Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Challenging Rape Culture: Why Everyone Should Care!

Firstly I shall admit I am a committed intersectional feminist. Any readers of my blog who have read previous entries concerning my feelings on feminism, especially intersectional feminism will know I care deeply about trying to debunk stereotypes and to look at constructive ways both supporters and opponents of (generically bland without doing any extensive research form of) "feminism" can work together to make change happen, something Bernie Sanders has been trying to get Millennials to do for the benefit of Americans and beyond.

I do strongly believe we have a problem in the UK and Worldwide with a culture that openly allows most sexual assault and rape cases to go unchallenged and unpunished. Rape Crisis has reported that "approximately 85,000 women are raped in England Wales every year" (An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales, Ministry of Justice, Office for National Statistics and Home Office, January 2013). Sexual assault and rape cases that do not just involve adult women victims but male victims, child victims, LGBTQIA victims, disabled victims too. Rape Crisis says that approximately 12,000 men are raped every year in England and Wales alone (An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales). It is time that rape culture deniers understood that anyone can be a victim of sexual assault or rape and that everyone should want to adopt a proactive approach to prevent sexual assault and rape cases from happening whenever possible to do so.  We need to debunk myths, challenge stereotypes and embrace a holistic approach. Let's start by understanding rape culture as it stands.

Rape culture exists because (pretty much) globally we have internalised the belief that victims will never truly be believed by criminal justice figures and consequently will never secure an appropriate conviction that sets a precedent for others to follow. Many women in particular believe, as Molly Reddon, US Guardian writer has pointed out in her reflections on the #WhyWomenDontReport Sexual Assault and Rape hashtag that they "have normalised harassment just to make it work...and of course the harassment is so quiet that if you react forcefully, you're the one making a scene. Or misinterpreting things". This need to downplay harassment on the streets leads to a feeling that talking about sexual assault or rape crime might also lead to them being told they are "making a scene" or "misinterpreting things". You'd be mistaken to believe that transwomen such as myself only begin to receive such harassment when we have "indicated" our gender preference. LGBTQIA individuals experience a similar form of harassment, especially if we show any sense of "sexual sensuality" in public. However, even heterosexual men can become victims of sexual assault or rape, something which is conveniently forgotten by tweeters who boast of teenage boys being "lucky" if they get raped by an older woman or not giving their partners "enough sex" if they wake up finding them on their penis without consent being given. So whether you are a man or woman, queer or gender-fluid/non-binary, hetero or homosexual or expressing a different form of gender identity or sexuality you can be a victim of sexual assault or rape. It is despicable, then, that we live in a culture that consistently prefers to "slut shame" and "victim blame" than to deter and prevent sexual assaults and rape crimes being perpetrated in the first place. Even when teachers do address issues concerning consent in the classroom the lessons are often only given to girls and the emphasis is on to telling them "don't get raped" rather than telling all students "not to rape in the first place". Lack of awareness of the damage that sexual assault and rape perpetrators inflict on their victims, lack of prosecutions and lack of comprehensive, genderless, impartial Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) are reasons as to why we see a horrendous amount of tweets from Millennials that seem malicious, ill informed and non compassionate towards victims, when they first hear the story, during trials (if the case is lucky to get to court) and after a guilty or not guilty verdict against the perpetrator/accused.

Social Media Hashtagging: #WhyWomenDont Report and #ChedEvans

So many social media responses to hashtags and articles that are created to discuss sexual assault and rape experiences end up being negative in tone. I've reprinted a selection of tweets below that were sent using the #ChedEvans hashtag after it was announced on October 14th 2016 that Ched Evans had been found not guilty of rape after a retrial was ordered following new evidence which seemed to vindicate Mr Evans.

Ched Evans Case: A Selection of Tweets:
Negative:
  • "Little slag ruined the lads life I think he should now be able to rape her. " Oliver Brennan, October 14th 2016.
  • "The girl that lied about Ched Evans raping her should be put on trial, nobody should be able to ruin a life and get away with it " Harry (Simply Southend) October 14th 2016.
  • "The bird who lied & ruined Ched Evans life should be fed to an angry pack of wolfs " Ollie, October 14th 2016.
  • "The amount of compensation Ched Evans should get from all those feminists who slagged him off. " Redwood (Harry Redwood), October 14th, 2016.
  • "The Ched Evans case is a perfect example of the shit women can get away with " Sean Banville, October 14th, 2016.
  • "I dream of a day where feminism no longer needs to exist, so the ideology can't be exploited by deluded man-hating halfwits. " Adam Littler, October 15th, 2016.
Positive:
  • "The Victim did NOT accuse #ChedEvans of rape, the Police prepared the file for the #CPS; they are the ones who have the green light for trial." Eve Thomas, October 15 2016.
  • "Drunken consent" is NOT consent! A woman's sexual history shouldn't be a determining factor. Do prostitutes not get raped?" Tenancious T, October 14th 2016.
  • " The fact NOBODY came forward to suggest the claimant made a habit of having threesome should have spoken volumes. " GordonBrown, October 16th 2016.
  • "Still waiting for someone to introduce me to the woman who profited from reporting her rapist. " Katie Klabusich, October 14th 2016.
  • ""women lie about rape for money and attention." Ched Evans accuser was forced to move 5 times and go into hiding. How did she 'benefit'?" Rossalyn Warren, October 14th 2016.
I've seen no end of (male) tweeters who blame feminism particularly for an increase in rape accusations and they seem to attribute this increase to hardening societal attitudes towards "flirtatious behaviour" and their mistaken idea that women who have extensive sexual histories can never truly be victims of rape. Feminism has partly been responsible for empowering women (and men) to speak out against their abusers and attackers and feminists regularly help to fund and volunteer for charities which seek to protect, house, support and fight for victims regardless of their individual circumstances (although not always effectively for LGBTQIA and male victims). So lambasting feminists for daring to care for female victims and their rights and mental health is unhelpful. If these tweeters had a real issue with feminists dominating sexual assault and rape discourse and wanted to help male victims and survivors, they would actually bother to volunteer, fundraise for charities such as Gender Free DV who actively campaign for married men, LGBTQIA, disabled, elderly victims of domestic violence and abuse, of which sexual assault and rape are an unavoidable part. If you're going to attack feminists for caring about the welfare of victims after the outcome of a not-guilty verdict, why don't you care for victims who may share many of your own characteristics and politics who may be ignored by the system? I'd rather be guilty of caring than guilty of inaction.

I would like to remind  tweeters that we live in a culture where all accused men and women are innocent until proven in a court of law, but even if they are found not guilty of rape, it doesn't mean that the accused's conduct was beyond reproach or in some instances that they didn't commit the crime. Yes there are false accusations of rape and sexual assault being banded about usually as a result of revenge but instances are extremely rare. For many victims/survivors of sexual assault and rape, the experience has left them emotionally and physically shaken and they find it extremely difficult to recount such experiences even if they happened 20/30 years ago. It's funny to me that we now expect rape victims to be able to keep a contemporaneous record of their actions and feelings following the rape, starting from the first day onwards to be able to even have a chance of proving that sexual assault or rape took place. Ask yourselves honestly: would you be able to write down or type an account of your emotions the day after being raped by your husband for not submitting to his desire to have sex? Would you be able to explain how you felt to a family member about being penetrated in the mouth by a stranger after walking home from a club when you can't bring yourself to accept it happened let alone tell your Mum or Dad? Very few people keep diaries these days so wouldn't even think of noting down their feelings about the whimsical follies of daily life- like how many sausages I had for dinner or whether Poldark declared his life for full fat milk or full fat chocolate to Elizabeth. (By the way, good on Heida Reed for asking Mammoth Screen and scriptwriter Debbie Horsfield to get rid of the rape scene between Elizabeth and Poldark for Series 2...a brave decision but sends an important message about representation of sexual assaults and rape on screen...we don't need to portray it when it is unecessary to do so).

I believe we need to be realistic and try and place ourselves in the shoes of the victim before we start making "Holier Than Thou" value judgements or submit a flurry of curse and death tweets to a survivor who has bravely decided to come out and tell her story. You may choose to believe her or not but compassion dictates that threatening to go all Mary Tudor on her by declaring you'd happily "burn her at the stake" is not acceptable by any religious or atheistic moral standard. Naturally most tweeters think that the victim will never get to read the tweet; that when questioned they would say it was "harmless banter" and that she was a "lying bint" anyways and deserved being shamed publically online. That sort of throw-away hate comment approach needs to be addressed and better ICT coverage of social media useage issues will help address this in the future.

I read an interesting blogpost that was submitted to me by Maggie Bernet through Twitter following my republishing of a blogpost detailing my experience of coming to terms with being orally raped. In "Compassion", (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/compassion-maggie-bernet), Bernet talks of
Western culture as one that essentially treats boys/men as "babies" who need to be spoilt and told they are of higher worth than girls/women on a daily basis. Bernet believes that "the moment a mother, parent, caregiver and even the village raises a boy to respect the mother/girl, we will have less rape and sexual violence". I do agree with Bernet to a point: some men are raised to prioritise/worship patriarchal roles whilst taking matriarchal roles for granted and this can lead to a distortion concerning a "woman's worth". However there are cases where men and women have been brought up to respect both father and mother and to see both genders as being equal to one another and yet they still commit sexual assault and rape crimes. In many ways it defies logical reasoning. That makes me angry but it still doesn't mean we shouldn't try and address the question of patriarchal privilege, especially within the Criminal Justice system.

Finding Solutions:
  1. Revisit your own definition of rape and sexual assault; look at legal definitions online from authentic resources such as Citizens Advice Bureau or Women's Aid. If in doubt, remember that sex without consent will at least constitute sexual assault (e.g. if woman on woman).
  2. Remember that there are few examples of false accusations of sexual assault or rape. Just because one allegation has been proved false doesn't mean that 1000s of other allegations are false too.
  3. Put yourself in a victim's shoes: How would you feel if you had been raped but had decided not to come forward until many years later for fear of being attacked again? If you are not in the courtroom hearing the evidence from a rape trial directly from witnesses or from lawyers, is it appropriate to pass judgement on a victim without not fully knowing the circumstances? However, the "innocent until proven guilty" concept must be respected for the accused so it is better not to make unqualified claims whilst the trial is taking place.
  4. Challenge your own unconscious biases. Try not to judge victims based on their sexual identity/history. Think about prostitutes/sex workers; if one person forces themselves on a prostitute, would you automatically dismiss their testimony because of their sexual history or how they make their money? If a gay man is raped by a straight man, would you say he "led him on" or "secretly wanted it" even though there was no consent given? Remember, flirting is not consent!
  5. Actively challenge rape apologists on social media platforms but from an empathetic viewpoint. Explain why they shouldn't be using misogynistic language to refer to rape victims by making them aware that anyone can be a rape victim. Educate them rather than patronise them. Ask whether they would be angry if their family relative/friend was accused of lying about sexual assault.
  6. Debunk the myth that Feminism has helped increase rape accusations "for the sake of shaming men". Feminists do help to support rape victims by being actively involved in charity work, so they are not "cancerous" as some extreme far-right activists would have you believe. Rape accusations will increase when rape culture is being hackled head on and victims are encouraged to come forward and try and get justice for what they have had to endure. Never use "Feminism" as an excuse to close down discussion of male/transgender victim narratives, especially if their perpetrator was female; all victims deserve to have their voices heard and it is unhelpful to try and downplay one narrative to highlight another. Take an intersectional approach!
  7. Support comprehensive, impartial Sex and Relationships Education (SRE). Write to your local MP to get him/her to recommend making SRE compulsory for all secondary school students so they all understand the legal definition of consent, rape and what consequences could be faced by them if they choose to break the law. SRE should also cover LGBTQIA rape issues so that all students, regardless of gender identity or sexuality understand the need to respect each other's bodies and privacy, even if they happen to be married or in a relationship. Challenging conservative religious attitudes to marriage and sex such as the idea of "body ownership" would be helpful here.
  8. Support local and national victim charities such as Women's Aid, Gender Free DV by offering your skills, time or money. Charities do not just need trained counsellors and front-line providers to run effectively; many are crying out for Administrators, Fundraisers and  HR Assistants to help run back office functions and they would appreciate your help, even if it is only a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. You don't have to be a woman or a feminist to get involved and you could help make a real difference and demonstrate your committment to helping challenge rape culture and low conviction rates!