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

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October 18, 2012

Amanda Todd and the Degendered Language of Bullying

Posted in Child Sexual Abuse, Current Events, hate crimes, Myths, New Release, Popular Culture, privilege and oppression, Rape Culture, Victim Blaming at 11:01 pm by sacetalks

Ok, we need to talk about Amanda Todd. We need to talk about Amanda Todd and the misogyny and sexism that led to her death and we need to talk about the deficient language of degendered, deraced and depoliticized “bullying”. I know that I am not the first person to make these connections, but I think the incredibly tragic circumstances that led to Todd’s death need to be widely examined and recognized.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the specifics of this story here is a brief overview: Amanda Todd was a 15 year old girl from BC who recently committed suicide. The factors that led her to make the decision to take her own life are as follows: When Todd was in Grade 7, she was convinced by a man (who she believed to be a boy her own age) in a chat room to flash her breasts on webcam.  He persuaded her to do this by telling her that she was beautiful, perfect and stunning.

A year later, she received a Facebook message from this man in which he threatened to send the screen shot he took of her flashing to everyone she knew if she did not give him “a show”. This man knew personal information about her. He knew the names of her friends and family and what school she attended. Todd did not comply with this demand. This man followed through with his threat and circulated the photo. As a result of the circulation of this picture, Todd was ostracized at her school. She was severely slut-shamed and humiliated on a daily basis. She tried switching schools but the picture and slut-shaming followed her.

 At one point, she met a boy who convinced her that he liked her. Under this pretense, they had sex. The boy later revealed he was lying, he did not have romantic feelings towards Todd, and he made a joke out of Todd for believing him and having sex with him. A veritable lynch mob, including the boy, came together to further slut-shame Todd and even physically assaulted her. Following this event, Todd made her first attempt at suicide. The harassment continued unabated even after this. Last month, after two years of sexual harassment, abuse and isolation, she made a YouTube video telling her story and asked for understanding. Last Wednesday, she took her own life.

Since this story broke, there has been an international outcry against “bullying”. Widespread condolences have been sent to her family and renewed commitments to taking “bullying” seriously have been made by many school and government officials. However, there is very little mention of the sexism and misogyny that defines Todd’s story, and there is even less recognition of the systemic and structural causes of Todd’s torment. Her story is different from the everyday experience of girls and women by degree, not by kind. Saying Todd’s life was claimed by “bullying” obscures the real, concrete ways people experience oppression because of gender, race, sexual orientation and able-bodiedness. It also denies the many ways that these characteristics constrain and shape a person’s behavior, actions and life.

For instance, much of the news coverage focuses on the fact that once a girl has a nude picture on the web, that picture can never be taken back. Framing the issue like this suggests that the moral of the story is “girls, don’t put pictures of yourself on the internet because look what can happen”. This understanding of Todd’s story misses two key points: First of all, we cannot fairly hold girls accountable for behaving in ways that suggest their self worth is based on their desirability and sexuality without also taking responsibility for the fact that we as a society force this message down their throats. We do this with media, with advertising, with lingerie football, with cheerleaders, with Halloween costumes, with jokes, with off-hand comments, with fairy tales, with coloring books, and with Barbie dolls, to name just a few examples. Secondly, where is mention of the perpetrators in this “moral”? Why isn’t the moral of the story “don’t spread pornographic images of people around without their consent, and if you receive a pornographic image of someone without their consent, know that this person is being victimized by an abuser, delete the picture(s) immediately, and support the victim/survivor by letting them know that what has been done to them is wrong and is not their fault”. Isn’t that a clearer, more supportive and responsive message than vaguely telling people not to bully while still suggesting the situation was the victim’s fault?

The generic language of bullying cannot capture the structural and highly gendered reality of Todd’s story. Todd was not simply “bullied”. These were not acts of childish immaturity; there were behaviors and attitudes that were learned from the adult world.  Allow me to contextualize.  Todd’s story actually begins with 13 years of gendered conditioning and sexist cultural messages. She is then victimized by an online predator who uses this conditioning to his advantage. She is slut-shamed, victim-blamed and ostracized by her peers (who have also been raised in a culture steeped in systemic sexism) for being victimized. We know that this piece of Todd’s story is not unique because we know the challenges survivors face in a society that only focuses on the actions and behaviors of the victim without questioning those of the perpetrator. At some point during the next two years of torment, she is assaulted by a boy who lies to her and manipulates her with malicious intent. The fact that this episode is called sex rather than assault (because consent obtained through lying, manipulation or coercion is not valid consent!) in all of the news reports I have come across further demonstrates the systemic, culture-wide sexist attitudes that prevail. As a result of two years of sexual harassment, slut-shaming, victim-blaming, sexual assault and isolation, Amanda Todd chooses to take her own life.

Framing this story in terms of “bullying” glosses over the lived realities of gender-based violence. It makes it sound like this “bullying” could happen to anyone, but that’s not true. This particular story could not have happened to a boy or man. It also could not have happened if we lived in a culture that did not accept discrimination based on gender and that supported and believed survivors of sexual abuse and blamed only the perpetrators. We have to recognize the specific oppressions that people face because of their gender, race, sexual orientation and able-bodiedness and work hard to rid our individual attitudes and our cultural systems of these prejudices. We owe this to Amanda Todd.

– Stephanie

August 24, 2011

Believe me, sexual assaults do happen

Posted in Myths, Uncategorized at 4:10 pm by sacetalks

There was a recent article in the Edmonton Sun about a sex-assault hoax. A woman gave the police a tip that a sexual assault involving two Edmonton 16 year old girls had occurred on Sunday afternoon, but when all the emergency vehicles arrived at the scene, they discovered that the report was false. She made it all up. They are now charging her with public mischief.

The article also includes a statement by the Edmonton police saying that they receive several bogus calls a week. According to the police officer, some people just get a kick out of emergency personnel wasting their time and resources.

The article appears to be a non-biased reporting of the events. However, I am a bit confused about why it was written. If bogus calls to police are worth reporting on, and they happen all the time, why is this the first time in the last year I’m reading about a false report? The truth is; they usually don’t get reported because they’re not newsworthy. Most people don’t care about the weekly false reports of robbery, harassment, or sexual assault that police receive. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say they care more about what actually has happened in the world.

Without dwelling on the anomaly of why this article was written in the first place, I will address my disappointment with how people have responded to it in the Sun’s online comments section.

According to one outraged Edmontonian, the Sun’s article confirms that feminazis (they hide within social justice movements) have for years been deceiving us into thinking that women never lie about sexual assault. Obviously, one women lying about a sexual assault is unquestionably proof that the opposite is true: women always lie about sexual assault! Thus, in this fine reader’s opinion, a woman who accuses a man of sexual assault should get the same penalty a man would get for actually committing the offence.

Some good news for women: if this horrendous idea were to become reality, it’s likely you’d get off with a conditional sentence and wouldn’t have to spend time in jail anyway.

Following the post about feminazis, most commentators continued to attack women and feminists, with a few exceptions. This leads me to believe that people do care about false reports of crimes – if they are typically crimes against women. One false report and bam! People feel confident exclaiming that all women and all feminists, no wait, all skanks, fembos, and bit#ches, are liars! Therefore, the only rape myth is that rape IS a myth. According to their, um, arguments, any women who says she was raped is only after revenge, attention, or the monies. And any man that says he was raped, well… men don’t get raped.

Name calling: the clearest path to truth.

It’s evident that their tirades against women and feminists are not meant to engage in a reasonable, open dialogue about people lying about serious crimes. They are based on an intention to attack the experiences and voices of women, feminists and survivors of sexual assault. It seems pointless to address them directly, to affirm the value in women’s and feminist’s opinions and validate the experience of survivors, when their main mode of communication is the use of derogatory language.

So, for the community of this blog, let me say this. Sexual abuse/assault is a very real issue that affects nearly half of the Canadian population, both women and men. Some people might lie about it, because they think it’s a good idea for whatever reason. I wish people didn’t lie – that would make my life so much easier. However, I know that they do. People can choose to lie about most things in life. I also know that just because a few people lie about sexual assault, does not mean all or most people (women) are lying. Considering the stats, because I know most people commenting on the article cared greatly about the facts (right??), I know that most people will actually lie about a sexual assault NOT happening when it did. They keep it secret, probably because they know they’re going to be accused of lying anyway or be taken away from their parents or lose their friends or be called derogatory names, like the ones made by Edmonton Sun commentators. Or if they are male, told it couldn’t have happened because of their gender.

I feel empathy for any survivor of sexual assault, of any gender, who ended up reading those comments, and am disheartened by the thought that it could seriously impact the safety and support felt by survivors of sexual assault who want to tell someone what happened.

If you’re reading this blog:

I believe you. I believe you were sexually assaulted.

by Meagan Simon

May 13, 2011

Alien Sex

Posted in Myths, Popular Culture, Rape Culture at 9:45 pm by sacetalks

Sex sells music. That’s a fundamental truth you can take to the bank.

But, how does music sell sex? What does music tell its consumers about what is sexy? What does music tell its consumers about a man’s sexuality and a woman’s sexuality?

When I first heard Katy Perry’s song “E.T.” featuring Kanye West, I loved it. The beat hooked me along with Katy Perry’s digitally enhanced voice. Yet, when I finally paid attention to the lyrics and thought about what they meant, my love turned sour.

The first thing I noticed about the lyrics is the glorification of male sexual prowess. With such winning lines as, “Your touch magnetizing” and “Wanna feel your powers,” the listening audience understands that Katy Perry is addressing another person who has exceptional sexual skills. In Heteronormative World, where sex is always sold as heterosexual even when it’s not (re: Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl”), we can easily assume Katy is referring to a man. To the listening heterosexual male, this means him. Still, anyone could see themselves in the role if they wanted.

Male sexual performance is being sold as heterosexual, powerful and awesome! If Katy Perry and Kanye West say so, this is the kind of sexuality that all women (presumed heterosexual) expect from good male lovers. Boys, grab your, *ahem*, pens and take notes:

–          You should be so out of this world good in bed, you’re like an alien, k? Like, supernatural, extraterrestrial, so futuristically advanced your DNA makes you superior to other men and all women.  When you infect a woman with your loving, it’s actually poisonous to her primitive DNA and will cause immanent paralysis.

–          But, that’s okay. You’re supposed to stun and hopefully render your female lover unconscious with your powerful and dangerous laser. It’s so sexy she’ll sing about it!

–          A woman wants to be controlled. See, women love a dangerous man they can’t tell is an angel or a devil. It hypnotizes then into passivity. To be a good heterosexual male you have to take charge to the point of abduction, but pretend that you’re protecting her.

–          Also, tell the woman you’re infecting that you tell her what to do. If she protests, keep repeating, “I tell ya what to do, I tell ya what to do, what to do, what to do.”

(Modified from the lyrics to “E.T.”)

The song’s message: Men should perform their sexuality in terms of dominance, aggression and violence towards women. For those men who do not fit the above outline for heterosexuality, good luck “getting a girl.” For those men who do not think of themselves as heterosexual, well, you don’t apply.

People might get confused that Katy Perry is responsible for this messaging. We cannot blame one person for a song that condones and normalizes male sexual violence towards women. We can, however, hold accountable all participating members of the music economy and wider rape culture for fabricating a male heterosexuality that reaches its ideal performance in sexual violence.

Those responsible for Katy Perry’s “E.T.” also produce, market and sell female sexuality in addition to male heterosexuality. Waving a hypnotizing medallion back and forth, they suggest to female listeners, “you will choose to be an object for male heterosexuality and you’ll love it.” Despite the possibility that Katy Perry’s public relations people would spin this female sexuality as empowerment, it is first and foremost created for the male gaze according to the terms set by patriarchy. While heterosexual men and boys circle jerk to Katy Perry’s image, women are told that female heterosexuality is dressing provocatively to impress and attract heterosexual men. Be like Katy and you’ll get a boyfriend. In the song, female sexuality is predicated on and for the dominant male heterosexuality.

Don’t believe my analysis? Well, let’s look at the lyrics of “E.T.” one more time. Girls, if you want to learn from Katy and Kanye, hear are your tips to be a good, sexy female. Your tips come second because your sexuality comes second. Listen:

–          Your sexual pleasure is dependent on what your man can do for you. He’ll use his magic, bath his Ape in your Milk Way and probe you. You’ll love it so much you faint.

–          Look for a man that makes you afraid. It’s the dangerous ones that have the most magic in their touch

–          The only power you have in a sexual encounter with a man is to demand he perform. You can demand he kiss you, but you cannot be the one doing the kissing.

–          Sex for you is about a man taking something. You want this.

–          You want to be abducted. You want to be a victim of violence.

(Modified from the lyrics to “E.T.”)

At which point we come to the lyric that caused my feelings towards this song to spin feverishly towards anger. While the entire song sells heterosexual violent male dominance and female subjugation as fantastic/fun/sexy sexualities you’ll want to perform yourself, the particular line, “Wanna be a victim,” explicitly names it. It makes sexual assault sexy and reinforces the statement, “rape is a complement.” According to these lyrics, perfected male heterosexuality is achieved when a man becomes a rapist and perfected female heterosexuality is achieved when a woman becomes a rape victim… Anger, disgust, betrayal, shame, despair felt at this reinforced reality.

Why do we buy into songs with these kinds of lyrics? Because these oppressive lyrics reflect and reinforce the oppressive systems of heteronormativity, patriarchy and rape culture we and the song are already a part of. “E.T.” is just one of many moments in our lives where things are the way they are because that’s the way they are and the fact that I’m raising such a big stink about it is uncalled for.

Not only does sex sell music, music sells sex. People (men) in power (with money) are selling patriarchal, heteronormative sexuality by packaging it in the form of music. If a transgender  person, a gay person, or anyone who does not identify in terms of sexual and gender binaries, ends up buying the music, that’s a happy expansion of the market. The music industry produces male sexual violence and female sexual victimization for their listeners in an alluring package of bass, melody and semi-nudity.

Can I buy something else, please?

by Meagan Simon

“E.T.” by Katy Perry feat. Kanye West

[Kanye West]
I got a dirty mind
I got filthy ways
I’m tryna Bath my Ape in your Milky Way
I’m a legend, I’m irreverent
I be reverand
I be so fa-a-ar up, we don’t give a f-f-f-f-ck
Welcome to the danger zone
Step into the fantasy
You are not invited to the otherside of sanity
They calling me an alien
A big headed astronaut
Maybe it’s because your boy Yeezy get ass a lot

[Katy Perry]
You’re so hypnotizing
Could you be the devil
Could you be an angel

Your touch magnetizing
Feels like I am floating
Leaves my body glowing

They say be afraid
You’re not like the others
Futuristic lover
Different DNA
They don’t understand you

Your from a whole other world
A different dimension
You open my eyes
And I’m ready to go
Lead me into the light

Kiss me, ki-ki-kiss me
Infect me with your love and
Fill me with your poison

Take me, ta-ta-take me
Wanna be a victim
Ready for abduction

Boy, you’re an alien
Your touch so foreign
It’s supernatural
Extraterrestrial

Your so supersonic
Wanna feel your powers
Stun me with your lasers
Your kiss is cosmic
Every move is magic

Your from a whole other world
A different dimension
You open my eyes
And I’m ready to go
Lead me into the light

Kiss me, ki-ki-kiss me
Infect me with your love and
Fill me with your poison

Take me, ta-ta-take me
Wanna be a victim
Ready for abduction

Boy, you’re an alien
Your touch so foreign
It’s supernatural
Extraterrestrial

[Kanye West]
I know a bar out in Mars
Where they driving spaceships instead of cars
Cop a Prada spacesuit about the stars
Getting stupid ass straight out the jar
Pockets on Shrek, Rockets on deck
Tell me what’s next, alien sex
I’ma disrobe you, than I’mma probe you
See I abducted you, so I tell ya what to do
I tell ya what to do, what to do, what to do

[Katy Perry]
Kiss me, ki-ki-kiss me
Infect me with your love and
Fill me with your poison

Take me, ta-ta-take me
Wanna be a victim
Ready for abduction

Boy, you’re an alien
Your touch so foreign
It’s supernatural
Extraterrestrial

Extraterrestrial
Extraterrestrial

Boy, you’re an alien
Your touch so foreign
It’s supernatural
Extraterrestrial

March 4, 2011

Manitoba Judge fails at Sexual Assault Prevention

Posted in Current Events, Myths, Rape Culture at 6:14 pm by sacetalks

Whenever I speak to people about sexual assault, I usually cite two main ways to prevent it from happening. The first, really the only logical solution, would be for everyone to stop sexually assaulting people. Simple. Make sure every sexual partner you have consents for each sexual activity you engage in and if that person has a change of heart, respect this and stop. Simple. Know the consent laws. Simple.

However, for many people this suggestion does not seem so simple. It seems laughable, making a second prevention strategy necessary: changing our attitudes that make the first strategy so laughable.
Asking people to stop sexually assaulting others seems laughable to some because it holds offenders of sexual assault accountable for their behavior (you did something wrong, don’t do it), which is against the normative way of understanding sexual assaults: the victim is to blame. In that line of thinking, offenders are not responsible for their behavior, maybe because they “just lost control in the moment,” so there is no reason to ask them to stop. Thus, making a second strategy necessary, one that demands personal accountability and recognizes that offenders of sexual assault are always responsible for their behavior. It’s one that isn’t so simple. It is an attempt to change some people’s behaviors through a shift in everyone’s shared knowledge.

Recently, Justice Robert Dewar failed to hold an offender of sexual assault fully responsible for his behavior and therefore, worked against the prevention of sexual assaults in our communities. In a sexual assault case from 2006, Justice Robert Dewar recently convicted Kenneth Rhodes of sexual assault. However, in his sentencing he ruled that Rhodes was not completely responsible, his behavior wasn’t entirely wrong, and instead of the recommended three years in jail, Judge Dewar sentenced him to a two year conditional sentence without jail time. Why did he not hold Kenneth Rhodes completely responsible?

Because “sex was in the air” that night. According to Justice Dewar, Kenneth Rhodes, being as he was a “clumsy Don Juan,” was confused when the person he sexually assaulted said no. Because she was wearing heavy make-up and a tube top with no bra, she obviously “wanted to party,” and as she had hinted at swimming in a near-by lake naked, she created such “inviting circumstances” that such a “no” had no bearing in his “clumsy” efforts at seduction. You see, this is a unique circumstance, an entirely “different case” from other sexual assaults, a “case of misunderstood signals and inconsiderate behavior.”
Each of his statements during his sentencing placed more and more responsibility on the survivor of the sexual assault, citing her dress and behaviors as more relevant reasons why it happened than Rhodes’ “inconsiderate” dismissal of her communicating no. Thank the stars and moons I have a brain, as do many other Canadians, who can and have seen how absolutely wrong his words and behavior were. There was a protest at the Law Courts in Manitoba last Friday, complaints have been made to the Canadian Judicial Review and we are all waiting to see if the Crown’s office will file an appeal.
Since so many others are taking action against his behavior, I would simply like to address two main issues with his statements.

I find it most noteworthy that Justice Dewar contradicted himself in his own statements about the assault. He notes that “this is a case of misunderstood signals and inconsiderate behavior.” Inconsiderate: selfish; thoughtless; insensitive; careless – words to describe a person’s beliefs or actions that do not take into account the personhood, desires, beliefs, and/or choice of others. Using inconsiderate to describe a person’s behavior surely recognizes that they did something that ignored another person’s perspective. How would it be possible in that situation that he also simply misunderstood signals? “I thought she wanted it.” If a person truly thought this, how could one then make a judgment that they were also acting inconsiderately? An inconsiderate act is either not “asking” that other person what they want, or seeing that they want something other than you, but ignoring this and carrying on anyway. In acting inconsiderately, miscommunication isn’t the problem. Rather, it’s that selfish person’s decision not to acknowledge and respond to their victim’s signs of discomfort and non-consent. It is not that Kenneth Rhodes misunderstood what his victim wanted; he ignored want she wanted and forced sex anyway. Judge Dewar knows this, otherwise he wouldn’t have convicted the man of sexual assault or recognized his “inconsiderate” behavior, yet apparently he believes it is not as important as how the person who was sexually assaulted dressed and behaved that night.

Another thing I’d like to draw attention to is how Justice Dewar attempted to justify his sentencing by claiming that this was “a different case” than other sexual assault trials. It is my understanding that a great deal of sexual assault cases involve an accused offender who claims that he or she just didn’t realize that the other person wasn’t consenting. Further, my job at the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton as a Public Educator depends on the reality that many people, including apparently Justice Dewar, believe that what a woman wears, her level of intoxication and her implied sexual promiscuity are all reasons for a man to force his penis into her vagina without her consent. This is not an extraordinary case of an offender misunderstanding the intentions of his victim, but a common excuse used by offenders to get away with their crimes.

If we are to prevent sexual assaults from happening, we all need to change our attitudes. We need to put full responsibly on offenders of sexual assault and validate the traumatic experiences of survivors. Even though this is a shared imperative for us all, it is especially true for those of us who hold positions of status and authority in our society because they are the ones who have the most power to instigate change. A Judge has a certain responsibility: communicate to offenders of sexual assault that what they did was wrong, so stop doing it, and communicate to everyone that the only people to blame for sexual assaults are those whose behaviors we deem reprehensible, the offenders.

by Meagan Simon

References:

news articles

http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/Judge+rape+ruling+beyond+sexist/4345312/story.html

http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/Rapist+sentence+likely+cause+uproar/4337109/story.html

http://winnipeg.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20110301/wpg_dewar_110301/20110302/?hub=WinnipegHome

http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/02/25/outcry-grows-against-manitoba-judge-who-did-not-jail-rapist/

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/prairies/judge-appears-to-blame-victim-in-sexual-assault-case/article1918444/

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/christie-blatchford/manitoba-judge-is-dead-wrong-in-rape-case/article1920030/

http://thechronicleherald.ca/Opinion/1230693.html

http://www.globalwinnipeg.com/Crowd+protests+judge+assault+sentence/4348417/story.html

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/story/2011/03/02/mb-dewar-sexual-assault-case-review-winnipeg.html

March 5, 2010

This week in the news (February 26 – March 5, 2010)

Posted in Child Sexual Abuse, Current Events, Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault (Rape Drugs), Intimate Partner Violence, Myths, Rape Culture, Victim Blaming at 11:02 pm by sacetalks

The following is a list of news articles and editorials on sexual assault in communities across the globe (over the past 7 days).  Many of the articles below may contain victim-blaming language, distortion of information which supports sexual assault myths, and/or triggering content.  What these articles do showcase is the prevalence of sexual assault (given that only a small percentage of the 1 in 10 sexual assaults in Canada which are reported receive media attention, several articles on sexual assault within one week indicate a huge number of assaults), what kinds of sexual assaults are reported and how rampant sexual assault myths are.  Please be aware that SACE does not support the content or delivery of any of the following news pieces.

Edmonton

Edmonton man sentenced to 11 years for rape

Man guilty in sex attack on homeless

Gratton pleads guilty to sex assaults, kidnapping

Kittens, ice cream used to lure girls

Alcohol-fuelled sex assaults on the rise

Booze played role in 2009 city sex assaults

Alberta

New trial ordered for former Calgary jail guard convicted of sexual assault

Grande Prairie coach charged with sexually assaulting girls

Police officer describes murder scene in Watcheston trial

Long prison sentence done deal for killer

Canada

Confronting sexual violence one dyke at a time

Can colonel get a fair trial?

Crown to seek dangerous offender status for Tait

Burnt Church murder case adjourned

Defence plans stay of charges application

Jailed sex offender awaits evaluation

Accused and victim in cold case speak to CTV News

Body left in bag for garbage, trial hears

Band name offensive, not progressive

Man pleads guilty to molesting young child

Another Date Set in Rodger Case

Oshawa man charged with making child porn

Trial in brutal Dartmouth attack set for fall

Police seek victims of juvenile prostitution ring

Teen who got 13-year-old cousin pregnant gets nine months jail

Crime stats show increase in 2009

Sex assault charges laid

Former teacher appealing sex assault conviction

Retired Windsor priest arrested on sex assault charges

Sexual Assault Charges

Sexual assault in park

Court date set for Kelowna man accused of sexual assault, unlawful confinement and robbery

NB pastor jailed for indecent assault

Five men charged in series of Montreal-area sex assaults

Woman sexually assaulted in south Surrey

Sex with identical twin subject of assault case

Coquitlam police investigating sex assault

Jim Carrey pal sentenced for sex assault

Man with hepatitis B jailed for sexual assault

Doctor charged with sexual assault, threatening

Woman reports sexual assault in downtown Ottawa

Police search for Ottawa man charged with sex assault

Motivation behind sex assaults scrutinized

Police searching for sexual assault suspect

Yukon man on lam from BC halfway house

International

American Teen Gets 15 Years For Facebook Sex Scam

Former Raptor charged in teen kidnapping case

Facebook: A wake up call!

January 19, 2010

Don’t travel alone…in a movie theatre?

Posted in Current Events, Myths, Victim Blaming at 5:41 pm by sacetalks

As I was compiling the weekly news post last week, I came across an article that perfectly illustrates why giving safety tips is such a useless exercise when it comes to preventing sexual assault.  The story is about a man being charged after he sexually assaulted a woman in a movie theatre in Ontario. The woman was watching a movie with friends when the man seated next to her “touched her in an inappropriate way several times before moving seats,” according to the news report.
Most women would assume that attending a movie with friends would meet up with all the approved “safety precautions” that are so often given to us, particularly in news reports about sexual assault. However, according to the article, the police would like to remind us that women should keep a few things in mind when they head to the theatre. These suggestions seem particularly appropriate to going to the movies:
Always be aware of your surroundings
Because when you’re at a movie, you shouldn’t let yourself be distracted by the film playing up on the screen! Make sure you spend the entire two hours looking around to make sure none of the other patrons are going to touch you without your consent.
Whenever possible, travel in pairs
Never leave the theatre to get popcorn without taking a buddy with you. That’s why women never go to the bathroom alone.  Besides, you shouldn’t go to movies by yourself. That makes you a lonely spinster who can’t get a date, and you wouldn’t want that, now would you?
If you are touched in an inappropriate manner, ask for assistance and contact police
Inappropriate. Hmmm. There’s an appropriate way to touch a person you don’t know in a movie theatre? But seriously, by the time a woman gets out of the theatre, finds someone from the staff to help her (which will probably involve convincing them that she really does need help), and then waits for police to respond to a call, the offender will likely be gone. I am glad in this case that they caught the guy and that the police have taken it seriously, but in a lot of cases like this, women ask for help and never get it.
Try and obtain the best possible description of the person
This might be difficult in a dark room, especially if you’re trying to get away and go get that help as was suggested in the last tip.
Carry a cellphone
So those ads at the beginning of the movie to turn off your phone are really a lure! Carry your cellphone and make sure you have it ready to use at all times. Forget all that movie theatre etiquette.
Trust your intuition. If something tells you a person or situation isn’t right, it likely isn’t
Most of us are socialized to expect that places like movie theatres are safe. We are accustomed to sitting beside strangers at a movie. Even if that person seems a little odd, that’s just part of being in a public space. We don’t tend to get up and move away unless the person is acting very strangely or is wearing too much cologne or something. It’s just part of the whole movie thing. Telling women they are supposed to somehow intuitively know that the person next to them at the movies is creepy is completely victim blaming.
As women, we are taught to fear so many things that many of us feel like something isn’t right in almost every situation. Tips like these don’t help–they just teach us to look for the danger everywhere and avoid even the most mundane activities without a crowd around to protect us. And if we do trust our gut and avoid a person, we’re told we’re not giving them a chance or we’re just being paranoid. We can’t win.
Women should be able to go to the movies without worrying that the man next to them will grope them. They shouldn’t need to keep their cellphones at the ready or avoid seeing movies by themselves. For once, I’d like to see an article like this followed by a police officer cautioning potential offenders on how to see movies without sexually assaulting other people in the audience.

September 25, 2009

“Inconsistencies” in sexual assault disclosures

Posted in Myths, Victim Blaming tagged at 9:42 pm by sacetalks

Debunking sexual assault myths is one of the biggest components of our jobs as public educators at SACE.   One myth is that women are “asking for it” by wearing “provocative” clothing.  Another is that women are to blame for being assaulted if they were drinking at the time.  Yet another is that women often lie about being sexually assaulted.

All myths are devastating to survivors.  The lying myth impacts how people who are sexually assaulted heal from their assault, as it influences whether or not anyone chooses to disclose.  When researching what articles to include in this week’s news summary, I stumbled across this gem: Defence points to inconcistencies.

The article details a sexual assault trial in which a man is prosecuted for allegedly anally penetrating a woman.  The defense is arguing that the woman is lying about the sexual assault, which is not only evident in how she did not fully disclose to police, but in how aspects of her testimony have changed.  For example, when she initially reported the sexual assault, she said that the alleged offender forced her clothes off; now, however, she is saying that the offender told her to take her clothes off.

This idea of “inconsitencies” is something we hear a lot in junior highs and high schools.  The story usually goes something like this: “My friend Michaeal was accused of sexually assaulting someone last year, but I know he would never do anything like that.  Anyway, the woman who accused him is just vindictive and she told conflicting stories anyway!  She told my friend that Michael forced her to have 2 drinks, while she told me she had 5 drinks.  It’s pretty clear she was lying.”

I can see how a lot of people may mistake inconsistancies as lies.  However, we must account for the impact of trauma on an individual’s memory before we dismiss that person’s story as false.

Most of our memories play like movies in our heads: we can remember people and the sequence of events.  Memories of trauma, however, are more like pictures; and just as pictures can get jumbled up in real life, so can memories of trauma.  It’s common for people who have experienced any kind of trauma to mix up their memory of what happened: it’s part of our body’s way of protecting us from the traumatic experience.  This means that inconsistent stories do not indicate that the person in question is lying.  If anything, it indicates that the person may be having a common reaction to trauma.

Please keep in mind that lying about sexual assault is very, very rare.  In fact, FBI statistics show that only 2-3% of all reported sexual assaults are false allegations.  This is the same percentage as any other crime, including robbery and physical assault.  Further still, this 2-3% includes the number of people who recant their stories, which we know happens when survivors don’t want to be interrogated on the stand like the woman in the linked article is.

Sexual assault is a crime that is vastly underreported, not overreported.  Please believe people who disclose – not being believed can have an extremely negative impact on someone’s healing.  And for those survivors who may not have disclosed to anyone yet, or may not have been believed by anyone yet – consider telling someone else if this is something you’d like to talk about.  Please know that our 24-hour Sexual Assault Crisis Line, 780 423 4102, is always available to you.  And that we believe you.  And it’s not your fault.