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To The New Police Commissioners

Every now and then there is a shit-storm in my corner of Twitter with police campaigns such as this or this which apparently “attempt to show potential victims how to avoid becoming vulnerable”. And what’s wrong with that? Is the fairly regular response that us Feminists are confronted with. Why wouldn’t we want women to be reminded of the risks to their safety and how best to protect themselves? If a woman gets so drunk she is the victim of a crime then she ought to be told not to get so drunk… No, wait… That already sounds wrong doesn’t it? 

Because those campaigns, and all others like them, are products of Rape Culture. (If you aren’t sure what Rape Culture is, go here and read LifeLoveLauren’s brilliant post which explains it all.)

Rape Culture says that women should avoid being raped, not that men shouldn’t rape (I know that men get raped too, that’s also woefully under-reported/supported but these campaigns are aimed at women and that’s what I’m discussing). The implication of these campaigns is that somehow women can avoid being raped. These campaigns only serve to reinforce the message that rape victims could have done something differently and therefore prevented their rape. 

The media buys into Rape Culture in a big way, making false rape claims front page news, despite the fact that there are only a tiny number of false claims made. I typed “jail false rape claim” into Yahoo and got 244,000 results. When I changed to search to “jail false theft claim” the first story was “Surrey Woman jailed for false rape claim” – I am not making that up, go to Yahoo and try it. Even in a piece about a horrific attack in which a man posed as a “good Samaritan” to help his victim home, Rape Culture means that the journalist has to repeatedly point out that the woman was drunk and precisely how drunk she was. She might have lied, she was probably drunk, she should have known better… All of this wrongly focuses attention on the victim instead of the behaviour of the perpetrator. This should not happen in a society where the law is clear that sex without consent is rape. 

If you go through my list of all the things that will stop you being harassed, the same is essentially true of being raped. There is no way a woman can protect herself from being raped because it can just as easily be the caring friend who walks you home as it is the stranger who picks you up in a bar. More than 80% of rapes are carried out by someone the survivor knows; and yet we don’t see advertising campaigns encouraging women to go out and talk to as many strangers as possible. Because it is easier, more palatable for society, to buy into the myth that women get raped by scary men in ski-masks who stalk their prey down dark alleyways. 

All that I have said above is true and is the argument that we (the Feminist Borg) regularly roll out when challenged about why we object to campaigns which aim to protect women. But there is a major point that I think we have all missed while arguing round in circles about victim blaming and “grey areas”; women are already scared of being raped. In an (admittedly unscientific) survey of female acquaintances, I didn’t find one who hadn’t at some point been scared of being raped; regardless of whether or not she was a survivor. 

When a women talks about how she felt when a man on a bike followed her (@weekwoman) she is talking about how scared she was of being raped; not how scared she was of having her Blackberry stolen. If I get off a bus late at night and a man is walking behind me, I’m not thinking about my handbag, I am thinking of how fast I can run to my front door to avoid being raped. 

I do not spend my journey home worrying that my flat might have been burgled, you know why? Because it’s fundamentally not the same thing. I have been burgled and I have been sexually assaulted. One of these crimes was reported to the police, one wasn’t. After one of these crimes the friends/family who knew rallied round and supported me, after the other, the friends who knew were disappointed that I hadn’t gone further, they certainly didn’t register that a crime had been perpetrated. One of these crimes has left me feeling guilty, ashamed and violated for more than 20 years, it can come at me from nowhere and reduce me to a tearful wreck; a part of me still believes it was my fault. The other meant I had to replace some CD’s. 

Talking to the women in my life I have heard stories of dates going wrong, the horrors of the night bus, incidents in car parks, visiting friends, walking in parks and many more; all of which are linked by the woman’s fear that she is in a position where she could be raped. This is something that women genuinely fear and I’m not sure that men fully understand this; I have recently had this conversation with a male friend and I think he was genuinely shocked to hear it. So let me repeat it… 

Women fear rape, all the time. It preys on our minds in a way that it really shouldn’t.

Spending millions of pounds on campaigns that remind women of the dangers of rape are a waste of resource. We’re already scared, we’re already far too aware of the dangers and it’s not stopping ¼ of women being the victims of sexual violence. 

You know who isn’t scared about rape? Rapists. 

You know who should be more scared about rape? Rapists.

You know why they aren’t? 

Because 97% of rapists will never see prison
Because people talk about “grey areas” and not the importance of enthusiastic consent
Because a drunk women is seen as being somehow culpable
Because if a woman doesn’t fight back it doesn’t count

There have been campaigns recently that focus on the behaviour of the potential rapist and challenge the way that men think about sex and consent. That’s the message that we (the Feminist Borg) want to be pushed more, that’s where I believe resources ought to be focused. Telling men about the importance of enthusiastic and informed consent and challenging their behaviour is the only thing that will reduce the number of rapes and also give the victims more strength to come forward.

So today, I ask all of the newly appointed Police Commissioners, to use their powers for good. Stand up for the 25% of women who will be the victims of sexual violence in their lifetime and turn the spotlight on the perpetrators. Sign off budgets for campaigns aimed at rapists, sign off budgets for specialist units who are properly trained to support rape victims and put pressure on the CPS to take rape seriously and apply zero tolerance policies to sexual violence. Apply the concept of #Ibelieveher and change this dangerous, all pervasive culture that harms us all.

Boogie Nights

Am giving this post a trigger warning for sexual assault, because in writing this I have triggered myself. To be honest, while I intellectually understood what a ‘trigger’ was, I’m not sure I fully got the emotional impact until I started writing this blog and a memory that had been buried very very deep came hurtling back to the surface. So now I’m going to include that memory because I think writing about it is going to help and will certainly illustrate my point.

Please, don’t read on if there is a chance it’s going to hurt rather than help you.

So, I wanted to cover nightclubs again because you know, they are super sexy, fun places where super sexy people dance to Rihanna and Beyonce before heading back to super sexy hotels for super sexy sex. Well, we all know that’s not really the case, mostly they are full of super drunk people dancing to Rihanna and Beyonce before heading back to Premier Inn’s for hopefully consensual disappointing sex. Or just heading home for a kebab and a stare into the abyss. Both of which can be equally fulfilling in their own ways.

I’ve been hitting the dance floors of clubs with terrible names (Porkies, Top of the Town, Pier Pressure) since I was about 14 and of course with the dancing comes the boys. Because nightclubs are where people go to pull, everyone knows that and I’m not going to pretend that I don’t ever have that motive in mind when I go out. I have first hand evidence that more than hooking up takes place; one of my favourite couples in the world met at Strawberry Moon, as unlikely as that sounds to anyone who has ever visited Strawberry Moon. Dancing, drinking and courting have gone together since well before any of us created our own routine to Relight my Fire. But one of the disadvantages of learning about Feminism is that it also makes you realise that along with perfecting my moves, I have also survived a whole series of sexual assaults for more than 2 decades; some more serious than others.

Just to be sure I wasn’t getting carried away and hysterical, you know, like girls do, I got some help via Twitter and checked out the legal definition of sexual assault.  This is what I found from Rights of Women (http://www.rightsofwomen.org.uk/pdfs/sexual_assault.pdf):

“Definition of Sexual Assault

Sexual assault can be committed by both men and women against either a man or a woman.

An offender is guilty of this offence if:

  • The offender intentionally touches the victim AND
  • The touching is sexual AND
  • The victim does not consent to the touching AND
  • The offender does not reasonably believe that the victim consents.

Sexual assault is a non-consensual offence. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) must prove that the victim did not consent and the offender did not reasonably believe that she did.”

In order to determine if the touching is sexual, “The magistrate or jury have to decide whether a reasonable person would consider either that the particular act is, by its nature, sexual; or whether it could be sexual, AND either because of the particular circumstances and / or the offender’s intention, it is sexual.”.

Put yourself in the seat of that ‘reasonable person’ (I know it’s hard, but give it your best shot) and have a think about what you would consider sexual; the obvious ones clearly, but then some grey areas, would you include thighs? Then add a sexual intention and it could cover pretty much any part of the body as you only need the briefest glimpse at the internet to know that the world of the fetishist is broad and occasionally surprising. If a foot fetishist grabs your foot is that sexual assault or just assault? I suspect a vague definition is the best way to leave something so nebulous and personal.

So here’s quite a common occurrence in a club; you’re having a dance and a man grabs your ass, you give him your Paddington Bear patented hard stare, he grabs your ass again, you move away, he follows and grabs your ass a third time, you tell him to ‘fuck off’ and he grabs your ass a fourth time. Well, it turns out, that’s sexual assault. Perhaps I should have known that, but honestly it hadn’t really struck me until quite recently. I think that has happened to me pretty much every time I have ever gone to a nightclub, a conservative estimate would put that at around 250 sexual assaults (just the ass grabbing kind) in my lifetime so far. (BTW I know women are guilty of this too, but I can only speak to my own experience which is predominantly male on female assault. Not ignoring male on male, female on male or female on female. Please take it as red that I don’t agree with that either.)

I’m okay with calling those “minor” assaults, but have you ever thought about what else is going on? Well here’s the memory that this blog has triggered…

When I was about 14 my friends and I used to sneak in to a club on a Saturday night pretending we were over 18 via the medium of piles of makeup and big hair (those who know me will know that I haven’t change so much). One of my friends got “friendly” with a man who worked at the club and this helped us to get in without any questions. Well one night it was decided that her “friendship” wasn’t enough and therefore I was enlisted to entertain his friend. Honestly I don’t remember any of the build up, I have no idea how it all happened, they had given us drinks and we’d been drinking before we left for the club.

I remember being locked in a toilet cubicle with a man much older, taller, bigger and stronger than me who had blocked my escape. I have tried to write about it in detail, but I just can’t. Suffice it to say, what happened to me was physically painful, humiliating and terrifying. I was breached in a way that no one should be. I knew that saying no wouldn’t make any difference, I was a virgin and I thought I was going to be raped actually I don’t even think I would have called it rape; I thought it was what was expected of me. At some point thankfully he stopped, I think he realised I was not into it and left me crying in the toilet; I think he took my underwear. My friends were all angry with me because I didn’t have sex with him and they thought we would struggle to get into the club as a result. Because the world is a fucked up place, I believed them and thought I had been stupid. We kept going to that club for months, maybe even years, after that. I saw him pretty much every time…

(Here’s my caveat before moving on… I’m a survivor, that incident happened to me a long time ago reliving it has not been great, but part of me is glad I have. I’ve written all kinds of versions of what you’ve just read and each one has given me a little bit more strength. I have a voice, I have a platform and all I want is to stop that happening to anyone, ever…)

Okay moving on, that’s an extreme example although from what I have seen/read sadly not too unusual. My experience has also involved many “minor” assaults; hand up the skirt, unwanted grinding, boob grabs, a man once undid my bra on the dance floor, I’ve had my hand shoved down a man’s pants and I know I’m not unique in these experiences. Every woman I know has experienced what could easily be argued as sexual assault while out in a club. When I recently mentioned that I was writing this piece I was overwhelmed by “me too” messages.

Because it appears so prevalent, I have to believe that the people who behave in this way would never consider themselves to be perpetrators of sexual assault or any kind of assault. Isn’t it all part of the nightclub experience? It’s just what you expect on a night out right? Well, isn’t it?

Sorry, I have to stop my own rhetorical questions there; because they’re the wrong questions aren’t they. What we should all be asking is this, why is this part of the nightclub experience? Why? Why? Why?

Because we’re all supposed to shrug it off? Because it’s just a bit of fun? I mean what could be more fun than having your hand shoved down someone’s pants… I’m laughing just at the very thought ha ha ha ha.

Don’t forget that everyone who goes to a nightclub wants sex and anyone who wants sex will want sex with anyone who offers it. You wouldn’t dress that way, dance that way, laugh that way, walk that way if you weren’t after sex now would you? So really we’re asking to have our asses grabbed aren’t we?

Now, where have we heard that before?

Right, let me be clear here, I am not suggesting that nightclubs employ chaperones to make sure that no fun physical contact occurs because that would be rubbish. No, what I am suggesting is that a dangerous culture is bred in nightclubs and no one is doing anything to stop it. I have another piece on bouncers in the works to provide evidence of that, because from what I can see the people who ought to be supporting victims and shutting down perpetrators are neither trained nor have no remit to do so.

But I, for one, am tired of having my night out ruined by some idiot who doesn’t understand the meaning of “seriously, fuck off, I’m not interested” and then being yelled at and intimidated for saying it. If I wanted to bump and grind with you, I would do just that. Rubbing your cock against my ass while I’m trying to get my Shakira on is neither sexy nor respectful. Grabbing me sexually, when you know I don’t want you to, really ought to lead to you being at the very least removed from the club.

It is wrong that we are expected to give up control over who can or cannot touch us intimately because we happen to be in a venue where you can both drink and dance. My ass, my thighs, my tits belong to me and if I choose to let you get your hands on them, then that’s fine. But if I don’t choose you, then back the fuck off and let me dance!

Frankie Says…

Quick edit to add a Trigger Warning to the comments section – the comments are amazing and I will continue to publish them, however please read with caution.

So, here I am again, strapping on my Feminist Armour™ and heading into battle. I may regret this, but this time I’m going to talk specifically to and about Frankie Boyle.

In case you missed it, and I know Twitter fell over earlier so you might have done, Frankie (probably bored and a bit starved of attention) posted this hilarious joke:

“I raped you and I took the rohypnol myself to forget about it” ttps://twitter.com/frankieboyle/status/228505773385326593

There are much better people than me who will dissect the rights, wrongs and horrifically wrong wrongs of rape jokes. People who have an expertise in comedy can put a joke like that into comedy context for you.

But this is what I would really really like Frankie Boyle to think about:

FB currently has 810,165 followers (at time of writing)

Based on a sample of 100 followers, FB’s male to female ration is 75/25

So that’s around 202,541.25 females that received that tweet today

5% of women in the UK have been raped since the age of 16 (http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/documents/Rape%20Fact%20Sheet%201.11.07.pdf)

So, of FB’s followers that’s 10,127 women (assuming they are all in the UK and/or that most Western countries have similar stats)

Just to repeat, more than TEN THOUSAND women who follow FB are statistically likely to have survived sexual violence

That’s the equivalent of the Echo Arena in Liverpool (where FB performed in 2010) full of women who have all been raped

And to those women (and all women and men who don’t find laughing about sexual violence funny) FB tweeted his joke about how hideous you were to rape

I imagine that feels like a bit of a punch to the stomach to those TEN THOUSAND women

So that’s the lady stat’s, now for the men

Based on my sample, FB has around 607,623.75 male followers

According to Lisak and Miller (https://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2009/11/12/meet-the-predators/) (which I’m using as the more conservative estimate) 6% of men admit to being rapists or attempted rapists

So, in the FB Team, that would be about around 36,500 admitted perpetrators of sexual violence

FB is due to play the Edinburgh Playhouse on 31st July; he would need to sell out for almost 12 consecutive nights to play to all his rapist/attempted rapist fans

There are apparently lots of studies that provide evidence which seems to prove that rapists believe all men are rapists (http://slutwalkperth.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/feminists-don%e2%80%99t-think-all-men-are-rapists-rapists-do/ for discussion)

So when they hear a rape joke, chances are they are doing a little internal high-five, maybe even an external one – certainly a lot of them will have retweeted FB’s joke just to prove their point

So Frankie, here’s my questions for you…

Who do you want to support?

Who do you want to feel ashamed?

Who do you want to feel victimised?

Who do you want your words to empower, the 10,000 rape survivors or the 36,500 violators who follow you?

What Would Gregory Peck Do?

There is a scene in Roman Holiday in which Gregory Peck takes a very stoned Audrey Hepburn back to his apartment. She’s totally out of it and a princess and enjoying her first illicit taste of freedom. Gregory could make a move and she’d probably let him, because that’s how out of it she is. But you know what, he doesn’t make a move (although he does plonk her on the sofa), you know why Gregory Peck doesn’t make a move, well two reasons:

  1. He’s a total gentleman and wouldn’t do that sort of thing
  2. It would be rape

Point 1 I think we can all agree on and move on to point 2 there because that’s the important one. The fact our adorable princess is far too out of it to consent, means she hasn’t consented, which makes it would have been rape. I thought we had all agreed on that by now.

And yet, today/last night, Twitter was alight with idiots discussing Julian Assange’s alleged crimes with too many people suggesting that, if he did what he was accused of, it wouldn’t be rape/sexual assault, you know because she was asleep next to him. I suspect if we could be bothered to look into it, a substantial amount of the people who don’t feel Assange could be a rapist also don’t believe Ched Evans is a rapist (despite people who heard all the evidence thinking he is) because the victim was drunk and may or may not have agreed to sleep with his friend. See also, Mike Tyson’s victim “asking for it” because she was in his hotel room.

This, we call “victim blaming” and it’s a nasty nasty habit that this world has got into. Women are raped because someone rapes them. The blame lies squarely with the rapist; the person who should have acted differently is the rapist.  I simply do not believe that any woman puts herself in a position where she could be raped, no woman would ask for it… Never, ever.

So, in case I wasn’t clear that rapists are to blame for rape, here are a few things that aren’t to blame for rape/sexual assault:

  • Wearing a short skirt/low cut top/underwear as outerwear/high heels/hot pants
  • Being drunk
  • Being in someone’s hotel room
  • Walking home alone
  • Being high
  • Travelling on public transport
  • Sleeping
  • Being a princess high on tranquilisers and on the run from your handlers
  • Being a prostitute
  • Being married to/living with/dating a rapist

 And here are things that are to blame for rape/sexual assault:

  •  A man who rapes/sexually assaults
  • A woman who rapes/sexually assaults

If you are unsure if the person you are with is definitely consenting and is in a fit state to consent, then I would recommend not having sex with them. And if you’re still not clear, then a good rule of thumb is probably, what would Gregory Peck do?

 

Gorillas in the (red) mist

I’ve been playing with a few ideas for blog 2 over the last week but nothing was quite working; maybe the weather was making me too happy, maybe one blog had got it all out of my system, or perhaps I just hadn’t had quite the right thing to rail against. But fear not, this evening I paused at the supermarket on my way home and came face to face with (brace yourself) a man wearing a t-shirt which appeared to show a young woman being raped by a gorilla (or possibly a man in a gorilla suit)… Just play with that visual image for a minute… Got it? Now put it on a t-shirt, in broad daylight, on a normal looking man. Anyone else feeling the need to have a little yell with me out of the window?

Let’s just break that down for a second or two before we all run for the gin…

So, the first thing that happened there is that a t-shirt designer took an image of a gorilla and an image of a beautiful woman bent over with a pained look on her face and put them together. Without thinking “Too rapey for a t-shirt? We’re okay with the bestiality are we?” or if they thought it, they answered “no”.

Next a retailer saw that design and thought, “that fits a gap in our product range, we’ll buy some” and that’s what they did and then stocked them in their stores. Without thinking, “is this a little bit offensive?” or if they thought it, they answered “no”.

Then someone walked into that shop (let’s assume it was the man wearing it) and looked at the slightly rapey/definitely bestiality inspired t-shirt and thought, “haa haa haa, look at that gorilla and the pretty girl he’s fucking, that’s hilarious, I need that t-shirt” at no point did he stop and consider if it was at all inappropriate or vile or sexist or just not a nice t-shirt, or if he did think that, he answered “no”.

And then he wore it… He wore the rapey/bestiality t-shirt…

For those out there who question the concept of a rape culture and its impact on the victims of sexual violence, I point you towards the comedy rape t-shirt. I’m not going into the whole rape joke thing here, that’s for another day. My point is that if you can treat rape so casually that you put it on a t-shirt, what hope is there?

Dear T-Shirt Designer/Retailer/Man Wearing T-Shirt

Please, go and look at http://www.womenundersiegeproject.org/ see what an amazing thing they are trying to do. Women are subjected to the worst possible violence in the name of war and we’re just starting to tackle it.

Now, how do you feel about that t-shirt? Because I know how I feel and it’s furious.

Kindest regards

Sarah

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