She walked where?! At what time?! Wearing that?! Well, what did she expect… Depressingly, many studies show a culture of victim blaming exists; particularly in rape and sexual assault cases. Back in February, The Havens ‘Wake Up To Rape‘ reported most respondents to their study blamed rape victims for their assailants assault, amongst other more detailed figures, they found one-third blamed victims who had dressed provocatively. Further, Rape Crisis Scotland found 20% of people believed women contributed to rape by wearing revealing clothes, and 40% believed that if a women put herself in a ‘risky’ situation she was to blame. These are just two recent studies which show how rife victim blaming is.
Whilst, there are those that hold these views, thankfully some people realise that if a women walks down the street, even if it is poorly lit, it is not an invitation for rape, nor is wearing a skirt that just covers your bum, a cleavage showing top or getting drunk. The Scottish Government, thankfully, fall into this category and side with common sense to quash these ridiculous notions. And with rape convictions being as they are (in England it is generally considered to be pretty paltry figure at around 6%, in Scotland it’s even worse at 3%) it couldn’t come sooner.
Launched a couple of weeks ago, Not Ever features the first TV advert of its kind for Scotland, and aims to question peoples attitudes to rape myths and to shift the focus on the person who makes the decision to rape. You can watch the advert here. I really like the sarcastic tone of the advert, it is simple and crucially very effective. When the women says in a light hearted cheerily way: “I’m going out tonight and I want to get raped. I need a skirt that’ll encourage a guy to have sex with me against my will.”, it really underlines how utterly stupid it is that a women could be ‘asking’ to be raped, be it by her actions or her clothing. My only question is; when does the rest of the UK get a similar advert?
I came across this image of a provocative fly-poster on Yvan ‘The Face Hunter‘ Rodic’s personal blog (which has so much more inspiration and personality than reams of street style straight-ups, in my opinion!). He snapped the statement in Berlin and I can only wonder what that Berliner meant by their pasted-up protest. Perhaps they’re alluding to the idea that security is a man-made concept… but a male fantasy? Hmmm…
Raising funds for the V Day initiative City of Joy (a safe house in Bukavu, DRC, for women who have experienced sexual violence) the gala will feature celebrity guest speakers and debut performances of new works by Maya Angelou and Eve Ensler, as well as music and dancing from Congolese band Kasai Masai. Sounds like an amazing night, and it’s all for a great cause!
The International Rescue Commitee would like help to pass The International Violence Against Women Act; put forward to Congress, to empower women to claim their most fundamental human rights. The devastation in Haiti seems to have faded from the media as a cause for concern, however as The IRC point out in their short video, help is needed now just as much as it was and is certainly not limited to one geographical area.
In the aftermath of conflict and disaster, women and girls can and do suffer violence, exploitation and abuse. But, with the necessary resources for medical care, counseling, economic opportunities and education, women and girls can win in the fight against violence.
Urge Congressional leaders by signing this petition to pass this legislation to ensure women and girls have the necessary resources to win in the fight against violence.
As part of their ‘Get Home Safely’ campaign, Company magazine ran a piece in their December 2009 issue on how women are now using social networking sites to raise awareness of sex attacks in their local areas.
I have to say that I was a bit skeptical from the get-go, thinking that the piece would relay how women were simply using social networking as a new way to distribute those tired old email circulars. You know the ones; they’re chock full of exasperating tips that have no grounding in reality – saying you shouldn’t wear your hair in a ponytail because it’s easier for an attacker to grab, for instance.
Is it any wonder that I expected the worst? After all, one pull quote from the feature read; “It seemed an easy way to warn all my friends to be on their guard” which immediately had my alarm bells ringing. Whilst, of course, it’s a good idea for women to be cautious and keep themselves safe, I can’t help feeling that women constantly and randomly warning each other ‘to be on their guard’ can lead to the growth of fear that results in women installing their own mental curfews.
On the contrary, however, the Company coverage (written by Nada Farhoud) concentrated on specific areas that had seen incidents of an attacker committing sexual assaults. The Facebook responses weren’t just some spreading of a general ‘Careful Now’ message, but an example of how women in those areas raised awareness of attacks within their neighbourhoods. Whilst local newspapers or television programming may not fully inform people of such attacks in their home town, these Facebook groups and messages seem to be an easy and accessible way for women to spread information at grassroots level. The sense of sisterhood makes me feel all warm and fuzzy!
Still, the feature made for dispiriting reading when Farhoud spoke of how herself, and others she had interviewed, modified their behaviour in order to avoid becoming victims of sexual violence. One particular disheartening story told of how warning signs have been installed at Mudchute Park in London (which has seen a recent spate of attacks) advising women not to walk alone through the park. So far, so victim blaming.
Imagine how my heart sang, then, when I read this next couple of paragraphs;
Now, while I feel too scared to go back to the park alone, other young women have been taking a different approach. Emma Felber, 27, a PhD student from east London, refuses to let the sex attackers ruin her daily routine. Instead of avoiding the park, she has been giving out leaflets to local men, saying, ‘Regrettably, due to a number of recent incidents, it’s necessary to remind men walking alone through the park, not to rob, rape, threaten or assault anyone. Thank you, in advance, for behaving like decent human beings. Signed, single women who refuse to live in fear.’
“I walk through Mudchute Park regularly,” explains Emma. “When I got home that night, after seeing signs about the attacks, I ranted at my flatmate about how there were no signs up telling men not to rape anyone, and that it was unfair that it was always up to women to protect themselves. Why should we have to live in fear? The next day, it occurred to me to make some signs of my own…”
I’m so happy that people like Emma Felber exist, and I’m even more happy that her input was included in the Company piece. Whilst some might balk at her forthright feminist approach (I am, obviously, not one of these people!) and worry about insulting men (rather than worrying about women being assaulted, attacked or raped), Felber is making a valid point that is not often given exposure in mainstream media.
So often women, as an entire gender group, are the ones who suffer as a result of action that is intended to curb sex attacks and assaults. Which is crazy, since women are the ones who are directly suffering from sex attacks and assaults anyway! The rolling out of the warning signs for women at Mudchute Park (effectively banning them from going about their legal business) is just another example of how society will try to wish away attacks by stunting the freedoms of potential victims, rather than attempting to get to the root of the problem and punish the perpetrators. For women, to have to live with the constant reminder that we are ‘potential victims’ and moderate our behaviour, well… it’s no way to live.
What Felber’s flyer does is remind us that the onus for sex attacks should be placed squarely on the perpetrators. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not of the mind that all men are potential sex attackers. But then, the warning signs of Mudchute Park grouped the entire female gender into a ‘potential victim’ category – so at least her male targeted flyering acted as a rather bitter role reversal where men could experience the feeling of having their conduct monitored just because they belonged to a certain gender group.
I can imagine many men bristled at being handed such a leaflet, but let’s hope that any red mist descending did not get in the way of anyone seeing the bigger picture. After all, women are still being assaulted in public spaces that exist for everyone to use… and that, surely, is more of an atrocity than a small knock to the pride of a few men?
More refreshing tips to avoid sexual assault and rape here, here and here.
I came across the My Strength website via the comments on this piece on the F Word. My Strength is a Californian initiative (though it has now spread further), aimed at men, that strives to promote youth empowerment, gender equality and healthy relationships.
I found the My Strength campaign posters (available on the website) to be really refreshing pieces of media. Not only are the sentiments quite unique (in terms of how the media usually responds to and reports rape and sexual violence) but I also think the images are a bit special too. It’s not often that we see a male/female couple where the male meets our eye and the female gazes into the distance (isn’t it usually the other way round?) AND it’s not often that we see a male/male couple full stop (especially one that acknowledges the sexual relationship between the two).
Aaah it’s like an invigorating breath of fresh air! Why can’t we see more campaigns like this?
Following on from my post last week about the V-Day meeting calling for an end to sexual violence in the Congo, I just wanted to share this video. In it Eve Ensler performs her piece, inspired by the women of the Congo, entitled ‘Teenage Girls Guide To Surviving Sex Slavery’. It will most definitely be triggering.
I absolutely loved the Vagina Monologues, and thought Until The Violence Stops was one of the most affecting films I’ve ever seen, so I am already an admirer of Ensler’s work. What I love about the way she writes is that you can hear all the fragments of other women’s voices in her pieces, all coming together to loudly speak one truth. You can bet this was the case in the above performance.
Other videos about the situation in Democratic Republic of Congo;
Following on from our long, wet and happy march everyone slowly filtered into the Camden Centre. Whilst we had been marching it had been difficult to see how many of us marchers there were, but packed into the centre the greatness of our number was an awesome sight!
Admittedly, it was lovely to have an opportunity to sit down and dry off (with hot Caribbean food, home made cakes and a licensed bar all making this period of the evening even more enjoyable) but that wasn’t the only reason for us gathering! The vast group of tired marchers were eager to reflect on the night and listen to some emotive and inspiring speakers.
One hundred years on, violence and exploitation of a different but equivalent devastation grips the people of DRC. Although the war (which began in 1998, and is also known as Africa’s World War) was declared formally over in July 2003, women and girls remain targets for unimaginable violence. Rape is used as a weapon of war to torture and humiliate, leaving survivors with physical wounds, unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and the fear of being ostracised by their communities. Between 300,000 and 400,000 women have been raped in the last 12 years (source: V-Day educational film) and it is estimated that 40 women are raped every day in South Kivu, eastern DRC (V-Day and Unicef educational leaflet)
A transcript, and more information about the video, can be found here.
In attendance at the Royal Albert Hall was Lynne Franks (Chair of V-Day UK), MP Eric Joyce, representatives from the Anglican Church and the wonderful Sandi Toksvig, who acted as a compere of sorts, introducing all the speakers. A young woman called Judith, who described herself as a ‘typical North London girl’, took to the stage to tell her story of how she left DRC with her parents at the age of 3. Judith was being filmed for an upcoming BBC programme and, like so many young Britons, had been ignorant of the situation in the Congo. Her recent journey of discovery opened her eyes; “I’d abandoned my mother-land.” Speaking of how DRC is suffering due to the western worlds ever-increasing demand for its minerals, Judith said “I felt complicit…as the minerals in this war are used in the mobile phones, computers and gadgets I use.”
Congolese anti-rape activist Christine Schuler-DeSchryver spoke with us of her experiences. She had just come from Bukavu to speak with us, where she had visited an 82 year old woman recovering from rape in hospital. Speaking out about the atrocities is a very brave action in the Congo, and elsewhere; “Sometimes I am even afraid of my own shadow” she said. After so many years of travelling and talking about the situation, she told us;”I don’t believe in politicians anymore. The only solution is a women’s revolution and the revolution starts here”
Schuler-DeSchryver is the director of the V-Day created City of Joy, “Our revolution centre”, which will be opening around May 2010. The V-Day action pack gives more information on the centre;
The City of Joy will be located in Bukavu, down the road from Panzi hospital, where it will support and train women to become community activists. They will have access to services including education and income generating activities, as well as a ditinct focus on leadership training. They will also receive programming in: group therapy, storytelling, dance, theatre, self defence, comprehensive sexuality education (covering HIV/AIDS, family planning), ecology and horticulture and economic empowrment. The City of Joy will provide women a place to heal emotionally as they rebuild their lives, turn their pain to power, and return back into their communities to lead.
“I will never forget something Jane Fonda said to me in New Orleans;” Schuler-DeSchryver said “‘Can you imagine if you woke up one day and saw on the news that a grandmother in New York had been raped? The whole world would stand up and fight’ But just because they are black and poor, nobody cares”
Introduced as ‘a power-house’ by Sandi Toksvig, Eve Ensler took to the stage. She began; “I am always on the tip of my emotions when I talk about the Congo.” Having been a campaigner for women’s rights for many years, Ensler felt like she had seen all the atrocities it was possible to see, and knew all it was possible to know. However, when she heard the stories of the women of the Congo; “I was forever shattered,” she said “But I don’t want to ever be the same.”
“These are the stories of people just like you and me” Ensler stressed. She then went on to tell us of an eight year old girl name Alisa who she and Schuler-DeSchryver had befriended in DRC. Alisa had endured two weeks of rape at the hands of militia, who had been keeping her captive. When Ensler and Schuler-DeSchryver met her, Alisa had fistula; holes inside herself from wounds caused by the guns and bayonets used on her. Because of there wounds Alisa no longer had control of her urine.
When they met, Ensler had tried to hug Alisa, but she shied away. It was then that Ensler realised Alisa had not been hugged since her ordeal because people were afraid of being urinated on. Determined to show her some affection, Ensler sat her down on her lap and hugged her…and was promptly ‘pee-d’ on. “It was an act of grace, it was a baptism” Ensler said of that moment.
“I don’t think it’s accidental that we’ve been relegated to the basement,” Ensler said sadly of our meeting place that morning, “It’s an indication of the problem that we haven’t filled the hall with thousands. We’re told to sit down here and be peaceful whilst one of the greatest atrocities of the world goes on as we speak”
“The way that the Congo will change is through a womans revolution,” Ensler went on. She spoke of the strong, resilient women of the Congo and said she was sure that “with a little support they can take back agency.”
As we left the space having heard from all the speakers Ensler urged us; “It’s up to all of us to stop being so polite. We need outrage, otherwise we will not penetrate this apathy.”
More things to go on and do;
Donate online to V-day; “We welcome any support or donations you are able to give us towards our campaign to prevent rape as a weapon of war in the DRC. Your donation will go towards the City of Joy: a safe house to help women and girls heal from rape, rebuild their lives and re-integrate into their communities.”