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Rape Culture

We must never look the other way

Author:
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/

Election Reaction: Trumping Trump

Author:
trump_farage

Content Note: Rape, sexual violence, racism

It’s hard for us to have words for what’s happened in the US election. We’ve felt shocked, lost and broken, but we’re ready to fight. Here are some reactions to Trump’s win from the young women who write for us:

Amy, UK –

I was all set for election night to be one of my most positive university experiences. My university has an unusually high proportion of American students, and everyone at the election night party (with ‘democrafted’ decorations and balloons to pop as each state announced their results) was initially in very positive spirits. Obviously, this didn’t last. Being in the room with so many Americans who were disappointed, angry, even afraid as the results rolled in, made the reality of what this election result means hit even closer to home. Yet their engagement, passion and anger was infectious and inspiring. They are not taking this lying down. We should not take this lying down. By uniting and engaging against the fear mongering and hate fuelled environment likely to be perpetuated by the election result, we can feel less helpless and hopefully make a positive change.

Anna, UK –

Donald Trump is a racist rapist. He will not take responsibility for his actions and and now there is no court high enough that will bring about justice for his actions. This is an incredibly upsetting and triggering situation to have to come to terms with and I really hope that survivors of all kinds of violence, but especially sexual violence, are able to take care of themselves and each other. The only way I can really accept this is if I totally commit to my own survival and the survival of other survivors – nurturing and polishing my rage and self and taking direct and potentially violent action against Trump, but also against all men who violate people – all abusers and rapists. I refuse to let Trump’s election crush me, or you. We will rise.

Evangeline, US –

Coping with the election results has been difficult. It has been a process of self-care to recover from the literal shock of the results. As I am currently studying abroad, it has especially been a struggle to stomach the results so far from home; however, I have found solidarity with other Americans studying abroad with me and locals just as impacted by the results, showing what a truly global influence these results have. Above all, what makes me most heartbroken about the results is the hate — both through words and actions — and the fear, the feelings of unsafety that such hate produces. All I can fairly say at this point is that, no matter who is in office, at what speed, and in what way, I hope we can positively move forward.

 

Christiana, US –

Despite having a week to process this election it’s still hard. I woke up Wednesday and it took an hour to fully hit me, but when it did I couldn’t stop crying. I cried as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I cried as a woman, I cried as an aspiring ally to people of color and people of differing abilities. I cried for the numerous victims that had come forward and been completely ignored. I cried for our country. I still haven’t fully processed how to put all these emotions into words. I stood before my Introduction to Women’s Studies class speechless, trying to explain to them that despite it all we’d keep moving, that it would be okay. Yet student after student was still just in disbelief, shock, and fear. I want to believe everything will be okay, but I’m genuinely scared. I’m scared of the hate crimes that ensued after the election, I’m scared that my friends will be hurt, I’m scared for my personal safety when I’m out with my girlfriend will be at risk. I’m also angry. Angry, that I’m surrounded by people who voted for him, but still tell me that I’m important to them, angry at people who have wives and children and women in their lives that supposedly matter to them, angry at people who claim they’re not racist, but believe that supporting a racist candidate is okay. Mostly, I’m angry that the work I’ve dedicated my life to—sexual violence prevention is jeopardized. How do I look at victims and tell them that justice is possible, when our country’s highest elected official has been convicted of sexual assault multiple times and never served a day in jail?

The one bright light I have seen in all of this is the organizing. I’ve seen groups on college campuses and in the community coming together. Groups that have never interacted before. Intersectional feminism is happening right now! As Black Lives Matter, Indigenous Rights Groups, Feminist Groups, LGBTQ+ groups, etc. continue to merge it is creating a ripple effect and a roar so loud that even the White House will shake and we will move forward, but most importantly We. Will. Not. Go. Away!

Louise O’Neill Discusses “Asking For It”

Author:
louise

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

CN: Discussion of r*pe culture and victim blaming

In the summer, I was lucky enough to hear the Irish author Louise O’Neill talk about her ground-breaking novel, Asking For It, at my local bookshop. It was an incredible evening, and Louise made some very poignant points. I feel it would be selfish of me not to share some of them…

Louise on DARKNESS IN YA:

“There’s always a big debate on whether or not my books are YA. I’ve been told that they’re too dark and bleak for YA. I mean, have these people ever been teenagers? When I was 16, I genuinely thought that Sylvia Plath was the only person who understood me.”

Louise on TELLING THE TRUTH IN FICTION:

“I set out to write the truth, to be authentic, and if that makes people uncomfortable, maybe that’s a good thing. I can understand discomfort when reading about rape, you SHOULD be uncomfortable with it. It was especially important to me in writing Asking For It because there is such a culture of shame that silences victims. It’s ‘what were you doing?’, ‘what were you wearing?’, ‘how much did you have to drink?’, ‘why did you go back to his house?’. You just hear ‘your fault’, ‘your fault’, ‘your fault’, ‘your fault’. Victims are being made to feel ashamed, but that’s wrong. It’s the rapists, they’re the ones who should feel ashamed.”

Louise on THE RECEPTION OF CHARACTERS:

“It’s interesting to me that Emma (Asking For It protagonist) is described as ‘unlikable’, because who says she has to be likable? That was never my goal. Male characters are never treated in the same way – the male antihero is well established in literature, but with women it’s shocking. People are shocked by women who are not ‘nice’. But female characters need to be compelling, not necessarily ‘likable’.”

Louise on ENDINGS (*spoiler alert!*):

“I definitely resist neat endings, I don’t like them and I don’t write them because they don’t feel real, they are not true to life.

Of course I wanted Emma to take the case further, but it doesn’t matter what I wanted her to do. It’s about what she would do. Also, my research showed that conviction rates with these cases are very low, especially in Ireland. I wanted the book to reflect the reality in which she lived. That’s why it ends the way it does.”

(you can pick up Asking For It here)

The Unspeakable Things Have Been Spoken

Author:

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

unspeakable

Laurie Penny. If you’ve not heard the name before, it’s about time you paid attention. I’m a little biased perhaps, as Penny is nothing short of a hero to me. But honestly, she’s great. She’s recently released a book in the U.K., to be released in the U.S. in September. It’s called ‘Unspeakable Things’, and hell, she talks about exactly what girls are told not to. If you’re looking for an easy going, ‘yes you can be a feminist, love pink, wear false eyelashes and shave your legs’ book, this is not for you. Laurie Penny in general, is probably not for you. She is not interested in sugar-coating this movement, making it appealing to the masses. In her eyes, its appeal should just be a given. Frankly, she thinks this kind of lipstick feminism is rather silly. For her, it’s about the nitty-gritty, the things that nobody likes to talk about. But she’s talking about them, and she certainly won’t be silenced any time soon.

Penny interlinks serious analysis of a range of issues, with the ways in which she has personally been affected, making for a very interesting and thought-provoking read. However, the personal side is no sob story – it’s a cold, slightly bitter narrative, at times, relaying the harsh truths of eating disorders, rape culture, and more. There’s no sugar coating, it’s completely honest. And yet, she’s not claiming to speak for everyone, which is an irritatingly common mistake in discussion of these topics. In fact, she regularly stresses otherwise, pointing out that she is a white, middle-class woman; therefore privileged, and unable to tell every woman’s point of view. It is often assumed that feminist texts speak for all women, and often writers assume this ‘voice of the people’ stance. It is incredibly refreshing that Laurie Penny openly refutes this.

The book is in many ways a rant. It is an intense outlet of anger about the world; about neoliberal capitalism; about patriarchal constraints; about transphobia; about white/male/heterosexual/cis-gender/middle-class privileges – you name it, Penny is probably pissed off about it. But it’s still very eloquently written, aside from the regular effing and blinding. She covers ground such as mental illness, single motherhood and abortion. It’s true, these are all topics covered before, but here is the view of a young woman – a view from someone of this generation. However, more importantly, she attacks things barely touched upon before like issues with modern feminism, cybersexism, and uniquely, men’s issues. But it’s not what you think. The chapter on guys is actually the best part of the book. If you only read one part when you pick it up in the bookshop, make it the ‘Lost Boys’ chapter. It’s genuinely eye-opening, and you won’t regret it.

Her unrelenting wit and her ingenious prose style make this book brilliant. Though it was a moving and engrossing read, there were moments when I found myself laughing out loud, because, yes, Laurie Penny kicks patriarchal ass. It is full of dry humour – fitting for the mood of the book and the nature of the issues discussed. Highlights include; “those who are so eager for women and girls to go back to the kitchen might think again… you can plan a lot of damage from a kitchen. It’s also where the knives are kept” and “Having it all now means having a career, kids, a husband, a decent blow-dry – and that’s it.” And that’s only in the introduction.

I’m not saying I agree with every little detail in the book. In fact, there were several points made that I frowned at and found myself strongly disagreeing. But that doesn’t mean I don’t value what’s said – quite the opposite. It’s a reminder that we don’t all have to agree on everything. It’s a necessary aspect of this movement – differing opinions, challenging others and being challenged, that’s how the Suffragettes arose! What matters is that, at the very core, we are united in ideas and are willing to fight for social change. This is how we will make equality a reality.

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