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Sexual Assault

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/

Hey, hot things

Author:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A poem by Ananda Gervais

Content Note: sexual assault, street harassment

I am 13 and I’m walking to my friends house and you honk your horn and role down the window as you pass me, pursing your lips to send me kisses, I don’t understand so I look down and avoid eye contact. I ask myself what I did, what did I do to get such attention, what did I do to deserve this disrespect, I am 13.

I am 14 and I’m walking through the school hallways, and you think it is appropriate to smack your hand against my ass, I do not know you, this is not welcome. So when I turn round I intend to yell at this intruder of my personal space of my body but before I can say anything you get on the defensive. ‘it was just a joke’ you say. No it was not just a joke it was assault. 

I am 15 and walking home with my friend, it is 9 oclock and the sky is black when you start to follow us. There are two of you and we are scared and reminding each other that we just aim for the nuts. You call after us, ‘hey hot things, wanna play.’ No I most certainly do not want to play so we carry on walking. You call again ‘hey, white girls, stop for a minute, I want to look at you’ I turn around and tell you to stop and my friend tells you to ‘fuck off.’ You step forward and I am genuinely scared for my life, but you retreat calling us whores and bitches as you get into your car.  When I later tell one of my friends, she asks me what I was wearing.

I am 16 and you push me up against the wall and tell me to kiss you, I refuse and you push me harder, trying to grope me. I struggle out of your grasp, you call me a prude I tell you to bite me. I tell you if I ever saw you try that again I would break your arm.  An hour later I see you do the same thing to my very drunk friend, she tells you to stop, you don’t. So I push you off her and you stumble to the floor, your friend tells me to relax. I should of broken your arm.

I am 17 and am walking in the darkness with my best friend as we had decided to be fun and spontaneous and surprise another friend of ours when you drive up to us, there are 4, maybe 5 of you in that car and as you yell at us I assure my friend that everything will be okay. I’m not sure what words of abuse you hurled at us but when we stayed silent and walked on you yelled at us to at least be polite and have a conversation with you. Are you actually telling us to be polite, because to me that’s the greatest irony of all.

I am 18 and my bus stops, I get off, noticing you, who had been staring at me for the last 8 stops are also getting off the bus. I clench my fists and speed walk through the dark streets, my house seeming further away than usual. You follow me at my first turn and then the second, I immediately accept my fate. Dialling my mother’s number and leaving her a message to tell her I love her. As I hang up you turn a corner away from me and I let out a breath of relief.

I like being a girl, its fun and slightly complicated and I would never wish to not be me, not for an instant. But in instances like these and many like it, I do not want to be a girl. For a flighting second I wish to be you, I wish to not have to walk alone in fear and to not have to worry about how my choices in clothing might be interpreted, but sadly, wishes rarely come true.

Innocent until proven guilty? The case of Kesha

Author:
Kesha+Long+Hairstyles+Long+Wavy+Cut+f1mO2mWnoo6x

By Issy McConville

TW Over the last couple of days, the #FreedomForKesha hashtag has seen an outpouring of support for the singer, who is currently embroiled in a legal battle against her producer, Dr. Luke, on the grounds of sexual assault. However, it has been almost a full year since Kesha first brought the charges; a year which has seen her disappear from the public eye, whilst Dr. Luke continues to produce records, finding success with artists such as Usher and Nicki Minaj in the past year. Kesha also named Sony in the case, claiming the label knew of her abuse, but turned a blind eye for almost 10 years.

Sadly, at this point, it is likely that Kesha’s career will never recover, simply because she decided to speak out against her abuser, and about the industry which was implicit. The silencing of Kesha’s voice, and the destruction of her career, is a telling reflection of the inherent misogyny of the music industry, and of society as a whole.

Comment pieces about the case have continued to appear on my Facebook timeline. Scrolling through the comments section – I should perhaps have learned by now that this will be nothing but trouble – I happen upon comments such as ‘there is no detail of the supposed rape, just a load of feminist garbage’ and continued calls for Dr Luke to be, ‘innocent until proven guilty’. Yes, of course, innocent until proven guilty, this is a fundamental human right – but tends to be a luxury that is only afforded to the accused.

While Kesha’s career has ground to a halt, Dr. Luke is continuing to work. While Kesha’s claims are being cross examined by the public, and being blamed for crying wolf with a false accusation, Dr. Luke continues to dominate in the music industry with no retribution. And this is a pattern which is being replayed all over the world. According to statistics from RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network, recorded here – https://rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates) only around 2% of rape claims are proven to be false, and in fact, only a little more than 30% of rapes are ever reported to authorities. Dispute the accuracy of these figures all you want – there is a clear discrepancy between actual false rape claims and the amount that are derided as being such.

However, the ideology of victim blaming continues. We live in a world which shames a woman for daring to speak out against an abuser but makes excuses for the man until the very last minute. Just look at problematic photographer Terry Richardson. Countless models have made claims of sexual abuse and an abuse of his power, and yet he continues to work with the biggest celebrities and be popular in the public eye. We just aren’t interested in hearing about his misdemeanours, much like those of Dr. Luke. In this case, perhaps Dr. Luke is innocent. But, as he was also named as possibly being the abuser of Lady Gaga, perhaps not. Irregardless, Kesha’s experience is just one of countless similar stories that reveal the narrative of victim blaming that exists. Kesha may have sacrificed her career to name her abuser. And until we stop believing that every rape claim is false, we play into the hands of the abusers, and allow that 70% of rapes to still go unreported.

I was 13 years old

Author:

Trigger Warning

I was thirteen years old when I had sex for the first time. I was in my first proper relationship and felt overwhelmed with the attention and love that he showed for me. I had people saying ‘you are too young to love’ constantly and yet, I felt these people were wrong as I fell into an intense, overwhelming relationship. As a couple of months went by, I felt a pressure not only from him, but from his male friends, to ‘prove’ my love for him by having sex. At this age, many girls had yet to have their first kiss and I felt ashamed that I was already so far ahead. When it finally happened, after much persuasion, I stumbled home in pain and kept it a secret. I gave in to his demands as I was flattered by his attention and felt that I would lose him if I did not give myself to him. I didn’t tell my friends or my family, but as little as two weeks later, I had boys coming up to me asking if it was true and the word ‘slag’ was thrown around. I ignored these daily torments and kept my head up, wrongly convincing myself that my boyfriend had not told anyone.

We continued our relationship for almost a year. A year in which I began to lose friends and I hardly saw my family because I was spending all my time wrapped up in this relationship dream world. We drank together and then he would ask me to do things I didn’t feel comfortable doing. Later on, I realised that it had only been me drinking, thinking of it as a social thing when it was really a way to get what he wanted from me. From the outside, my friends were convinced that I was in a perfect relationship and kept telling me how lucky I was, yet they didn’t have a clue what was going on because I was too frightened to admit it.

Girls and very occasionally boys, are told through religion, media, the internet and friends, that keeping your ‘virginity’ intact is important as it means others will respect you and you are still ‘complete’ and ‘pure’. Many girls are told that they must wait until they find that special person to give everything they have to and that if they are no longer a virgin, they are dirty and damaged in some way. I remember feeling as if I had no one who would understand me, because I was confused and I felt angry with myself. I searched ‘losing your virginity at age 13’ into google, and phrases like ‘have some self-respect’ and ‘disgusting’ hit me in the face. By this time, my boyfriend was being praised for ‘doing the deed’ whereas I was disappearing into myself and losing my confidence.

Three years after the end of the relationship, aged 17 and severely depressed, I broke down in front of my mum and told her everything. After being fearful for a long time of what anyone might say, I was relieved that she took me in her arms and cried, telling me that she did not judge me and that I was not spoiled or filthy, like I’d told myself I was for four years. Many young girls are shamed and teased for being sexually active yet can easily be pressured into it. A year after I had sex, we were taught sex education for the first time and I felt angry that we had not been taught earlier. I knew everything that they told us but not once were we told that it is okay to say ‘no’ in a relationship and not once were the boys told that it is deeply wrong to pressure someone into something they are uncomfortable with. I wanted to write this piece as although I regret my decision that I made at such a young age, I now no longer hate myself for not waiting. I am still whole, I’m still alive and I still have so much more to experience. I am not shattered or broken with a piece missing.

 

The author of this blog has asked to be kept anonymous.

 

Let’s Talk About Sexual Assault.

Author:

By Issy McConville

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Trigger Warning

So we’ve reached January. That month that feels like an endless Monday – it’s cold, it’s dark, and aside from the few extra pounds gained purely from Turkey consumption, Christmas feels like a distant memory. But there’s one memory in particular I want to talk about. Christmas is a truly unique period – perhaps it’s the glint of the tinsel dazzling your eyes, or perhaps it’s those ill-advised 2 for 1 Wetherspoons pitchers – but inevitably, your reunion with your school friends in the pub ends up on the sweaty dance floor of the same terrible club you used to sneak into underage.

Sadly for me this year, despite the promise of reliving the fantastic memories of the Hippodrome Foam Party 2012, my return to this particular club was a marred experience. There I was, throwing some shapes to the Spice Girls in the cheese room (no regrets) when I felt someone touch me. And this happened 3 times in this night alone. I’m not proud to admit that eventually I snapped – I turned around and slapped a man as he laughed with his friends. I know that violence was not the answer. And I also know that wine makes me a little aggressive. But this should never have happened to me. I should be able to go out with my friends without having strangers touch me as they walk by.

Last night’s shocking episode of Big Brother saw Jeremy Jackson removed from the show after inappropriately touching Chloe Goodman. Trying to explain his actions, he stated that he was ‘drunk’ and it wasn’t an ‘aggressive’ move. But what could be more aggressive than a complete violation of her body, of her personal space? He said he thought she was flirting – but she was just a woman helping him as he got sick. This isn’t flirting. The fact that this could happen on live television, and the fact that so many on Twitter jumped to Jackson’s defense is revealing of the damaging attitudes that exist. Groping someone when you’re sober IS sexual assault. Groping someone after a few too many drinks IS STILL sexual assault. This image of sexual assault as the creeping stranger down a dark alleyway needs to be dispelled for good, because it means that too many of us don’t recognise assault when it does happen. Being felt up in a club is an experience that is almost too common that we’ve become immune to it – but we need to stop letting these things slide. If a man touches me in a club, he should be removed, just as Jackson was removed from the Big Brother house. Watching Chloe’s distress was very upsetting, and this is happening to girls every single day. The response of Channel 5 was pretty questionable, as they still aired the footage, and advertised it as ‘explosive drama’ – making Chloe’s assault into some kind of entertainment for viewers.

Despite this, I am glad Big Brother took action in removing Jeremy Jackson. But let’s build on this example. Let’s stop our acceptance of regular incidences of assault, just because it’s easy. Let’s have better structures in place in bars and nightclubs, so women never feel afraid to report. Let’s challenge this sense of entitlement towards a woman’s body. It is a strange facet of humanity that we enjoy gathering in a small dark room to move around to some electronic beats for hours – but we really do. And when we do, we should all be able to feel safe.

 

 

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