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Blog Against Sexual Violence Day

Blog Against Sexual Violence Day

An Irish national opinion poll about attitudes to sex crimes found that a large percentage of people believe that rape victims are “totally or partially responsible for being attacked.”

Here's a breakdown:
* More than 30% think a victim is some way responsible if she flirts with a man or fails to say no clearly.
* 10% of people think the victim is entirely at fault if she has had a number of sexual partners.
* 37% think a woman who flirts extensively is at least complicit, if not completely in the wrong, if she is the victim of a sex crime.
* One in three think a woman is either partly or fully to blame if she wears revealing clothes.
* 38% believe a woman must share some of the blame if she walks through a deserted area.
That's a hell of a lot of people who want to assign at least partial blame to a woman for an extremely intimate act committed against her will, an act which could involve internal and external injuries, contracting a sexually transmitted disease (including HIV), an unwanted pregnancy and emotional trauma. Some new research on Rape-Related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder “indicates that certain physiological changes in the brain may be permanent conditions.” Compared to non-victims, victims are 13.4 times more likely to have two or more major alcohol problems and 26 times more likely to have two or more major serious drug abuse problems.

On top of a startling lack of empathy for victims, Ireland has the lowest rape conviction rate in Europe. Less than 10% of rape allegations lead to a guilty verdict in court. With such an abysmal conviction rate coupled with depressingly negative attitudes towards victims, it's no surprise that only one Irish woman in 12 reports her sexual assault to police. (Shock As Irish Rape Poll 'Blames Victims')

How many people would label a man as somewhat responsible for being stabbed or robbed while walking through a deserted area? And why should a certain style of clothing in any way be considered a license to force yourself on someone? Why is it apparently a woman's responsibility to keep herself from being attacked at all times? And lest we assume these attitudes are held mainly by an older generation who will soon be replaced by a more egalitarian one, research on Irish teenagers' views of abuse and violence found that, “a staggering 19% of young women and 34% of young men did not think being forced to have sex is rape.”

Blaming the victim isn't something that's solely done in Ireland, of course. Virtually every time an incidence of stranger rape is reported in Canada warnings go out that women should be vigilant, travel in packs, not open their doors to people they don't know, not leave their drinks unattended. Warnings pertaining to acquaintance rape also include: don't show too much skin and whatever you do, don't get drunk. Advice like this (even if well intended) does serve to suggest that women have some measure of control over the attacks being committed against them. If she hadn't gotten in the elevator, if she hadn't walked to her car alone, gone back to his place, etc., etc...

But as Scarleteen founder Heather Corinna points out on the Scarleteen site:
It’s a bit like if all the warnings we see about driving drunk were aimed at people hit by drunk drivers: “Don’t ever get in your car: someone else might be drunk!” or “To prevent your drunk driving death, never leave the house during happy hour: someone might be drinking and driving.” Imagine, too, if when you found yourself or someone you loved hit by a drunk driver, the common sentiment about that trauma was that unless the person hit was doing everything possible to avoid being hit – like, say, never leaving the house, or only leaving the house when dressed in SUV-resilient armor – then it was only partly the drunk driver’s fault, and maybe not that driver’s fault at all. If you weren’t doing everything you could to not get hit, well then it’s really your fault you got hit, not the fault of the moron full of vodka behind the wheel.
While some safety advice directed at women may keep individual women from being attacked on some occasions (the same way not getting in your car may prevent you from being hit by a drunk driver) it does nothing to tackle the larger problem of sexual violence.

“There is just no way to protect women from sexual violence by having them alter their behavior, unless we completely remove all women from social situations. The rapist is the problem, and he will eventually find a victim.” (from the SAFER blog)Obviously cloistering women isn't an option and would do nothing to reduce sexual violence against males (31% of Canadian men were sexually abused when they were children and in 2003 8% of adult victims of sexual assault were men). Prevention strategies need to focus on the root causes of sexual assault rather than instructing women to avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

If we want to reduce sexual assault in general we need to be honest about where the vast majority of violence is coming from. Most males don't rape but 99% of rapists are male. “A lot of the way masculinity is commonly defined, idealized and enacted is one very big reason why rape is as common as it is, for rape being seen as such a minimal crime so often...” (Heather Corinna, How You Guys...)

Why are boys constantly told they're genetically programmed to want to score while girls are often taught that they should save themselves? Why, as a society, do we still teach boys to define themselves as males through aggression and dominance? Boys will be boys. And girls should beware. Huh? How can that be right?

It's not. We need to eliminate our own double standards and open up other people's eyes to theirs. No one is to blame for the sexual violence committed against them, whether they're a girl or a boy, a man or a woman, whatever they're wearing or not wearing, whether they're passed out drunk or stone cold sober, whether they're jogging through the park in the middle of the day or walking home alone in the dark, whether they kissed their attacker earlier that night or whether he jumped out of the bushes like the rabid stranger rapist our society prefers to focus on (although 77% of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows).

What's really needed to decrease rape is a major attitude adjustment on society's part and for that we need to raise awareness and combat the beliefs (like those shown in the Irish poll) that make sexual assault more likely to occur. We need to ask ourselves if our culture can consistently use sexual images of the female body to sell everything from videogames to animal rights and still make an honest claim to respect women and girls (and if not, what are we going to do about it?). We need more articles like Heather Corinna's How You Guys -- that's right, you GUYS -- Can Prevent Rape. We need more organizations like Men Can Stop Rape and SAFER (Students Active For Ending Rape) and more men and boys joining The White Ribbon campaign. As individuals we need to wholeheartedly (and vocally!) reject the pervasive societal messages that condone and glorify sexual violence and focus on the realities of sexual assault as opposed to harmful myths.

If you want to know how heterosexual acquaintance rape typically happens check out Ashley's enlightening entry on the SAFER blog: How Sexual Violence Really Happens. She's labelled this article as potentially triggering so please keep that in mind before clicking on the link.

If you're a guy you might also want to check out Men Can Stop Rape's info sheet Rape As A Men's Issue and What Young Men Can Do (pdf).

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