Stopping violence against women

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During high school, my best friend was raped by a close male friend. We were a group of 17 year olds, at a nature reserve drinking cheap wine, couples split off to ‘make out’, and she returned shaking, crying and incoherent.

The boy involved was sweet and bookish. It was extremely difficult for me to see him as a rapist. But I also knew that my best friend was not lying. She had stayed at my house after the rape and I had watched her, shaking, crying, curled into a ball, through the night.

The incident split our entire friendship group in two - those who believed her, and those who believed him. It was years later that I realised that both accounts were true.

My friend had told me how she had frozen, how she’d whispered no. The boy, awkward, insecure, confused about ‘being a man’, thought he had to do more.

My friend was raped. And I believe that the boy who raped her did not realise what he had done.

Experiences like this don’t fit legal definitions. There’s no avenue of justice to pursue. Rape causes harm because of what the experience means to victims, but, to be criminal, the experience must mean the same thing to the perpetrators. According to our legal system, these experiences of rape, so familiar to women and girls everywhere, are not ‘real’ rape.

What is real rape? Social definitions of sexuality lead to a belief that ‘real’ rape involves a woman being suddenly pounced upon by a stranger in a dark alley, which is in fact one of the more uncommon experiences of rape. Nonetheless, some years after high school, this was my experience.

One night, an itinerant, violent man grabbed me minutes away from my home. There were witnesses. The police were called. They treated me with absolute respect and empathy. There was security camera footage and hospital evidence. My experience was, for the most part, fully acknowledged by both the justice system and those around me – though one close male friend did interrogate me about what I had been wearing, and drinking (because perhaps, if the answers were not ‘a nun’s habit’ and ‘orange juice’, it was partly my fault after all.)

While my experience was physically and psychologically traumatic, and while, five years later, I am still aware of the daily impact it has on me, I often reflect on all the women I know and love whose experiences of sexual violence were not inflicted by a stranger in a dark alley, but by those they loved and trusted, in their own homes, their own bedrooms. The justice system was not open to them. Some had horrific experiences with police. Many were silenced and made to feel deep shame, confusion and personal guilt after being disbelieved. While it is impossible to compare experiences and harms, one thing that is clear is that they were denied the most critical step to healing, the step that made all the difference to me – acknowledgement .

The violence that one in three women across the world experience is not just caused by evil strangers in dark alleys. It is also caused by ‘normal’ men and boys. It is the product of a rape culture. A culture in which women are held responsible for male violence.

It is an act of violence when a woman in India goes to catch a bus home and is brutally gang-raped and murdered.

It is an act of violence when a woman tries to walk home along Sydney Road and is kidnapped, raped and murdered.

It is an act of violence when any woman is raped, or beaten, or coerced into sex.

And when rape survivors are denied justice by a legal system that convicts less than1% of rapists and that so often re-traumatises them, when a woman is made to feel personal responsibility of any kind for being raped, or when her experiences are delegitimised, these are acts of violence too.

A culture which encourages and normalises violence is bred when people or companies like Brian Mcfadden, Kanye West, Dolce and Gabbana, or FHM use violence, especially sexual violence, to promote their music or products.

It is bred when tabloid newspapers and radio shock-jocks churn out victim-blaming tirades.

When misogynist cartoonists attack our first female Prime Minister with violent, pornographic imagery.

It is bred when we normalise “getting her drunk” as an hilarious, ‘wink‐wink’ male manoeuvre to get sex, when we view pornography that promotes violence, when we use labels like ‘slut’, or if we say nothing when others do.

But violence against women is not an unchangeable reality.  On February 14th, 2013, I will be joining a global campaign called One Billion Rising. I will stand, and shout, and dance, along with millions around the world, to say NO to violence against women – and NO to the culture that breeds it.

A movement has been building, and it has become big. A world where women have autonomy, choice and dignity is wholly possible. I believe that this is the world that the majority of the world’s citizens – the world’s women, girls and the men and boys who love us – want. But we need to become a vocal majority. We need to start calling, loudly and unrelentingly, for the realisation of that new world.

We’re talking about one in three women. I am that one in three. So are a third of the women that you love. Look around you. What could matter more?

Melanie Poole is the Parliamentary Advocacy Co-ordinator for CARE Australia and Secretariat Chair of the Parliamentary Group on Population and Development. Melanie is also a co-founder and board member of Vocal Majority. The views expressed above are her own.

50 comments

  • We need to educate our young girls and boys a lot better in how to treat each other and that means talking about sex and how to grow healthy relationships. So many times these opinions and habits are started in the home and they need to be stamped out where ever they can.

    Violence and sexual violence is an inexcusable, life changing low act that no one should experience.

    Commenter
    Carla_bunga
    Date and time
    February 13, 2013, 9:46AM
    • You make good points. We need to rebuild a strong secular public education system like Finland has so that all can flourish. Only in a society that values equal education opportunity for all will economic and social justice prevail. This is the only social environment in which violence will be eliminated. While I am unlikely to dance tomorrow, I support those who will 100%.

      Commenter
      OpenWindow
      Date and time
      February 13, 2013, 1:36PM
  • Thank you for this brave article. I had a similar experience as a teenager - objectively it was rape, but the boy simply saw it as a confusing case where he might have somehow overstepped a boundary (by pulling me back into the room, locking the door, turning off the light, and ... I won't go into details but I eventually did get him off me, if rather too late).

    A so-called friend turned the incident around on me, told everyone (including my then-boyfriend) not that I had been raped, but that I had intentionally had some slutty encounter with another guy. After all, I HAD consented to kiss him.

    Nobody spoke to me for months, and nobody told me why. It took me a long time to find out how the story had been twisted, during which time I was literally spat on one day, and told by boys (who had been my friends) that I was a horrible person who should be ashamed of myself. The misery was so complete that I wanted to die. I was ashamed of being too squeamish to actually kill myself.

    What I want to emphasise here is that I could get over the rape itself, but the shaming was twenty times as bad, lasted so much longer and hurt so much more deeply. Because only one idiot assaulted me, and it was over in a few minutes. A few dozen idiots turned that into a reason to make my life hell, and that lasted for years.

    Commenter
    Red Pony
    Date and time
    February 13, 2013, 9:47AM
    • @Red Pony - wow, I'm so sorry to hear about your experience, nobody should have to go through something like that :-( It's stories like yours which make me wonder why some men feel that if they continue with force after being told no that it will change the situation somehow. I just can't align that type of mentality with my own, but clearly some people don't see it as being wrong.

      Semi-off topic but I remember watching Blade Runner again recently after many years and was shocked by the scene where Harrison Ford's character basically does what you described as happening to you, but the film portrays the woman as "succumbing" to his forcefulness with pleasure :-/

      Commenter
      SK_
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      February 13, 2013, 11:02AM
    • @Red Pony - awful story, especially the condemnation you received afterwards. I had a similar(ish) experience whereby I was sexually seduced by a man 8 years my senior (I was 14 when it started and it lasted 4 years). When I was old enough and strong enough to realise his abuse and manipulation were ruining me, I ended it, and told my mum, who was so outraged that she informed the leaders of the church we attended at that time. When the church leaders spoke with him, he claimed that in fact I seduced him and I was a sex addict. Luckily for me, after more investigation by the church leaders, they were wise enough to kick him out with a reprimand. They also informed other churches in the area that he was known to frequent, and told him that if he stepped foot back on the church grounds again (without first undergoing counselling to an extent that the church was happy to let him back in at their own discretion), they would have police escort him off the property.
      Despite feeling supported in this way, I had many friends who knew us both siding with him, spreading who knows what stories.
      I still find this difficult to explain to people. It doesn't come up regularly, but I feel like, I stayed with him for four years. How does sexual seduction make sense to anyone who has never experienced it? If I was with someone for four years, then surely it was just a tumultuous relationship and I'm blowing it out of proportion because I was angry when I found out that he was sleeping with other people?

      Commenter
      mk.mac
      Date and time
      February 13, 2013, 11:21AM
    • @ SK

      That scene has always bothered me, too! But then, have you read any of Philip K Dick's novels? They're even worse, he has an atrocious attitude to women. Almost every female character in his books is described as a beautiful, nubile teenager, and usually presented as the sexually-aggressive love interest of a male character in his forties or above.

      Anyway, I guess it's that these guys don't see it as "violence" so much as "persistence". That whole "no means yes" thing, where you're not so much forcing yourself on a woman as you are asserting your interest, which is perceived to be mutual if only she'd stop putting on that goddam puritanical choirgirl act and pretending she doesn't want it... something like that?

      @ mkmac

      I'm so sorry to hear what happened to you. In that sort of situation it is doubly repulsive that you were blamed in any way - you were an underage child being taken advantage of by an adult. Honestly, he should have been charged with a criminal offence.

      Commenter
      Red Pony
      Date and time
      February 13, 2013, 11:45AM
    • @Red Pony - It's still a classic movie though! Haven't read any of his books, should get around to that at some stage.

      As for your other comments, I think you've nailed it on the head. "Persistence" rather than "violence" in their minds.

      Commenter
      SK_
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      February 13, 2013, 1:27PM
    • @red pony & mk mac. I too had an experience as a naive teenager after I had broken up with a boyfriend. He took me into a room at a friend's house on the pretext of talking, forced himself onto me and continued pressing himself on me saying "you know you really want this one last time". I felt it was my fault firstly for having a sexual relationship at all and therefore 'asking for trouble' (an attitude my strict parents would continually push) and secondly a vague idea that it was my fault for getting myself into a situation I couldn't get out of. The reason I broke off with him in the first place was because he had forced me into a sexual at I had not been comfortable with. I guess that means I was raped twice. It took many years for me to acknowledge that it was rape and that it had caused problems with trusting men and extreme fear of being in a vulnerable situation, and hyper awareness of the power imbalance between myself and just about any man (I have a small build).

      Sadly, the rape culture and victim blaming was ingrained into me before the incident even happened, so in shaming myself I also made sure I had no support as I was not able to tell anyone... I shudder at the needless suffering and waste of so many years of my life. Most people in my life still don't know. I'm sorry I told either of my exes - one said I should keep it to myself or people will judge me, and one used my fear to manipulate me. Sad, but true.

      Commenter
      jetsam
      Date and time
      February 13, 2013, 3:33PM
  • I think the aims of one billion rising are laudable but completely out of touch with reality. Dancing will give everyone involved a nice case of the warm fuzzies but it won't change a thing, violence will remain a part of the human condition until such time as our species is extinct. In a perfect world, nobody should be forced to experience any kind of violent assault, be it sexual, physical or emotional, but we are imperfect and will continue to struggle to contain and restrain the urge to lash out in anger, fear, sorrow, malice, jealousy etc. I don't think there is enough time left for humanity to evolve.

    Commenter
    Desi
    Date and time
    February 13, 2013, 10:29AM
    • @Desi - what an apathetic attitude. Let's put human evolution and the eradication of violence in the too-hard basket. If you're not going to help, get out of the kitchen/comments section.

      Commenter
      mk.mac
      Date and time
      February 13, 2013, 10:57AM

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