February 21, 2013

Rape Culture: What we can do to end it

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:28 pm by sacetalks

There has been a great deal of mention in the media around the term ‘rape culture’ lately. Whether it’s been taking a look at rape culture in other countries, our own, or simply discussing what rape culture is, this word has been all over the internet recently. That is why for this month’s blog, we decided to share this awesome article with you! We feel it is not only important to discuss rape culture and to acknowledge that it exists (as some people may argue this), but also, to take a stand against it, to call it out, and to know how you can make a difference!

We recognize that while the article is American and makes specific references to current events in the U.S., it is nonetheless still applicable, as rape culture exists in almost any and every society.
The article that follows provides 10 awesome ideas about what you can do as an individual to not perpetuate rape culture. The article is from “The Nation” and can be found in full by clicking on the following link:

http://www.thenation.com/article/172643/ten-things-end-rape-culture#

As well, check out the link below “Rape Culture 101”, for a great read on what rape culture really means:

http://www.shakesville.com/2009/10/rape-culture-101.html

The Nation’s “10 Things to End Rape Culture”

1. Name the real problems: Violent masculinity and victim-blaming. These are the cornerstones of rape culture and they go hand in hand. When an instance of sexual assault makes the news and the first questions the media asks are about the victim’s sobriety, or clothes, or sexuality, we should all be prepared to pivot to ask, instead, what messages the perpetrators received over their lifetime about rape and about “being a man.” Here’s a tip: the right question is not, “What was she doing/wearing/saying when she was raped?” The right question is, “What made him think this is acceptable?” Sexual violence is a pervasive problem that cannot be solved by analyzing an individual situation. Learn 50 key facts about domestic violence. Here’s one: the likelihood that a woman will die a violent death increases 270% once a gun is present in the home Remember, a violent act is not a tragic event done by an individual or a group of crazies. Violence functions in society as” a means of asserting and securing power.”

2. Re-examine and re-imagine masculinity: Once we name violent masculinity as a root cause of violence against women, we have to ask: Is masculinity inherently violent? How can you be a man/masculine without being violent? Understand that rape is not a normal or natural masculine urge. Join organizations working to redefine masculinity and participate in the national conversations on the topic.

3. Get enthusiastic about enthusiastic consent. Rape culture relies on our collective inclination to blame the victim and find excuses for the rapist. Enthusiastic consent — the idea that we’re all responsible to make sure that our partners are actively into whatever’s going down between us sexually — takes a lot of those excuses away. Rather than looking for a “no,” make sure there’s an active “yes.” If you adopt enthusiastic consent yourself, and then teach it to those around you, it can soon become a community value. Then, if someone is raped, the question won’t be, well, what was she doing there, or did she really say no clearly enough? It will be: what did you do to make sure she was really into it? Check out this Tumblr page on enthusiastic consent.

4. Speak up for what you really really want. Because so much victim-blaming relies on outdated ideas about women and men’s sexuality, taking the time to figure out what you actually want from sex for yourself and learning how to speak up about it can be a revolutionary act, and inspire others to follow suit. Bonus: it will almost always improve your sex life, too! Jaclyn Friedman wrote a whole book on the topic.

5. Get media literate. Media, like everything else we consume, is a product; someone imagined, created and implemented it. Ask the right questions about who creates media that profits off the objectification of women, especially women of color. Feed your mind and heart with media that portrays women as full human beings with the right to bodily autonomy. Go to FAAN Mail to learn how to “Talk Back” to media creators and browse their Facebook page for alternative artists. You’ll not only be healthier yourself, but you’ll be simultaneously calling into being a media ecosystem that will be healthier for everyone.

6. Globalize your awareness of rape culture. Yes, different societies have particularities when it comes to gender based violence, but it is counterproductive to essentialize entire nations/cultures/races. Look to global strategies—like creating momentum for the US to ratify the global Convention on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and participate in addressing the phenomenon of rape as a tool of war. Also, let’s reauthorize Violence Against Women Act before we cast aspersions on the misogyny of other cultures, shall we?

7. Know your history: For those of us who live here in the US, we must acknowledge and learn from the US’s long history of state sanctioned violence. Consider the genocide of Native and First Nations people, the ever-present legacy of slavery, the lackadaisical relationship we have with due process (i.e. Japanese internment, Guantanamo) and the gendered nature of all this. There are no quick links for this one: you’ll have to read some big books.

8. Take an intersectional approach. The numbers tell us most but not all of what we need to know. What the numbers can elide is the lived reality of women, LGBTQ people and others of us whose stories don’t make it to the headlines. Don’t forget that sex and gender are different and there are more genders than two. People who are gender-non-conforming, gender queer, trans and/or those who complicate the gender binary experience violence at disproportionate rates. Think about how a person’s income, race, sexuality, and citizenship and immigration status would impact their ability to use the criminal justice system as recourse, and come up with strategies that address those challenges. Move the most vulnerable from the margin to the center to develop effective solutions.

9. Practice real politics. You may be crystal clear about your own rejection of rape culture, but when someone you know calls a woman a slut, approach him/her from a place of empathy. Try telling them that you know they probably meant no harm, but that you’re concerned that they may be doing some anyhow. And then explain why. And be patient: very few of us change our views in an instant. It may take time and repetition for it to start to sink in.

10. Lobby your community. Rape culture thrives in passive acceptance of female degradation, victim-blaming and hyper-masculinity in our communities, both physical and digital. Report abuse on Facebook. Lobby college administrators for more safe spaces to discuss sexual assault on campus. One in five women are assaulted during their college years, yet many colleges don’t have a competent system for reporting incidences and punishing perpetrators. Go here to learn what to do about rape on your campus.

Two More Ways to Fight Rape Culture

Don’t laugh at rape. Most people aren’t rapists. But most rapists believe that everyone does it. What’s more, you can’t tell if you’re in the presence of a rapist. They don’t look any different from the rest of us, and may be perfectly good company. So while it might seem harmless to you to laugh at a joke that makes light of rape, your laughter could be telling an unknown rapist in your midst that you think rape is hilarious. And what’s worse: letting go of a laugh once in a while, or accidentally enabling a rapist? Your call.
Tell your story. Every political issue has a personal narrative that helps form connections to the issue and bolster support for present and future victims. Read Akiba Solomon’s account of the how she bridged the personal and the political in the struggle over reproductive justice. If your personal account is not ready for an audience, start by telling your story to yourself.

It is not enough to bring individual perpetrators of rape and sexual violence to justice. Since the problem lies in a culture that is entertained by degrading acts and images of women, the solution is to look at the individual acts as a symptom of rape culture and solve it holistically. We all have a part to play in allowing rape culture to exist—so, we can all do something to eradicate it.

Hala

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February 7, 2013

The Myth of False Allegations

Posted in Myths, Rape Culture, Victim Blaming at 8:28 pm by sacetalks

As a public educator at SACE, one of the most important aspects of my job is myth busting. There are countless myths out there about sexual assault. These myths are incredibly harmful because they typically blame survivors and excuse offenders, which contribute to an environment where sexual assault is not only allowed, but tacitly condoned.

The myth that I want to address today is the myth that people who ‘claim’ to have experienced a sexual assault are often lying about it, supposedly because they regret a one night stand, or wish to vengefully defame a former partner. This myth actually has a lot of different aspects and hashing out all of them would make this post cumbersomely long, so today I am going to specifically focus on clearing up some common misunderstandings about reporting and the court process.

First of all, I would like to say that sexual assault is a VERY under-reported crime. In Canada, we know that only 1/10 sexual assaults are reported to the police. Of that fraction, only 1/10 proceed to court, and of that fraction only 1/3 result in a successful conviction. This gives sexual assault an overall conviction rate of 0.33%!

Also, the process of reporting is not simple. It involves a lot more than just going the police station, making a one-time report, and washing your hands of the matter. Sexual assault is a notoriously difficult crime to prosecute, and I don’t just mean for the Crown. It’s also an extremely emotionally taxing experience for the survivor who often has to spend two years of his or her life in and out of court, having to see that offender over and over, being interrogated by defense lawyers, family, friends and the prosecutor. It is not a fun process and no one in their right mind undertakes such an ordeal for petty or trivial purposes.

On the subject of the court process, I would like to clear up two common misconceptions I often hear that are related to the myth that people frequently lie about being sexually assaulted: The belief that if a sexual assault is reported and it does not go to court, then that means the survivor was lying and the police knew she or he was lying; and the belief that if a sexual assault does go to court but does not result in a conviction, then that means the accused was ‘innocent’ and the survivor was lying.

Our legal system works in the favor of the defendant. By that, I mean that all the benefit of the doubt is given to the defendant. Our system is designed this way because it would be very bad for everyone if it was easy to convict people of crimes they did not commit. Most of the time this is a good thing – we all want to be protected from the possibility of being punished for something we are not guilty of. Unfortunately, the flip side of this judicial design is that victims of crime (or rather, their legal counsel) bear the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused victimized them in exactly the way they claim. I should be clear that survivors of sexual assault who are seeking justice in the court system are by no means personally responsible for proving anything – that is solely the responsibility of the Crown prosecutor. I am just trying to illustrate the practical implications of a legal system that prioritizes preventing unlawful conviction over delivering justice to victims of crime.

Because of the nature of sexual assault, it is difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a third party exactly what happened. This is because sexual assault is something that does not generally happen in the presence of witnesses who can corroborate the accounts. It is also difficult to prove because the issue is not whether or not sexual contact occurred – that can sometimes be confirmed with medical tests, but whether there was consent.

When a sexual assault is reported to the police, the police pass that information along to the Crown prosecutor who assesses the likelihood of that case resulting in a conviction in court – i.e. how likely is it that the sexual assault can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. If the Crown deems that it is unlikely that the sexual assault can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, generally because of an understandable lack of evidence and witnesses, then the case will not proceed to court. That does not mean either the police or the Crown does not believe that survivor. It just means that sexual assault is a difficult crime to prosecute, and because our legal system prioritizes protecting people from unlawful conviction over providing justice to victims of crime (and I am not passing judgment on that priority), the burden of proof is too great for that particular situation.

Similarly, if a case does proceed to court but the accused is found to be ‘not guilty’, this does not mean the accused is ‘innocent’. It means that there was not enough evidence to verify the survivor’s account beyond a reasonable doubt. It may be that the judge, the jury, and the lawyers are quite convinced that the accused is in fact guilty, but if there is room for any reasonable doubt, than that benefit of that doubt is always given to the accused. Of course, it is also possible that someone who is found to be ‘not guilty’ at their trial is in fact totally innocent, but the point I am trying to make is that ‘not guilty’ and ‘innocent’ are not the same thing and courts are not in the business of determining ‘innocence’.

Another reason we know that it is rare for someone to lie about being sexually assaulted is because police statistics consistently show that, of those sexual assaults that are reported (and remember, only 1/10 are reported), only 2-3% turn out to be false allegations. This is actually slightly lower than false reporting for other crimes such as breaking and entering, or auto theft, but when someone says their car was stolen; people don’t ask “Are you sure? Are you sure you didn’t just lend it out and now you regret it?” While this statistic does show that it is possible for someone to be falsely accused of committing sexual assault and this does sometimes happen, it also shows the disproportionate level of concern society holds for what is actually an exceptionally rare occurrence.

When we believe these myths and put all of our focus and scrutiny on the survivor by doubting her or him, we are not only failing to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions, but we are also neglecting to appreciate the incredible courage it takes for a person to come forward and share an experience of sexual violence. Telling anyone about sexual assault, especially the police or the courts, takes a tremendous amount of strength, and these survivors should be commended and admired for their resiliency.

Next time anyone hears this myth crop up, perhaps in conversation or in a movie or on the news, I encourage them to take a moment with those nearby and do some myth busting. The only focus that should be placed on the actions of the survivor is the utmost respect for the amazing strength and resourcefulness they have displayed in refusing to stay silent.

– Steph