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End Violence Against Women

We must never look the other way

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Sexual-assault-is-everyones-problem (1)

By Kaylen Forsyth

Content note: Sexual assault, violence against women and girls

People often look out of the window to avoid the problems sat right in front of them. When there is something in need of addressing, we tend to plunge into an irrelevant stream of thought in order to dismiss the matters at hand. Society has reached a point where it would rather silence the oppressed than cut down the roots of the oppressors. Or, injustices are ignored completely.

Ignorance, of course, feels infinitely more comfortable than protest. However, within those reactionary walls of ignorance and comfort, we are only incubating inequality. We are creating conditions in which true change can never occur.

In the past few weeks, the issue of widescale sexual harassment has come to public attention. One high-profile case (the sexual assaults carried out by film producer Harvey Weinstein) has led to many more people speaking out about their own experiences. The accounts were both harrowing and inspiring to read. On the one hand, I was saddened to be reminded that patriarchal power structures still exist that allow this kind of abuse to happen so easily. At the same time, listening to these immensely brave people speak so openly about their trauma was sobering indeed.

Initially, it seemed as though everyone’s stories were taken seriously. There was active effort to make people feel comfortable enough to share. Reading Lea Seydoux’s distressing retelling of her encounters with Weinstein highlighted a sad truth: so many women are made to feel vulnerable, and there are malicious, exploitative men who are eager to capitalise on that vulnerability. The upside that manifested out of these heart-breaking stories was the fact that a discussion had now begun. For a brief moment, I allowed myself to believe that the days of sexual assault being something to hide or keep to oneself were nearly over.

My optimism was ruined very quickly. I had the displeasure of catching a short glimpse of a popular UK panel show – Have I Got News For You. A panel of incredibly privileged men were openly laughing and making light of sexual assault cases. The only female panellist, Jo Brand, was left to defend the seriousness of the situation. Ian Hislop (editor of popular UK political publication Private Eye) made a patronising comment regarding sexual harassment – ‘Some of this is not high level crime, is it?’ – and Jo quipped back: “If I can just say, as the only representative of the female gender here today… I know it’s not high level, but it doesn’t have to be high level for women to feel under siege… And actually, for women, if you’re constantly being harassed, even in a small way, that builds up and it wears you down.”

I admired Jo’s boldness and the accuracy of her comment. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed and disheartened by the fact she had to intercept in the first place. The fact that a group of adult men had failed to understand the severity of sexual harassment on any scale was demoralising. I had thought the entertainment world was making significant progress toward recognising the abuses of power happening behind its closed doors. This seemed like a tragic step back – to have comedians deriding the struggles of women who had been maltreated and exploited. I was outraged.

It may appear like a small issue – a group of men laughing – but the problem runs deeper. A society that can laugh at women speaking out about their discomfort is a society that promotes their oppression. If a panel of comedians can joke about cases of sexual assault, then anybody watching the show at home who may have been a victim in the past will no doubt feel reluctant to speak out and seek help. It’s a violent cycle that needs to end immediately. I wish for all future cases of sexual assault to be treated with the utmost humanity and integrity. No matter the scale. I never want to see a panel of grown men make snide comments about the suffering of women again.

Toxic masculinity fuels this kind of childish, unwarranted behaviour. It is also the reason why so many male victims of sexual assault are made to feel like they shouldn’t speak out. An inundation of groundless patriarchal ideals tells them they should remain quiet. Women are certainly not the only victims of sexual assault to be recognised recently. Actor Anthony Rapp told how Kevin Spacey made sexual advances towards him when he was only 14 years old. This is horrifying to imagine and Rapp’s courage is admirable. The masculine ideals that lead to a culture of shame surrounding male rape and assault need to be fully dismantled.

Obviously, this is not just an issue occurring in Hollywood. Sexual assault happens everywhere. There is a worry that the current discussion ignores issues outside of Hollywood and parliament. Because those who have come forward are privileged in terms of class and wealth, it is essential that people from less privileged backgrounds are not left behind. Many women’s organisations are closing or facing the possibility of closure due to austerity measures. People who rely on these kinds of centres do not have the same platform as multi award-winning celebrities to voice their experiences and gain mass support. They do not have that privilege. Minority groups and working classes cannot be left by the wayside. Patriarchy can’t only cause outrage when it’s happening in The Weinstein Company, it has to cause outrage when it’s happening in the local pub or on the street corner as well.

An end must come to the atmosphere of terror we live in, an atmosphere that means women fear being seen or noticed in case that means being hurt. It is not appropriate to deride anybody with the courage to come forward. Nobody should ever feel embarrassed or ashamed about what has happened to them. Right now there is a real chance for change. Everyone has a responsibility toward each other; we must listen and give support… we should never look the other way again.
Help Line Numbers and Sites Available for Support (UK) –

Help after a sexual assault or rape – https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Sexualhealth/Pages/Sexualassault.aspx

Find a Rape/Sexual Assault referral centre-
https://www.nhs.uk/Service-Search/Rape%20and%20sexual%20assault%20referral%20centres/LocationSearch/364

NSPCC Helpline: 0808 800 5000 (24 hours, every day)

https://www.nspcc.org.uk/

https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect/grooming/

Rape Crisis-

Helpline: 0808 802 9999 (12-2:30 and 7-9:30)

https://rapecrisis.org.uk/

Support for Victims-

Victim Support Supportline: 0808 168 9111

https://www.victimsupport.org.uk/crime-info/types-crime/rape-and-sexual-assault
RASAC (Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre) National Helpline: 0808 802 9999 (12-2.30 & 7-9.30)
http://www.rasasc.org.uk/
The Survivors Trust Helpline: 0808 801 0818

http://thesurvivorstrust.org/
Help Line Numbers and Sites Available for Support (US) –

Help after a sexual assault or rape –

https://www.rainn.org/get-help

RAINN Helpline: 800.656.HOPE (4673), open 24/7

https://www.rainn.org/about-national-sexual-assault-telephone-hotline

Sexual assault helpline – 1800 010 120

http://www.dvconnect.org/sexual-assault-helpline-2/

We Deserve #SREnow

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Powered by Girl is a girl-driven activist movement. Many of our team are young women living all over the UK. As a group who have been directly affected by the UK government’s inaction on Sex and Relationships Education, we’re here to speak out. We’re victims of a sexist, derogatory and dangerous culture of sex. As young women, we feel it’s vital that gender-based violence and information about consent is made available to every child and every teenager. That’s why we support the End Violence Against Women and Everyday Sexism Project’s petition for ‪#‎SREnow‬. Here are just some of our reasons:

Healthy relationships develop through understanding – not only about healthcare, but also about mental care. There is too much ignorance surrounding issues of consent and sexual orientation, and the best way to tackle this is by education. This is why we must support the campaign to make SRE statutory in UK schools – so everyone can enjoy happy and safe relationships – Issy, 20

Sex and relationships can be one of the most exciting things about growing up. Unfortunately it can also be one of the most dangerous. Young people need to be educated not just in safe sex, but on safe relationships, in order to equip this most vulnerable group in society to deal with these issues – information for everyone, no matter their sexuality – Amy, 16

At a time when children and young people are bombarded relentlessly by so many confusing and potentially dangerous messages about sex and relationships, comprehensive and in-depth SRE is vital. Biology does not suffice- exploring relationships and sexuality are often key aspects of adolescence and young adulthood- however, as we hear more and more of these experiences being negative ones, tackling the relevant issues through education is of paramount importance. By introducing SRE as compulsory, we can build fantastic foundations for not just adolescence, but for a lifetime of happy and healthy relationships – Cora, 16

It is vital that young people across the UK receive a decent SRE covering all key areas. Merely focusing on STIs, as was my one term of sex ed, is not sufficient. Consent should be central to SRE however schools are not required to teach it. When it comes to consent there are no ‘blurred lines’ and that needs to be clear. A 17 year old should not be learning about consent through discussion online before being taught about it in SRE or PSHE. Statutory SRE should teach responsibility and respect for people of all genders and sexual orientations and provide a safe environment to do so. We need to improve SRE and we need to do it now – Chloe, 18

With every minute that passes, roughly one incident of domestic abuse is reported to the police. That’s 60 incidents per hour; 1440 per day. Over a year, this amounts to around 525600 incidents- and those are the reported ones. It’s believed that far far more cases of domestic abuse go unreported. These are really shocking figures, yet they’re rarely talked about. School sex education lessons- even those titled ‘sex and relationships’- choose to focus on the biology of reproduction and ways of preventing pregnancy and/or infections. Whilst not saying these issues aren’t important, there is far more to ‘sex and relationships’ than this. There is little or no education delivered around consent, or sexuality, or happy and safe relationships. Young men and women are let down by this; they’re lead to believe that there is no choice but to go along with unacceptable behaviour, lead to believe that it’s not okay to be different or to speak up. This leads to so many problems further down the line that could be reduced with some basic education. If nothing else, the message could be delivered that it is okay to talk about these things. We no longer live in an age where we can pretend this isn’t happening, and transfer the problems to someone else. We need to act, to lay down the correct building blocks in the formation of happy, healthy adults, engaging in happy, healthy relationships. Legislation around this would be a hugely important step – Becky, 17

You can get involved by Tweeting using the hashtag #SREnow, and signing the petition here :)

SREnowpetition

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