Rape and sexual violence: rejecting the culture of blame

by Chelsea Ellingsen

Blogger Two thirds nerd’s alteration of this NHS rape prevention poster went viral. Despite a 43 000 strong petition, the NHS refused to apologise for the victim blaming campaign poster.

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Chelsea Ellingsen discusses the victim blaming culture attached to rape and sexual assault victims

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The term victim blaming is widely defined as ‘… a devaluing act that occurs when the victim(s) of a crime or an accident is held responsible — in whole or in part — for the crimes that have been committed against them.’

This unjust shift in blame is not only used by a rapist to justify their actions and minimise rape as an offence, but is also adopted by many victims, who will often blame themselves. In deep anguish following a sexual assault, a victim questions what they could have done differently. Was it my fault?

Victim blaming is an ever-present symptom of the sexual violence sickness and gradually manifests in the attitude that a victim can somehow be to blame for their own assault.  It is a mindset that I, as a young American woman, have been indoctrinated with from an early age.

I remember being at church camp when I was 12 years old. I had just come from the lake and was wearing a chaste one piece swimsuit. My towel had fallen from my shoulders when I ran into one of the male camp counsellors from my church. I was severely reprimanded by him and told that I needed to cover up. He then took the opportunity to remind us girls that it was our job ‘not to make men stumble.’ Already our prepubescent sexuality was deemed as problematic, something that was our responsibility to repress, to avoid being raped.

Another manifestation of the victim blaming culture is alcohol and the role it plays in rape and sexual violence offences. The onus is, more often than not, placed on the victim to ensure they watch the amount they drink in order to prevent being raped. (see NHS anti-drinking poster, featured in the 2005 to 2007 ‘Know Your Limits’ campaign) The underlying message is that we as young women ‘have been warned’ therefore if we chose to drink excessively, assault is “our fault.” The NHS chose to target the victim rather than addressing the perpetrators. There are no posters branded with ‘being drunk doesn’t equate to consent’ or ‘1 in 3 sexual assaults occur when the perpetrator was intoxicated.’

(michaelcourier.com photography)

(michaelcourier.com photography)

If we look at drink driving, we find a curious change of perception. If a pedestrian is mowed down by a drunk driver, the victim is never expected to justify why they were walking late at night or why they didn’t move out of the way of the oncoming vehicle. Instead the response is empathetic, compassionate. No right-minded defence solicitor would try to shift the blame onto the pedestrian in question, opting to minimise the actions of their client instead.  All judgement in this situation is rightly reserved for the driver, who actively made the decision to drive in an inebriated state and recklessly endanger everyone on the road.

A recent event that made me reflect on victim blaming in a wider context was the Charlie Hebdo shooting. From the satirical Ugandan newspaper The Kampala Sun to the New York Times to The Guardian–everywhere there was an appalled, shocked response. Voices were united in an outpouring of solidarity with the people of France and the sacredness of free speech. To suggest that the editors may have been ‘asking for it’ by publishing controversial cartoons is a ludicrous, even sacrilegious statement to make.

Yet rape prosecutions in America have been overturned in court due to what the survivor was wearing.

How does one begin to dismantle victim blaming? The realisation that no one has the right to your body, space, comfort zone without your enthusiastically given consent is a good place to start. Support artists; such as Ani Difranco, who uses the song Gratitude to bring awareness of these issues.

By acting as a support system to your community, local or online, we can encourage victims to speak out and stop rape from being one of the most under reported crimes in the world.

Telling a trusted friend is often the first step a survivor can take in recovery, so if a partner, sister, friend, colleague, acquaintance ever tells you about a time they were violated, believe them and support their bravery.

Your response can uplift and embolden them to realise they aren’t alone, or it can continue the cycle of shame and guilt and prevent them from getting the help they need.

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The Price She Paid: A reflection on marriage as a commodity

by Joseph Elunya

(gettyimages.com)

(gettyimages.com)

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Joseph Elunya explores the custom of bride price, where a payment is made to the head of a family, in exchange for a daughter’s hand in marriage.

The value of the goods exchanged can be perceived to reflect the value and worth of the woman.  The tradition is still prevalent in some cultures, including that of his home country of Uganda.

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Growing up, she must have loved looking at the beautiful sight of the sun, setting down on her village from atop those rocks, where young girls of her time escorted their mothers to dry millet and cassava.

She must have liked the traditional folk songs and stories shared by elderly women, as they winnow the millet and the beauty of looking at the sun setting, as the wind blows the husks.

She must have believed like children of her age, that she would continue watching the sun dance and disappear behind those rocks, in the coming days, weeks and years, as she grows into a full woman.

But she was never to enjoy this beautiful part of teenage life, as she was forced by tradition to leave and go to a distant land, in exchange for bride price as required by her parents.

Ten cows was not her value, but that’s what was settled for and after four hours of tense negotiations, the deal was sealed.

To the parents, it was a moment of happiness, as the cows would be passed to one of the sons, to also use as bride price.

Before leaving, they warned her that marriage is about perseverance. They also made it clear that they would no longer entertain her presence back home, as she now belonged to another clan.

This perseverance made her to go through untold suffering, as the husband turned her into a punching bag. Every time he returned home drunk, he would taunt her, calling her a lazy woman not worth the ten cows he paid.

In spite of what she goes through, thoughts of her children suffering under the care of a co-wife makes Jennifer stick around like a destitute with nowhere to take refuge.

India’s Daughter: Interrupting the silence

by Sôffi James

Indian women participate in a candle light vigil at a bus stop where the victim boarded the bus in New Delhi, India, (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)

(AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)

Aired on International Women’s Day, India’s Daughter, a documentary by Leslee Udwin, tells the horrific story of a girl who was raped and murdered by a gang of men in Delhi in 2012. Jyothi Sing, a medical student, was travelling on a bus to a local cinema, when she was brutally gang raped and left for dead on the side of the road. The details of the crime have been extensively documented by media outlets across the globe.

The film makes an example of the perpetrators’ complete lack of remorse and the rapists’ narrative is littered with statements of victim blaming. Mukesh Singh, the driver of the bus, and one of Jyothi’s rapists said: “A decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy.” A rapist of a five-year-old child said: “She was beggar girl. Her life was of no value.”

The attitudes portrayed in the film are so shocking, audiences reported struggling to sit through the whole hour. It would be easy to view these men as a delusional minority, psychopathic villains with no sense of morality. But ML Sharma, a lawyer and a professional who should have a strong and unshakeable grasp of moral conduct, holds similar views. “You are talking about man and woman as friends,” he says. “Sorry, that doesn’t have any place in our society. In our culture, there is no place for a woman.” Another lawyer is also recorded openly saying he would set his own daughter alight and watch her burn, if she were to dishonour him.

The man on the outside of the prison and the man on the inside seem somewhat interchangeable.

Protesters mark the anniversary of the Delhi gang rape of Jyoti Singh in 2012 (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

Protesters mark the anniversary of the Delhi gang rape of Jyoti Singh in 2012 (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

These men’s abhorrent views are so normalised in their minds, that they do not even understand why they are being punished. But it is important to note, Singh is depicted not as a monster, or as a detestable man, but as a product of his patriarchal society. This nature versus nurture debate is divisive, but it seems that Udwin comes down on the side of nurture, suggesting that these rapists’ values are shaped by the culture they grew up in. Udwin is careful not to remove culpability, but emphasises the fact that the rapists are not alone in their view of women as second class citizens, if citizens at all.

The Guardian reported that a rape occurs every 20 minutes in India; a horrifying statistic. But this is not a story restricted to India, it happens everywhere. Rape Crisis has reported that in England and Wales over 400,000 people are victims of sexual violence on average each year. This crime is not something that happens somewhere else to someone else; it affects us all.

Which makes this next fact even more unfathomable: the Indian authorities banned the airing of this film. Their reasoning was that Udwin had not acquired the proper permissions for interviewing the prisoners. Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu even laughably described the film as “an international conspiracy.”

Naidu isn’t implying that rape is deplorable; but that talking about rape is deplorable. Not only does this serve as a lesson to victims to keep quiet, but directly facilitates the actions of a rapist who can seemingly commit this heinous crime without facing retribution.

The banning of this documentary is a shameful act. It is an attempt to stifle the exposure that these despicable attitudes are not isolated to a minority of men, but adopted by figures of authority, people employed to protect the rights of all citizens. Udwin has taken it upon herself to do what India’s authorities have failed to: shine a light on the darkest recesses of society and talk about them openly.

While some critics have taken the documentary to task for jeopardising the integrity of court proceedings and adopting a ‘white saviour’ outlook, the film, in my opinion, is still necessary viewing. Lack of knowledge, awareness and education are the reasons such incidents happen. Education is key in the fight against sexual violence and Udwin’s documentary is a small step in the right direction, despite being a hard pill to swallow. Our moral imperative is to speak out about injustice and listen to others who do just that.

Sexual violence is a pervasive cancer spreading silently across society and we need to interrupt the silence.

To view the documentary, visit http://indiasdaughterdocumentary.blogspot.in/ or search on google.
(BBC iplayer has taken down the documentary for reasons unknown).