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Victim-blaming

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)

Breaking Free: True Stories of Girls Who Escaped Modern Slavery

Author:

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

breakingfree

I read this book recently and I feel compelled to share it with everyone. Why? Because it deserves to be read. And people deserve to read it.

“Breaking Free” is a collection of women’s stories – how they became part of, endured, and lived past human trafficking. Within, there are myths dispelled and facts set straight and a guide to how to talk about the topic, sensitively and knowledgably. It is inspirational and incredibly informative, but so accessible, despite being a painful read at times, due to the nature of the issue.

I do however have to give this book a TRIGGER WARNING, as it is not exactly beat around the bush. These are frank accounts of real experiences of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. It may provide hope for victims, but it may be too difficult a read for someone who is familiar with the situations written about.

What I think is unique about Breaking Free is the diversity. The stories are not all from women of developing countries, continuing the myth that all sold in sexual slavery are far from the Western World. Neither does it ignore these women. The stories are about women who experienced similar horrors, in different ways, from differing backgrounds.

Maria Suarez went from Mexico to America at fifteen years old. On a job interview to be a maid, her ‘new employer’ locked the door, and informed her that from that moment, she belonged to him.

Minh Dang was born in California. From the outside her house was beautiful, and they were a ‘white-picket-fence and rose-bushes’ household. Behind closed doors, her parents abused and raped her, from the age of three years old. As she grew older, they began to sell her body to neighbours and strange men.

These women are individuals. They are not especially alike. It is a powerful reminder that victim blaming is ridiculous – there’s nothing that each of them did to cause what happened to them. They were unfortunate. Taken advantage of. They were not asking for it. What unites them is their strength and courage, that they took what they knew about this world, and have set out, effecting change.

Now activists in the anti-trafficking movement, Maria and Minh are out creating petitions, speaking to people in power, building safe-houses, removing the stigma. They are rebuilding their own lives as well as millions of others.

The book also features the story of Somaly Mam, which is an issue. I have been shocked to discover that she fabricated her story. It is a very confusing thing. It has been a significant setback for the movement as a whole, as it discredits others stories, the vast majority of which are wholly true. But we must remain in solidarity with the poor girls who have honestly experienced these horrors. I know that I would rather believe a few false claims, than turn away from millions of real victims, who desperately need to be listened to and heard.

Don’t underestimate the power you can have. You can help so many people. There are so many ways in which to support the anti-trafficking movement. Here are just a few:
-READ ABOUT IT. Read this book. Read other books too. Here’s a list.
-BUY ITEMS MADE BY SURVIVORS. Instead of supporting unethical trades, support those who need it. International Sanctuary and Made by Survivors are great places to start, with beautiful jewellery and other gifts created by women learning new skills, building up their lives.
-DONATE TO IMPORTANT ORGANISATIONS. Send money to those who run safe houses, teach survivors new skills, provide counselling for victims, rehabilitate millions. The majority of the organisations listed here accept financial donations, some also accept the donation of your time. Volunteer at a local organisation, hold a fundraiser, become a social media intern for a charity. The possibilities are endless…

Preventing Sexual Assault

Author:

By Erika Davidoff

Trigger Warning

Jezebel recently featured a great article compiling ad campaigns on rape prevention from police departments across the world. Though some of them have messages that accurately blame rapists for rape, like Canada’s “Don’t Be That Guy” series and Scotland’s “This Is Not an Invitation to Rape Me” campaign and website, an alarming amount still imply that it’s women’s responsibility to prevent rape by not drinking too much . While it’s perfectly reasonable for police to launch campaigns warning citizens about the dangers of drinking and impaired judgment during a season where alcohol is particularly plentiful, it’s unfortunate that this message is tainted by victim-blaming and misconception when it comes to rape.

These campaigns also reminded me about the messages regarding sexual assault that are disseminated across my college campus. This was the first year that my school required all incoming freshmen to take an online course on sexual assault, and though I’m not sure what the class told men, I know my women-only section was full of advice on how to avoid rape and prevent dangerous situations from happening. Flyers advertising defence courses for women—often specifically rape defence courses—are also prevalent on campus. I’m not against any of these measures and I think it’s important that women (and men!) watch out for themselves and their friends, especially when alcohol is involved. But it’s unfortunate that on campus I am so frequently reminded of our culture’s general opinion regarding rape—that it is women’s responsibility to protect themselves and prevent themselves from being assaulted. It’s simply rarer to see such messages targeted towards men.

I’m glad that this belief is slowly changing, as evidenced by the new campaigns Jezebel highlighted, and I want to commend the Vancouver Police Department and the Bristol police for their thoughtful campaigns. I hope that others follow suit, and that, eventually, the self-defence courses and rape-prevention advice targeted towards women will become a little less necessary.

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