— up cuz if I see you on the streets I’m gonna snatch u in a alley and force this d— in you,” “how’s that for promoting rape? I’m f—ing DOING it! So watch ur back, but ur families will be first” and “you know you secretly want @f—tyler to forcibly penetrate your anal cavity”.
On the flipside I received an abundance of support from friends and family. People who read about my experience in The Sydney Morning Herald and other media outlets couldn’t believe that this kind of behaviour was being tolerated in Australia.
When I was attacked I did all the things you’re meant to do: I reported individual tweets to Twitter (after diligently filling out their long-winded forms) and was staggered to be told that tweets like this did not breach their guidelines: “f—ing waste of flesh worthless female. its girls like u who make guys want to #rape a helpless pussy like u”.
I blocked the people abusing me and then I reported it to the police, who said there was nothing they could do, other than work with Twitter. Their advice was to delete my account, and not provoke people – letting the abusers win.
After thousands of threats of rape, murder and experiences like mine, Twitter has recently announced that they’ll be rolling out a report abuse button on all platforms. That’s a great first step, but it’s kidding itself if it thinks this will solve the problems faced by myself and millions of other women right around the world. It’s also underestimating the consequences of creating a powerful global platform that is unsafe for women to share their opinions on.
Twitter’s rules and processes are badly broken. Other tweets, to other users, that Twitter has said are within their guidelines include: “I will rape you when I get the chance” and “Ur a f—ing faggot, go kill urself.” If you’re a woman who has used Twitter to talk about things that matter to you, chances are you’ve had a similar experience. Chances are, even if you report each and every abusive, threatening tweet, many of them will be OK’d by Twitter and the abuse will continue.
Twitter has significant power, and is playing an important role in world affairs – but it’s facing a critical moment. The people who run Twitter, like Del Harvey, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, need to realise that the platform must enable people to talk about the things that matter to them without facing a torrent of threats and abuse.
I’ve joined a global petition to get Twitter to stop rape abuse on its platform. The campaign was inspired by Caroline Criado-Perez, a British feminist who used a petition on change.org to fight to keep a woman on banknotes in Britain. Immediately after she won that campaign, she faced the horrendous backlash of violence and threats that come to so many women who raise their heads online. The momentum from her campaign for reform is now beginning to put pressure on Twitter, and I hope an international outcry will get them to act with a comprehensive zero-tolerance policy for abuse.
Public discourse shouldn’t be something anyone should have to “learn to deal with”. Twitter can, and must, play an active role in being a positive voice among the multitude of violent tweets some of its users dish out. Twitter’s actions here can have life-saving consequences – but it needs to act, swiftly and effectively.
We are now asking Twitter Australia to meet Talitha. Support this call by tweeting at @TwitterAu and asking them to #meettalitha, who started the petition at www.change.org/twitterabuse
The price you pay for activism – but it won’t stop us
[Warning: threatening, sexually violent language]
Caitlin Roper, my fellow Collective Shout activist in the West, has put together this montage of some of the abusive and threatening tweets we receive on a regular basis. We want people to know just how bad this is. We don’t believe women who speak out on issues should be threatened like this. Police have taken no action.
My friend and fellow Collective Shout activist Talitha Stone has launched this petition calling on Twitter to add a report abuse button to tweets. Please support this brave and gutsy young woman.
In June this year, I was subjected to an horrific torrent of abusive tweets from fans of rapper Tyler Okonma on twitter when I challenged his lyrics which encourage rape and violence towards women. The abuse was unbelievable. It included direct threats of rape, and at one point, twitter users tried to publish my address. Worse, I was told by police there was no way to stop it other than deleting my account: letting the abusers win.
Nothing has changed. Recently, Caroline Criado-Perez, who campaigned to keep women on banknotes in the United Kingdom, has been targeted repeatedly, with rape threats over three days because of her campaign. We have to be able to change this – and urgently.
Women should be able to speak out without facing threats of rape and assault.
I’m asking for your help to get Twitter to urgently add a Report Abuse Button to tweets on all platforms. It won’t fix everything – but it’s a good start. We know they’re listening – but they need to move quickly – this is out of control.
At Tyler’s concert, he told his fans he hoped my children got STDs, and “dedicated” songs to me that included lyrics like “punch a bitch in her mouth just for talkin’ shit” – the people who responded to his call to arms are still free to do to everyone else on twitter what they did to me.
It’s time Twitter took a zero tolerance policy on abuse, and learns to tell the difference between abuse and defence. Women standing up to abuse should not fear having their accounts cancelled because Twitter fail to see the issue at hand. This behaviour would have people banned from other public spaces – it’s barely acknowledged as being wrong on twitter.
Please sign my petition to ask Twitter to urgently add a Report Abuse Button to tweets on all platforms.
Statement from twitter:
We hear you
Monday, July 29, 2013
At Twitter, we work every day to create products that can reach every person on the planet. To do that, we must take a wide range of use cases into consideration when designing interfaces or developing user tools. We want Twitter to work whether you are trying to follow your favourite musician, talk to others about shared interests, or raise the visibility of a human rights issue.
We also have to think about scale and volume. We see an incredible amount of activity passing through our systems – there are more than 400 million Tweets sent every day worldwide. Those Tweets not only appear on our site and in our apps, but are also embedded into the fabric of traditional and digital media.
The vast majority of these use cases are positive. That said, we are not blind to the reality that there will always be people using Twitter in ways that are abusive and may harm others.
While manually reviewing every Tweet is not possible due to Twitter’s global reach and level of activity, we use both automated and manual systems to evaluate reports of users potentially violating our Twitter Rules. These rules explicitly bar direct, specific threats of violence against others and use of our service for unlawful purposes, for which users may be suspended when reported.
To the extent that our system is based around the filing of reports with our Trust & Safety team, we strive to make it easier and more practical to file them. Three weeks ago, we rolled out the ability to file reports from an individual Tweet on our iPhone app and the mobile version of our site, and we plan to bring this functionality to Android and desktop web users.
We are constantly talking with our users, advocacy groups, and government officials to see how we can improve Twitter, and will continue to do so. Such feedback has always played an important role in the development of our service. We hope the public understands the balances we’re trying to strike as we continue to work to make our systems and processes better.
‘The pornification of culture and the normalization of (increasingly violent) porn is contributing to a society where pornography, even the most brutal forms, are in many ways sanctioned, defended as well as protected’
By Hennie Weiss
Edited by Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray, Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industry is a compilation of essays by researchers, experts and activists concerning the harms of pornography. All and all there are 40 written pieces divided into five categories; pornography cultures, pornography industries, harming children, pornography and the state and resisting big porn inc.
Overall, the notion is that pornography has found its way into everyday cultures all over the world. The pornification of culture and the normalization of (increasingly violent) porn is contributing to a society where pornography, even the most brutal forms, are in many ways sanctioned, defended as well as protected through legislation. For example, in the United States the notion of freedom of speech (also called freedom of expression) helps protect the production, distribution and purchasing of porn. The stronghold that porn has tends to be contributed to the enormous profitability and influence of the porn industry. As noted in the book, it is difficult to resist and battle the porn industry as a whole, even though small grassroot movements opposing pornography have made significant gains over the last few years. Yet, more knowledge about the industry, the way it harms women and children (as well as men), and the lasting effects of the pornification of sexuality and culture are important (many articles discusses how porn is the same as prostitution).
Even though the many different contributions tend to deal with various aspects of pornography (within the five categories), there are some statements that are generally agreed upon and reiterated throughout the book. In one way or another all contributions contest the notion (most often used by those in the porn industry and those who are pro-porn) that porn does not cause harm and is a form of fantasy. When discussing prostitution, strip clubs, PTSD, sexual and physical assaults, rape, intrafamilial rape, the sexual objectification of women and the spread of child pornography, it should prove to be difficult for anyone to look at porn like mere fantasy, especially since real women and men are involved in the making of pornography. What the different categories of Big Porn Inc brings to light is the fact that the porn industry is not glamorous, as high-paying as many believe, and that women are sexually objectified, dominated, demeaned and degraded. Pornography has also become increasingly violent, and most scenes or movies include physical violence, rape, or the threat of violence. The notion that women are sex objects who like to be degraded and thrive on physical violence is based on a patriarchal backlash to women’s overall gains towards equality.
Besides stating that pornography is mere fantasy, proponents of pornography also often refer to a lack of evidence, or link between pornography use and overall behavior. But the book has that too. Pornography does not only lead to an increase in acceptance of rape culture, but people who watch pornography are less likely to view sex as an intimate act and more likely to engage in gendered violence. Diana E.H Russel writes in the article “Russel’s Theory: Exposure to Child Pornography as a Cause of Child Sexual Victimization”, that watching child pornography can help cultivate sexual interests in children in several ways. It predisposes men to objectify children, it intensifies already existing desires, undermines social inhibitions and internal inhibitions as well as undermines children’s abilities to avoid, resist, or escape sexual victimization.
It is important to note that many of the contributions include explicit language, profanities and words that describe various ways in which women are demeaned, humiliated and abused when discussing different aspects of pornography. Many contributions also discuss notions of rape, group rape, incest or intrafamilial rape, sexual assault, violence and even the killing of animals. Therefore, readers should note that the material might be triggering to some. Even though the language is often explicit in nature, it is easy to understand the links between harm, prostitution, the degradation of women, patriarchy, power and sexual assault made by the contributors. The personal accounts of Stella and Amy (Stella was a stripper and Amy the victim of intrafamilial rape) contribute to a greater understanding and awareness of the harm of pornography and how women are mentally, physically and emotionally impacted by porn culture.
The intended audience could be anyone, both women and men, who are interested in the consequences and harms of the global pornography industry. With its sharp analysis and research, the book can also contribute to changing, or challenging legislature in terms of discussing the harms of pornography, especially when using the findings that makes connections between watching pornography and overall behavior. The book can also be used in the classroom (even though it might be more suitable for students that are a little older) in gender studies, men and masculinity studies, women’s studies and sociology.
What the book does so well is to capture, discuss, analyze and provide evidence for the many ways that pornography is harmful to women and children. We know that pornography is based on profit, capitalism and a patriarchal worldview and is therefore complicated to combat, but when reading the book it becomes difficult to understand why pornography is legal in the first place.
And another sexual assault survivor who isn’t laughing
Late yesterday afternoon Brian McFadden sent these tweets:
So, it seems he’s upset his song is “getting attention for the wrong reasons”. Lyrics about doing damage to an inebriated women were just meant as a bit of fun. And anyway that woman was his fiance Delta Goodrem, so it doesn’t matter anyway. And even though he doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong, he’ll give all the profits to a charity that works with rape victims.
The analogy comes to mind of a man who makes light of robbing and beating a blind person then so kindly sends money to a charity for the blind.
McFadden says it’s not a PR stunt but it’s hard to see it as anything else. And look at how the controversy is portrayed on his website – which, by the way, is accessed by clicking on a full screen image of the McFadden police mug shot cover of the new single.
Looks to me like McFadden and his record company are cashing in on the controversy with wording like ”You be the judge, buy Brian’s new single here”.
And what’s with the “Controversial new video?” Will the music video clip be a visual illustration of the lyrics? Is McFadden going to show us what ‘take advantage’ and ‘do some damage’ really means?
Given that Universal - the target of our petition against Kanye West’s Monster which has just cracked 15,000 signatures - is McFadden’s label as well, perhaps we need to brace ourselves for something truly horrible.
If McFadden is really concerned his song is being interpreted as promoting date rape, why say he doesn’t want it played on radio? What’s so special about radio? If it is causing this much angst – and triggering sexual assault survivors – why not just withdraw the whole thing? And can the video?
It’s difficult to see McFadden’s gesture as sincere when he blames all those who have criticised Just as you are (Drunk at the Bar) (including me here and here) . It’s our fault, see, because we don’t have a sense of humour. And he doesn’t want to give “haters” the pleasure of backing down. But it is his lyrics that are hateful. He just doesn’t see that. He won’t back down, even when more sexual assault survivors are speaking out about what this song is doing to them.
I’m a survivor of sexual assault and I’m not laughing: your song diminishes the trauma of my experience and belittles my feelings
Nicole obviously doesn’t have a sense of humour either. Following ‘anon’ on my blog Tuesday, Nicole is another woman who has come forward to describe the impact of this song on her, posting this comment:
This brings up so much for me. I don’t really know where to begin. It was such a long time ago, but it still hurts and humiliates me, some 20 years later.
I was about 16. I went to a party hoping to see a boy that I really liked. I got way too drunk and my friends tucked me into a bed at the house to recover. The boy I really liked then came into the room and tried his luck, but seemed to realise nothing was going to happen. Maybe 10 minutes later, his friend came in and he too tried his luck, however he was more determined. I have no doubt that if my friends hadn’t come back to check on me when they did, he would have raped me. He already had my clothes undone and had his hand inside me.
Later that night, after I had sobered up, we went to another friends house and I told my friends what had happened. They confronted the guy involved and he outright denied it. I never reported it and I never spoke of it again to anybody. The guy on the other hand ran around telling everybody that I was a liar and a bitch and that I was just pissed off because he wouldn’t have sex with me. I was humiliated.
So, Brian McFadden, do you think this is something to poke fun at? Does my story deserve it’ own catchy tune and rounds of laughter and applause because you were so clever to come up with something witty that ultimately diminishes the trauma of my experience and belittles my feelings about it?
I’m really ever so glad that we live in a society where cretins like you can influence a whole new generation of young boys and men to sexually assault women and girls and then have a big old laugh about it later on… not to mention make yourself rich at our expense. (That was sarcasm, in case you hadn’t quite picked up on it, and yes, I’m more than a little angry over your stupid song)
Maybe, Brian, you should consider that you have little girls growing up. I hope to God that they are never sexually assaulted by boys who have listened to your song and think it’s hilarious to ‘take advantage’ of your daughters while drunk, so they can ‘do some damage’ to them.
Where does Delta stand?
Delta Goodrem is one of a number of celebrity spokeswomen supporting Avon Voices, which raises money to address violence against women. She is also Brian McFadden’s fiancé. Shame she didn’t have a word to him before he released the new song. Or are violent lyrics – and the violence of a rape enabling culture – just so passé now,they weren’t noticed? Remember, this isn’t McFadden on his own. There’s an entire production chain involved in getting a single like this out. Did no one think to say ‘maybe this isn’t such a great idea’?
Help answer McFadden’s request
McFadden wants recommendations for charities working to help rape survivors. You can tweet him at @BrianMcFadden with your suggestions or contact him throug his website or feel free to post your suggestions here and I’ll make sure he gets them. Then let’s see him if he means it. But you know, there are some charities which may not want to accept his tainted money.
And even if he sends truckloads of money, he is not absolved. Nice of him to help out a charity and all, but what we really need is a genuine show of sorrow and regret. For that we are still waiting.
An anonymous woman bravely posted the comment below on Collective Shout’s site . If anything should shame Brian McFadden – and all involved in the song’s production and distribution, including Universal Music – for creating a single making light of sexual exploitation – it is what she has written. Brian McFadden says his song is ‘tongue-in-cheek’. Tell that to women like this and all those other women and girls preyed upon and sexually violated.
This song leaves a particularly bad taste in my mouth as I was actually done some damage to after being taking advantage of. A drunken night which saw me going home to a “friends” house to hang out, and then being dropped off in the morning by one of his friends. Well, let’s just say I have a huge gap in my memory, and a huge hole in my heart after the incident. This hole only formed though, when I heard from a friend that the “friends” friend had sex with me that night. Charming. It’s taken me a few years to come to terms with what happened and the resulting anxiety and shameful feelings have been horrible. I haven’t told anyone about the fact that I don’t remember anything and I WOULD NEVER have consented to having sexual intercourse with the person if I was coherent enough to say no. I can’t speak up about it though because I doubt anyone will believe me, and as everyone will think, I brought it on myself, getting that drunk.
You did not give consent. You are not to blame
I asked Nina Funnell, anti sexual violence campaigner and herself a survivor of sexual assault, how she would respond. This is her answer – to Anon and to all women like her.
I would like to start by commending you on your bravery in being able to articulate your experience of sexual abuse so openly and eloquently. I am saddened however, to say that while your experience is yours and yours alone-and no one has the right to claim they know how you feel- many other women will find echoes of their own experiences in your words.
Your response to what has happened to you is very normal. It often takes victims years to come to terms with what they have experienced. Some never do. The resulting shame and anxiety you feel is also completely normal for someone who has experienced what you have, however I must stress that while feelings of shame and self blame are very typical following an assault (as they are a function of PTSD) you are in no way to blame and the shame rests with him and him alone: getting drunk is not a crime. Sexually assaulting a drunk person is not only criminal, it is a low, vile, predatory act that has to do with a power, dominance and a desire to exert control over another person.
So often we hear the myths that “drunk girls are asking for trouble” and that “men can’t control their lust”. Firstly, no person has ever “asked” to be sexually assaulted. This is a myth which is used to excuse the actions of perpetrators by shifting the blame onto victims.
Secondly, sexual assault is not a function of uncontrollable lust. This myth is not only inaccurate but it is also insulting to men as it casts them as slaves to base, animal emotions. If I were a man I would be eager to knock this myth on its head. If it were true that sexual assault is a result of sexual lust then men would be raping attractive women in the cereal aisle at Coles. We’d also have to ban men from the beach during summer.
The truth is that research shows that men who sexually assault women do so in a calculated fashion based on three primary factors.
1) Access to the victims: perpetrators select or groom potential victims whom they have direct access to. It is a deliberate and thought through process.
2) Perceptions of the victim’s vulnerability: perpetrators choose victims they perceive as being more vulnerable than others. But it is important to note that vulnerability can take many forms. Women who are unconscious or heavily intoxicated may be more vulnerable than other women. Perpetrators must always be held 100% accountable for their actions and it is nonsense to suggest that the more drunk a woman is, the less responsibility a man has to take for his own behaviour. Disturbingly, perpetrators also identify and prey on other types of vulnerabilities. For example, blind, deaf, physically and intellectually disabled women are sexually assaulted at a much higher rate than the rest of the population. This is because they are perceived by some as being more vulnerable and less likely to report to police- particularly if they have trouble with communication skills or if they are dependent on their abuser (such as if their abuser is a carer). Perpetrators also target other populations which are perceived as being more vulnerable either physically (such as children or incapacitated women), socially (such as individuals who have no strong friendship or social networks who might encourage them to report), women who are dependent on the abuser in some way (such as in cases where the abuser is in a position of power such as an adult relative or boss) or perpetrators who know that their victims are unlikely to be able to access support and judicial services for a range of other reasons (such as sex workers who are often not believed, victims in same-sex relationships or victims who have previously had consensual sex with the abuser- such as wives and girlfriends).
3) The likelihood of them being caught and reported on: Perpetrators also weigh up the likelihood of being interrupted by a witness or witnesses and they make a series of calculated decisions based on location and risk. In particular perpetrators often manipulate victims into a location where they have more control over the situation. This is all done to avoid detection and to maintain power over the situation and the victim.
The point of this is to stress that rape doesn’t happen by accident. Research shows that perpetrators know what they are doing and they make a series of detailed decisions around their behaviour. So it is ludicrous to suggest that men can’t help it. The overwhelming majority of men never rape. Those who do, do so deliberately and must be held to full account.
The next thing to say is that silence is not consent. “I’m not sure” is not consent. “Maybe later” is not consent. “Yes” tonight is not “yes” tomorrow night. Consent must be active and given freely and without any force, pressure or coercion by someone who has the capacity to consent each and every time. You clearly did not give consent. You are not to blame AT ALL and full responsibility lies with him and him ALONE.
I also note that you feel concerned that you would be either blamed or not believed if you spoke out. I wish I could tell you, “no! you are wrong!” but your concern is not irrational or unjustified. Unfortunately we still live in a society where victim blaming mentalities exist. Approximately 85% of victims will never report to police because they do not trust the justice system. And with the odd exception, this is justified. Less than 1% of sexual assault cases in NSW are successfully prosecuted.
Victims do often disclose to a family member or trusted friend. But unfortunately even those who love us are often schooled in the same victim-blaming mentalities as the rest of society and they usually blame the victim, interrogate them as though they don’t believe them, or minimize the experience by saying things like “maybe you are exaggerating” or “maybe you just misinterpreted things”. BUT THERE IS HOPE!
So we are clear about this, a person’s capacity to recover (and recovery is possible!) is directly dependent on a number of factors (including the relationship they hold with the abuser, the length of time between the assault or assaults and the decision to speak out, the nature of counselling (if any) they receive on disclosure, prior mental illness or drug and alcohol dependence …. Etc etc). But without question, the number one thing that determines a person’s ability to recover is the types of attitudes they encounter on disclosure. Victims who are believed, supported, not judged, and treated with the dignity, compassion and respect they deserve are far more likely to recover than those who are blamed, humiliated or not believed.
As a community it is vital that we support survivors and their supporters. There are three things I always tell survivors who disclose to me.
1) I am sorry this has happened to you (translation: “I believe you”).
2) What has happened to you is a crime (translation: “you are not to blame”)
3) I will do whatever I can to help (translation: “you are not alone”).
These were things I wished someone had said to me when I was sexually assaulted almost four years ago. While we cannot all be counsellors it is my hope that we can better educate the public so that those of us who fall into the role of an accidental counsellor (this is someone who is not a trained counsellor but who finds themselves- unexpectedly- on the end of a disclosure) can better respond to survivors with empathy, compassion and a desire to protect their best interest.
I also want to stress that while it is wise and prudent to think through who you can disclose to (as some people just don’t get it), there are expert counselling services out there (which are also free!) for individuals who have experienced sexual assault and for those who support them. I can firmly recommend the following.
NSW Rape Crisis Centre offers a 24/7 hotline run by trained experts for survivors and anyone supporting a survivor. Their number is 1800 424 017. They also have a live 24/7 real time internet counsellor, because sometimes it’s often less confronting to type rather than to have to speak out loud. The link to that service can be found on their website here.
A nationwide service can also be reached on 1800 RESPECT. This line is run by trained experts for victims of sexual assault or domestic violence- as well as their supporters.
Most of all I wish for you to know that you are not alone and that there is a community of us out there who really do care about you and who are appalled by what you have experienced. Please, PLEASE know that what you have experienced is not just an abuse. It is a HUMAN RIGHTS abuse and that there are many- like me- who care. Reading your words moved me to write this post. I hope it has some impact- no matter how small.
I was just about to post this blog when I got news through twitter that the on-line seller of vintage and handmade products Esty had changed its policy and was prohibiting items and listings that disparage or promote hate. However, as the rape cards and other offensive cards remain on its site at the time of writing, and as it appears sellers are being asked to voluntarily withdraw, I am publishing the blog as is in the hope it might contribute to speedy removal. Also, it could easily be argued that the cards already violated Etsy’s Terms of Selling. And regardless, we still need to confront the reality of a rape-trivialising culture, of which this card is just one manifestation.
I’m barely keeping up with the litany of women-punishing products, music, images and messages flooding the world at the moment. It’s overwhelming.
Take this for example.
On-line seller Etsy is advertising a greeting card for women who have been raped. It contains a drawing of a naked woman cowering in the shower with the wording “Congratulations: You got bad touched!” This card and other çards ‘for awkward situations’ are created by Jason Jones whose selling name is “YouStupidBitch”.
Change.org has a petition calling on Etsy to remove this card along with others including one mocking mothers of children with Down syndrome, another congratulating women with breast cancer.
As of this afternoon, there were 16,521 signatures.
Trivialising sexual assault
For the past couple of weeks I have been tweeting Change.org’s petition, encouraging people to sign. (Thanks to all who did).
One woman on twitter criticised me doing so. She said that while the cards were “in poor taste”, she would never “dictate what other find amusing”.
Dictate what others find amusing…I didn’t say this in response, but I’ve been thinking about how anti-semites find images of Jewish people with exaggerated noses amusing. Or how white supremacists may find images of blacks being lynched, entertaining.
Why isn’t mocking women who have been sexually assaulted seen as universally and unequivocally offensive? Why are crimes against women seen as fodder for amusement?
What has happened in our culture that such a sadistic and cruel card could even be created, let alone sold, profited from, justified and defended by others?
Products like this feed into a culture which trivialises rape, makes fun of or blames sexual assault survivors. A culture which tells them to get over it or even that they should be grateful anyone would want to rape them (a comment I’ve heard). A culture which comes up with t.shirts with slogans like “It’s not rape it’s surprise sex” or “It’s not rape if you yell surprise!”
“When a person is sexually assaulted their faith in humanity is fractured. To see other people mock rape and its victims only exacerbates the sense of dislocation” – a survivor
It’s the survivors of rape who we should be listening to in all this. How does a rape greeting card make them feel?
A young sexual assault survivor shared her thoughts with me:
As a survivor, when I hear of rape-positive attitudes it is a reminder that I live in a world where rape is condoned or even promoted. It is a reminder that I am not simply up against one man who tried to rape and kill me, rather I am up against a culture of abuse. It is a reminder that my experience of sexual assault, while highly personal and individual, also has a historical and cultural dimension that reaches back for centuries, and which bleeds into all cultures and communities around the world. That knowledge is hard to deal with as it makes my experience seem irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. It also makes me feel insignificant and it makes future rape of other women including sisters, daughters and friends seem inevitable. In effect the knowledge that rape is still condoned by some makes me feel even more powerless as my own experience is made a mockery of.
One thing I always say is that if these people knew what it was that they were joking about, then they wouldn’t joke about it. I envy anyone who is able to joke about rape as it is a clear indication that they have absolutely no experience of what it is that they are joking about: if they did they would never joke about it. People should not use big words that they don’t understand because they end up looking like idiots. Well, rape is a big word. People who don’t understand it’s meaning- not definition- but meaning, shouldn’t use it, much less joke about it.
As I say, even if I never see or receive such a card, the very knowledge that it exists makes me feel alone and unsupported by the broader community. When a person is sexually assaulted their faith in humanity is fractured. To see other people mock rape and its victims only exacerbates the sense of dislocation from the rest of society and this compounds feelings of isolation and distress.
Demonstrate your solidarity for women like this. Stand up against all rape trivialising jokes, products and messages.
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