Guest Post by: Jan Stanners
In January of 2011 a Toronto police constable speaking on public safely at York University’s Osgood Law School stated that if women wanted to avoid being sexually assaulted they should stop dressing like ‘sluts’. While the Slutwalk movement has tackled the offensiveness of this statement and the concept of victim blaming I was more stunned by the fact that a police officer felt it was acceptable to stand up on a campus in 2011 and make such a statement. Does he really believe that? Is he the exception or the rule?
My incredulity is a function of my experience in life. First, I find it terribly difficult to be critical of the police for I value the service they provide us with poor pay and risk to personal safety. I also had the privilege of teaching a number of amazing students about diversity and the justice system. Most of the students intended to have careers in the area of criminal justice, and their motivation was very similar to that of students in Social Work, Education, and Nursing: they wanted to make the world a better place for all people. (Of course they also informed me that once in a while there’s a student who “just wants a gun”).I remember how thoughtful they were about the way the relationships between men and women could be messed up by socialization into the ‘real man’ role. Having this exposure to future police officers makes it hard to accept that all police officers think the way the aforementioned constable does.
So…I am left with the question of where the Toronto police constable got the idea that how a woman dresses or behaves is a causal factor in whether she is sexually harassed or assaulted.
When I took logic in university I learned that a bad conclusion is often the result of a bad premise. The constable’s statement seems to indicate a premise that ‘once a male is sexually aroused he cannot control himself’. I had heard this same idea expressed more crudely as (pardon the language) “A stiff prick has no conscience”. This made me wonder how prevalent such a belief is in our society.
About a year ago I was introduced to the concept of the WTF? Moment. So I’ll start by asking my female readers a question I used to ask my students “Why is it that when a man is unfaithful his woman blames the other woman?” Feeling that WTF? When you blame another woman for ‘stealing’ your man you have just said your man can’t help himself given her ‘slut’ temptation. So you agree with that premise.
Dr. Phil often insinuates that we as women need to not to ‘let ourselves go’ as our beloved may be tempted by other younger, more attractive women. So an authority (?) like him also believes that if a man is unfaithful it is because he couldn’t help himself…she was too tempting. So he agrees with that premise.WTF?
When basketballer Tony Parker’s marriage fell apart amid speculations of infidelity the public was incredulous: why would he cheat on a hot woman like Eva Longoria? WTF? In reality society in general understands when a man cheats with an attractive woman but doesn’t get it when the other woman is less attractive than his former partner (Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles). So society believes the premise.
When teaching about vicitmization I used Cohen and Felson’s Routine Activities theory which looked at the requirements for a criminal victimization to take place: an attractive target, a motivated offender, and a lack of guardianship. When I asked for an example of target my students, who were often mostly female, would say it was a woman who gets raped because she is dressed like a slut. WTF? So young females believe the premise.
Other examples of this belief have lead to honour killings even here in Canada…women are held responsible for not doing anything to arouse the beast. Rapists are either not convicted or given reduced sentences because the woman was dressed a certain way or drunk or flirting.
Given these examples I can only consider that the constable’s response reflects general societal beliefs about men. And men should be pissed about being viewed that way.
Now let’s go back to that premise about arousal and lack of control. Men should be offended by that because it portrays them as morally inferior and driven only by ‘the little head’. When I look back at my students and the men I have known in my life I just cannot believe they would think or act that way.
Is there any evidence that men really lose control and become automatons when they glimpse an enticing female? The descriptions often describe the men as unable to reason or stop themselves…temporarily insane?? WTF?
It the premise were true, we would see men, inflamed with lust, throw down attractive women on the ground, strip them and rape them, no matter where or when. WTF? I spent a lot of years on a post-secondary campus where there were many beautiful young women walking around in clothing that bared cleavage and pierced navels…never saw anybody get attacked. WTF? So is there something wrong with those men…or is there something wrong about the premise?
There are many situations where healthy males are exposed to temptation but they just don’t act according to the premise. Haven’t read a lot of reports of men rushing the stage at a strip club and assaulting the near-naked performers, or grabbing bikini clad women at the beach. Many performers appear on the Red Carpet in dresses that expose a lot of smooth skin….no assaults. WTF? Problem with the premise?
There is a need to question that premise. Is it ‘temporary insanity’ when the supposedly ‘insane’ man has the presence of mind to assault only women who are walking alone at night or are in their apartments WHERE NO ONE CAN SEE THEM? WTF? Weapons such as knives and immobilizing drugs are often used: THEY JUST HAPPENED TO HAVE THEM ALONG WHEN THEY WENT CRAZY? WTF? The nonsense just goes on and on.
I throw down the gauntlet to the police and other officials of the criminal justice system to start treating sexual assault survivors as victims of a violent crime. Stop acting as if you really believe that premise. Because if you do then we have to worry about you acting that way: after all the majority of you are males. I wish someone had shouted out “Is that what you would do?” when the Toronto constable make that statement.
Is it wrong to think that way about men? YES!! There is too much evidence that the vast majority of men would NEVER assault a woman. There is evidence that sexual assault is planned and executed to avoid detection…that particular male is not insane, he’s a violent offender. It doesn’t matter if he is her date, her teacher, her customer or her husband: he’s a violent offender! Treat him like a criminal, not her. Make us believe that you are performing your stated function: To Protect and Serve.
LAWRENCE E. COHEN AND MARCUS FELSON. University of Illinois, Urbana. American Sociological Review 1979, Vol. 44 (August):588-608
Finally! A campaign that focuses on the perpetrator instead of the victim. In November of 2010 Edmonton launched the first Don’t be that Guy Campaign. Now Calgary is following in their footsteps and is launching it here. This week you’ll start to notice some in your face posters, such as the one to the left, on CTrains, buses, in nightclub, and in the universities. The posters are mostly targeting men, and will appear in nightclub and university washrooms, as well as other high traffic sites around town.
The DBTGC is being launched by the ‘Sexual Assault Voices of Calgary’. An organization that seeks to change societal thinking: “We are looking at societal change here, it’s important to remember this is not just a police initiative, this involves so many different organizations” says detective Paul Wyatt of the Calgary Police Service’s Sex Crimes Unit. The partners he is refering to includes: Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services, Alberta Health Service, Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse, Calgary Police Service, Calgary Sexual Health Centre, Canadian Red Cross, Connect Family and Sexual Abuse Network and HomeFront.
The in your face campaign is aimed at Men, 18-24, in order to not only take the onus off the victim but bring men into the conversation about sexual assault. The message that this campaign is trying to get across is clear: “if someone is incapacitated by alcohol or drugs they cannot give consent, and sex without consent is sexual assault.” Police Chief Rick Hanson hopes to push the message home as well “You can no longer hide behind the mistaken belief that it’s okay to use drugs or alcohol,as an excuse, or think because a woman did not give you a ‘no’ answer, that it means ‘yes’.”
On every poster the message ” Sex Without Consent = Sexual assault” appears at the bottom. The SAV website also pushes the message that if you have sex without consent, it’s sexual assault:
” sexual assault is any form of sexual activity forced on someone else without that person’s consent. Force can be physical, or through the use of threats, bullying, manipulation, alcohol/drugs or harassment. Any unwanted sexual activity–including kissing, touching, groping, flashing, oral sex, intercourse, photographing, etc.–under ANY circumstances is sexual assault.”
The website includes a section that talks about what consent is and what consent is not. For example, it reads: “Consent is simple. Just ask.” and in contrast to that reads: “Consent is not obtained if the person changes her/his mind. And a person can change his or her mind at ANY time.”
The campaign is meant to change the minds of men, reminding them that the fight against sexual assault involves them as well, and if they see it they too need to step up and say something. “This is a multi-scale approach, not only do we want to get the message out there that it’s never the victims fault, you weren’t in the wrong place, you weren’t drinking too much, you weren’t dressed the wrong way. But we want to target those men to tell them that this behaviour is not acceptable. We also want to target the men who are with them. Those who can stand up to their friends and remind them if you do this you are going to go to jail” says Wyatt. Reminding us that this is a community effort. If we see something we need to stand up against it, and once and for all shake this idea that somehow a women brought on her assault because she was wearing a short skirt and high heels.
We put the onus on the victim too much in our community today, sending the message to perpetrators that it is OK, as a result causing more damage to the victim. As a victim of assault I know that we begin to internalize these feelings. You start to feel that maybe it really is your fault, maybe if you hadn’t had that one extra drink, or worn that short skirt, or walked down that dark street alone, or in my case rollerbladed down that dark pathway, it wouldn’t have happened to us. But it does happen to us. “As a community, it is important for us to stand together and say this type of behaviour is not acceptable and the consequences are too great.” says Laurie Blahitka, of Alberta Health Services.
Not only is this a message about consent, consequences, and victim blaming, it’s also a way to bring men into the conversation. It’s about making men part of the solution too. This is so important because if we remain divided, we’ll never win. As a victim, and an advocate I am so glad to see that people are finally starting to realize it’s going to take the cooperation of all kinds of organizations and people to start changing the minds of society.
I will leave you with a great quote from the SAVCalgary website :
If we keep thinking about the sexual abuses and sexual assaults committed by men as a ‘women’s issue’, we’re not going to do much about truly preventing that violence. The women you care about–and your kids–should live and grow up in a society where male violence against women is not acceptable. Not legally, not morally, not socially.
So the Toronto Police are back at it again, they are giving women bad advice on how to not be sexually assaulted. I can’t help but wonder if they learned nothing from the demonstrations that took place in Toronto last April in regards to Victim Blaming.
Apparently there is an issue with a pervert who is looking up young women’s skirts on Toronto Transit, specifically targeting students from a near by private school. The school principle passed on some advice to students, via email, from the investigating officer from the Toronto Police department. That advice? tell them not to wear their school uniforms, the skirts, on public transit. If they had,for example, jeans or sweatpants on, it wouldn’t be an issue.
Once again we have this idea that if the victim would just do more to prevent the crime it never would have happened in the first place. No one stops to think to themselves that perhaps it never would have happened if there had been no pervert to begin with. Or perhaps there would be no pervert if we actually started to target young men and inform them that this type of behaviour is not acceptable. But what am I thinking? Boys will be boys, right?
These are reinforcing the belief in young women that they are provoking sexual assault by wearing certain types of clothing.
I don’t live in Toronto, I live in Calgary and I take our transit 3 times a week. And I hate taking transit in the early mornings when the trains are pact tight. I particularly find it uncomfortable when I find myself on one of the older trains that aren’t designed for standing room. At least once a week someone either: makes a comment to me about my body, or touches me when it’s crowded in a clearly inappropriate manner. In one instance last year I caught a guy taking a picture of my legs whilst I was standing on the train. In addition to this I hear stories everyday from someone about how something inappropriate has happened to them while they were taking transit.
This is in no way the fault of Calgary Transit and in every way the fault of main stream culture. How do we get across the message that looking up people’s skirts, taking pictures of them, touching them, or doing anything to them without their consent, is not OK? To me it seems just logical, if person A doesn’t want to be touched person B should keep their hands to themselves.
The point is that sexual assault or harassment has nothing to do with what women are wearing and everything to do with the pervert. I am beyond tired with this false belief that if you wear a skirt, or go out drinking, or walk down a dark street alone, or do any other ‘risky’ behaviour, that this puts you more at risk for sexual assault. Women of all shapes, sizes, and situations are sexually assaulted everyday. One study sites that 21% of women who were abused by a partner were pregnant when they were abused. I invite you to please explain to me how a pregnant women was asking for it, or brought on that abuse herself? The same study says that 40% of women with disabilities have reported being raped or assaulted. Again I would please like someone to explain to me how they brought on their own assaults?
I am not saying that there are no preventative steps women can take to protect themselves, but I am not sure why we always focus on the victim instead of the perpetrator. I am not sure why better advice was not given to the young school aged women who are being harassed on the bus. For example, pulling out your cell phone and calling police, informing the bus driver what is going on, public shaming “hey dude in blue hat, could you please stop looking up my skirt? That would be fantastic, thanks”, as a bystander you could ask the victim if they alright, do they need help? Simply telling young women to not wear skirts is counterproductive.
If people want to talk about preventative measures women can take tell them: to not wear both earbuds when walking alone, limit chatting on your cell well walking, be aware of your environment. But to tell them that wearing jeans instead of a skirt will keep them safe is just plain dumb.
In response to this story, according to the above link, Constable Wendy Drummond said that the school principal did not relay the officers words correctly. She says that the advice to women was that they should: travel in pairs, use panic buttons on the subway, do not discuss their travel plans in public, and that both sexes should not wear their school uniforms in public. But she apparently did not deny that the officer had remarked that if the girls had been in jeans it never would have happened.
Even if this is how it did in fact go down it doesn’t matter. In either context the officers advice sucks, and so does the principles. Don’t talk about your travel plans in public? What is that? Is the world so scary that we can’t even talk to our friends about plans? It still also places the onus on the victim. The idea that i can and should be doing more to prevent myself from getting raped.
Nor the principle or the police officer should be perptuating victim blaming ideology to young women, it’s pretty disgusting.
The ad you see here is an ad published by “Fluid”, a local salon in Edmonton, Alberta. The ad was a part of a series of 6 ads over the last year (none of the others were that much better, and in some cases they were worse). This stuff just makes me shake my head. How disturbing is it that a local salon is sending the message that if you are getting beaten by your partner you should at least look good? Are you kidding me?
What makes this even worse is the owner of Fluid is a women. That’s right a women. Sarah Cameron told the Sun “It might strike a chord, but as the way our society and community is getting, we keep tailoring everything because everyone is getting so sensitive. Anyone who has a connection or a story behind anything can be upset or have an opinion. We are not trying to attack anyone” Sensitive? Domestic violence already has a huge impact on our communities today and all this ad does is glorify that violence. The owner defends herself by telling CTV that it only looks like it is glorifying violence against women that is how ‘everyone is perceiving it…We want people to talk about it. It’s supposed to gear up some sort of discussion.”
From what I can tell the message here isn’t “domestic violence is an audacity and shouldn’t be put up with” it’s more along the lines of “it’s ok if he beats the $*** out of you as long as he pays for you to look good at the same time”. This ad is simply romanticizing domestic violence and it’s sick. The caption ” look good in all you do” perpetuates the message “getting beat up is OK if he buys you stuff.” Take the above ad for example. The women sitting on the couch in fancy clothes with a clear black eye. The neatly dressed man in the background, holding a neckless (presumably a gift for her- most likely an apology gift but hey maybe I am reading too much into that one). Excuse me well I go vomit.
This ad is just more of the same message that victims of abuse get everyday from society. Hide it anyway that you can. Don’t overreact to something so insignificant. You are just being sensitive and irrational. Society has tolerated this much too long and as a result this violence has been allowed to flourish in such a way that when ads like this turn up we are told we are being ‘too sensitive.” You know whenever we as society let this go: police fail to charge an abuser, we turn a blind eye to the screaming and yelling coming from our neighbours house every night, we pretend not to see the bruises on our friend weekly, we let an ad go like the one above, we are simply allowing abusers to get away with this and frankly sending the message that it is OK. That it is acceptable behaviour.
The other ads weren’t any better two in particular were disturbing in some ways more then this one. A woman implied to be a prostitute sitting on a mattress in an alleyway, and in a later ad a woman pulling a body out of hearse implied to be that prostitute. Think about the subtle message in an ad like that.
I like what another blogger said about it “I’d like to know what a woman with bruises being offered jewelry has do with having your hair styled. Maybe Toys R Us should have an ad of an abused child being offered ice cream as part of it’s Christmas ad campaign.” Sarah Cameron may I reccomend that you sit down and watch all four videos of “Killing Us Softly” hosted by Jean Kilbourne you might learn something about subtle messages in advertising and the gender inequality that exists, even in 2011, and why ads like this don’t help the situation.
Recently, Fluid issued an apology:
“If survivors of abuse interpret this ad to make light of any abusive situation, we sincerely apologize, that was never our intent as there are people that worked on this campaign who are survivors of abuse. To the rest of you who this has so deeply affected, we truly hope you do something to help stop domestic violence. Truly honor the survivors that you are standing up for. Unfortunately boycotting a hair salon will not accomplish this.”
I beg to differ Fluid. Boycotting your hair salon will send the message that this type of advertising will not be accepted. When a corporation does something that is against one’s morals the easiest way to send a message is to go after their sponsors via a letter writing campaign, and boycott their store, show, or product. I can do something for survivors of domestic abuse while at the same time boycotting your salon. It’s quite easy actually. I don’t live in Edmonton, but if I did I certainly would be going out of my way to not go to this place.
This next posting was written by a dear friend of mine. From someone who is as passionate about victim blaming issues as I am, I wanted to share this short article with you. Here she explores victim blaming within society. I hope she’ll continue to share her writings with me.
Author: Jan Stanners, MA
This is the belief that someone who is a victim of a crime or other misfortune is complicit, in some way, in his or her own victimization. Another term is victim-precipitated victimization. A good example is when a man who has battered his partner for years if finally killed by his victim.
As a sociologist, I am always looking for a general pattern in diverse behaviours. So while victim-blaming in sexual assault is the focus of Slutwalk, I’d like to look at some other examples of this action to see if a general pattern emerges.
The group that suffered the greatest loss of life and property were the poor in New Orleans. I heard many people say “Why didn’t they just evacuate…after all they had a lot of warning”. So was those most harmed who were responsible for what happened?
Think a little deeper. How are you supposed to evacuate when you don’t have a vehicle? Remember, these are the poor in NOLA. And even if you do evacuate, how will you pay for food, accommodation and other necessities when you reach your destination? A friend, who was there, pointed out another challenge those people faced. Many of the poor work in service industries where if they evacuated and there was no total devastation they could lose their jobs because they were absent.
Is this victim blaming? When you look at the response of the American government it suggests that they blame the citizens who stayed. There are areas of NOLA that are still uninhabitable and most of the restoration work is being done by charitable groups.
Gay Panic Defense
This was used by defendants who had assaulted or killed someone who they claimed had made a homosexual advance. The perpetrators were so horrified and terrified that they became temporarily insane. While not a legal statute, this ‘panic’ was utilized to support claims of insanity, diminished capacity, provocation, and self-defense. Probably the most well-known attempted use of this defense was in the case of Matthew Shepard who was murdered in 1998. (The judge did not allow the use of that defense).
This defense was, however, used successfully in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand and resulted in the downgrading of murder convictions to manslaughter. Victim blaming?
I can give many more examples. Battered women who are told to lose weight, keep a cleaner house, and not to ‘bug him’ if he’s tired or stressed. She ‘makes’ him hit her. The studies that attempted to link intelligence to race using brain volume measurements and culturally biased IQ tests. Minorities just weren’t as smart so couldn’t be expected to achieve. The search for a faulty gene in Aboriginal people that leads to alcoholism: they are biologically flawed so can’t be helped. The ‘culture of poverty’ ideology stated that poor/minority peoples have a culture that doesn’t value education so why try to help them achieve. That one informed American social policy in the 1960s. And finally, women who ‘make’ men assault them sexually because they dress or behave in a provocative manner.
The common or general characteristic of all of these incidents is that someone in a dominant position is making a pronouncement, deemed credible, about someone in a subordinate position. In sociology we call this ‘structural inequality’: it is built into many of our social institutions such as the law, education and social programming. In the case of sexual assault, some men (not all) say that they cannot help themselves when women entice them with flashes of skin or flirting (I’ll talk about that idea later). They have the authority to label her a ‘slut’ and hold her responsible for whatever befalls her. This is why the efforts to reclaim the term ‘slut’ may not go well. Women lack the authority to speak with credibility when they speak of their own sexual behaviour; it’s always judged as good or bad by men.
The Impact of Successful Victim Blaming
I’ve often wondered why women were so reluctant to report sexual assaults to the police or even their families. We have legislation that bars the identity of a sexual assault victim from being released publically. But victims of break and enter or auto theft or physical assault don’t want their identities hidden.
Could it be that the process of victim-blaming has been so successful that the victims of sexual assault themselves believe that they did something to cause the assault. They speak of being ashamed…but they didn’t do anything shameful, did they?
Given this climate, we must praise and support the courage of those women who refuse to be hushed. I was most impressed when the client of Match.com who was assaulted by a man she met through the service came on television, undisguised, to talk about what happened.
NO MORE VICTIM BLAMING!!!
I wrote this last term after a very emotional evening class where we were talking about sexual assault. I thought I would share it with everyone. It’s a bit disorganized but please bare with me. I was pretty emotional when I wrote this up. I also used ‘sexual assault’ and ‘rape’ instead of just one or the other. Sorry it is so lengthy. I promise not all my blog entries will be this long.
As I sat in a class room last week listening to students sitting around talking about oppression and ultimately rape I couldn’t help but find myself getting angrier and angrier. The nerve of a bunch of males sitting around trying to explain rape infuriated me. That is until I realized that it isn’t their fault. It is not their fault that they don’t understand that the white, patriarchal, sexist world that we live in allows for such horrors to take place. The patriarchal viewpoints skewed their perceptions of reality, at least to a point. to my astonishment as I sat there I realized this happened not only in men but in women to (I will come back to this point).
Rape is not about finding sexual pleasure as the media might have you to believe. Rape is about power, domination, and control. One of the students in the class had said that women have to be careful when they go to other countries because if they go there and are caught without a male escort “they risk being sexually assaulted or worse”. Make no mistake about it, I am not disputing the fact that this is very true in some countries. However, rape is not a just a third world problem, or something that only happens in other countries, something that happens to other people, or something that only happens to women. Sexual assault happens in our own backyard. It happens to men. It happens on this very university campus (I wrote this for MRU). It happens on other campuses. And it has probably happened to someone you know.
To put it into context for you according to 2004 and 2007 statistics collected by the government of Canada: one in three women are sexually assaulted (to put this into context that means if you have 22 women in your class on average 7 of them are sexual assault victims), and only one in ten assaults are reported. Which means out of the 22 people only 2 of them felt it as OK to report, or were able to report, or felt it was worth reporting. According to that same research 84% of assaults are committed by someone the survivor knows, and assault rates are five times higher for women ages 15 to 24. And According to victimization surveys done by stats Canada 58% of people said they didn’t report it because it was not important enough.
If this is not enough to convince you there is a deeper problem that is entrenched in our culture, in our justice system, and with policy think about this: in 2007 charges were laid in 1/3 of the assaults reported to police whereas other violent crimes that were reported to police resulted in charges being laid in ½ of them. Has sexual assault become so socially acceptable in our society that we just don’t take it serious? Or have we just silenced ourselves to the point where everyone knows it goes on but no one wants to talk about it? We need to realize that sexual assault is a serious issue within Canadian communities. The scary part is that most people don’t even realize that they have committed sexual assault. Why? Because some assault is not only a socially learned behaviour it is reinforced everyday by media, and peers. Before you crucify me. I am not saying that our parents and TV are saying “You know that girl next door? If you want her and she doesn’t want you, just force her”. Obviously that doesn’t happen. But think of the following scenario: You meet someone at the bar, you are sober they are not. You see an opportunity to get ‘laid’ so you take them home and you take advantage of their state. The next morning she or he is embarrassed reveals that they didn’t want to have relations that night and goes home. Under the Canadian criminal code, you just raped someone. Or consider this scenario: a girl friend and a boyfriend:
Girl: come on you want to don’t you?
Guy: No, not right now
Girl: come on WTF? Is wrong with you?
Guy: I just don’t want to at the moment
Girl: Oh come on (pushes herself on guy, and guy seems to give in)
this is also sexual assault. Consent was not given. Assault has become so socially acceptable that we don’t even know what consent is anymore. People seem not to understand consent. I don’t understand why it is not complicated. Yes = Yes and No = No.
I recently heard a couple guys talking about the “3 No rule”. I wasn’t sure what this was and had to ask someone. To my surprise I found out that 3 No’s = Yes. On what planet does this make sense? This can only make sense in a world where men (and women) are taught that women shouldn’t be asking for sex. We should be acting like we don’t want sex and men should be trying real hard to get it from us. This makes me sick. If I say “No” it doesn’t mean ask me 2 more times and if I don’t run away screaming from you it means you have consent.
I saw an article in the popular ‘Cosmo’ magazine, a few months ago, that coined a new term “gray arearape”. This is rape that “refers to sex that falls somewhere between consent and denial and is even more confusing that date rape because often both parties are unsure of who wanted what”. According to Cosmo, and several news sources, this is a result of the university “hook up culture”. I have a question… how does sex fall somewhere between consent and rape? If there is no consent then there was a sexual assault. So what is happening to our society? And why do we have a blasé attitude toward rape? You could make the argument that no one has a blase attitude towards rape as it is a horrific crime, but in that case you can’t argue when I saw that we do have a don’t ask don’t tell policy.
To explain this we must take into account societal beliefs about traditional gender roles. In a patriarchal society men are taught to be aggressive and dominant, these behaviours are often learned and reinforced at home, by peers, and through media. Women are encouraged to be dependent and passive. This is reinforced every single day. We are constantly flooded with messages that have underlining messages that we are supposed to be passive and there are strict rules on how we are supposed to act and behave. Think about the ads you see every single day, or the ‘tally’ sheet the cool alpha males have showing off their accomplishments. Men are expected to be tough, physical, and sexual. While, in contrast to this, women are supposed to be quiet, passive, innocent, and nice to look at. On the one hand we can’t be blamed for this. We are socially constructed to act, or to believe we should act, in such ways. How can you stop something you didn’t even realize you were doing?. To stop sexual assault we must look at two things.
The first is to debunk common myths regarding sexual assault that are presented to us at home, school, and in the media. We must eradicate them.Through debunking these myths we will be able to start educating people on the real issues and simple things like consent. I should probably explain what a rape myth is. Rape myths are attitudes and false beliefs about rape that are widely and persistently held, and that serve to deny and justify sexual aggression.” So what are some of the common myths? I want to go through them one by one.
- That sexual assault is when a man rapes a woman. Not true, sexual assault is any form of sexual contact without consent. Period.
- People are usually sexually assaulted by strangers. I hear this myth in the hallways all the time. But in actual fact according to statistics Canada 85% of sexual assaults in Canada are committed by someone the survivor knows.
- Men cannot be sexually assaulted. This is a myth I also commonly hear about on campus. Many stereotypes about men and their masculinity make people mistakenly believe that men can’t be sexually assaulted. Due to their gender roles men are the one’s doing the sexual assaults. However, a man can be sexually assaulted by someone he knows as much as a woman can be sexually assaulted. Rape is not about gender, rape is about power and control over the victim.
- Sexual assault happens because men can’t control sexual arousal. Again, sexual assault is not about arousal. Sexual assault is about power and control over the victim.
- Most people who claim that they have been sexually assaulted lie about it. The research shows that sexual assault is a very unreported crime. Statistics Canada reported that only approximately 8% of sexual assaults are reported and of these only 2 or 3% of them are false reports.
- When someone is drugged it is their fault. This is a false, very wrong assumption. People assume that people are sexually assaulted at club or parties when in actual fact most people are sexually assaulted in their homes by someone they know. Most people are also not ‘drugged’ when a drug is used more often that not the drug is alcohol.
These rape myths serve functions: blaming the victim, excusing perpetrators, maintaining patriarchy, and to collude in the oppression and social control of women. By blaming the victim we imply that the survivors could have and should have done more to prevent the sexual assault. The assault then becomes about what the victim was wearing, or doing at the time of the assault. We can see this recently in not only the criminal justice system but the media. The New York Times has a shameful reputation for blaming the victim like
this article. The New York Times article states that the 11 year old child was “dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s.” How exactly is this relevant? It later goes on to say “Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking?”. Excuse me? How is the mother to blame for this crime? If you can somehow get past this type of journalism what you shouldn’t be able to get past is the way the justice system treats victims. For example, Judge Robert Dewar gave a convicted rapist a 2 year conditional sentence because in his words “there wereinviting circumstances” and ” the women were wearing tube tops with no bra, high heels and plenty of makeup.” I did not know that if I wear high heels, no bra, and makeup this means I am implying consent. And ”They made their intentions publicly known that they wanted to party.” Since when does wanting to ‘party’ mean ” I want sex do whatever you want to me.” I am going to have to watch my language in the future.
Not only do I find these types of messages dangerous to women I also find them insulting to men. If I were a man I would be some pissed off. This judge is implying that because of the actions of these women, the men in the case were not able to control themselves. Does anyone else think that if a man (or men as is implied) is/are so incapable of controlling themselves and only have animal instincts that they should be locked up? Absolutely! The problem? Men are not this way. I know plenty of men who would never dream of acting in such a way, and are in fact insulted by this mentality. The issues here is victim blaming. Most myths (though, not all myths) are aimed at doing just that. Victim Blaming. As women we are often told to watch what we wear, what we drink, who we go out with, and how we act in public. If we slip up and get ourselves raped we got what was coming to us. In other words. There is something you can do to prevent rape.
This serves to functions. The first is that it justifies and excuses the rapist the second function is to allow this excuse to continue on by leading people into a false sense of security. If I don’t do these things I won’t be a victim. When these myths blame the survivors we are excusing the behaviour of the perpetrator, or worse even justifying that behaviour. This leads very smoothly into controlling woman and easily getting men to collude in that control. If we make sexual assault the fault of the women how can she fight her way out of that oppression? She has no choice but to keep it inside and deal with the mistake she had made. If she dare speak out about it not only will she reach road blocks with law enforcement, she will face being stuck into the “frigid” category by men and worse yet the “skank” category by women. The system is a brilliant system of divide and conquer. Not only will we set it up so women can be objectified by men we will also make it so women hate each other.
How many of you out there have judged a women because she had on a “skanky pair of hooker boots”, or “look at how low cut that shirt is, we never wore things like that at that age”. Divide and conquer. The best example of this I can think of is 50% of Women Blame Women for their own Rape. How messed up is this?
Finally, rape myths serve to maintain patriarchy. This is done through gender roles, and our socialization (through media, peers, family, and education). From the time we are small we are taught that boys are strong and tough, and girls are weak and agile. Women are objects put on earth for the pleasure of man and they should shut up and take it. This is not only problematic for women but it is very problematic for the thousands of men who get sexually assaulted every year. There is a dark flip side of this issue is that men who are sexually assaulted either are ignored by law enforcement, told that they should just be happy they got some, or feel too embarrassed to come forward about their assault ultimately not wanting to be called ‘gay’. After all men are supposed to be tough and strong. Aren’t they? Only the weak get sexually assaulted. Right? Think of it this way if a woman is raped, and if she has been heterosexually active she is subject to the presumption that she liked it. But heterosexual activity and heterosexual non activity are likely to be taken as proof that you wanted to be raped and therefore weren’t in fact raped at all. You are caught in a bind, caught between systematically related pressures (Frye, 1983).
If we take Frye’s idea one step farther men have a similar problem. If they are heterosexually active and are sexually assaulted by a woman and complain that it is rape then this is seen as proof that they are gay. From a societal perspective no man wants to be seen as ‘gay’ so they remain quiet. These fears are used to perpetuate patriarchy within society and keep everyone complaint within the system. These myths mean that women, and men, are silenced before they even begin. They allow us to ignore the behaviour of society and create a world in which sexual assault is socially acceptable.
Through framing sex as a way of gaining power, and through acting in sexist ways that restrict women’s behaviour, we set the stage for sexual assault to occur to both sexes. Therefore, these myths are all very harmful both to men and women. To women because it allows society to blame them for being assaulted. And to men because they don’t allow for society to acknowledge them as victims. In order to free ourselves from these shackles, society so gracefully provides, we must make a collective effort to not only debunk these rape myths but to also put an end to patriarchy that is so rampant in society today. The only way we will be able to start deconstructing these myths, end sexual assault, and end patriarchy is to come together and put an end to the hierarchy that seems to happen between women. Only then will we be able to truly conquer patriarchy, sexual assault, and the power dynamic that goes along with it. We need to speak to our children, our neighbours, our peers, our governments, our police forces, and each other. It is time for everyone to stand up against all forms of violence.