Monday, 11 July 2011

What do Slut Walks have to do with street harassment?

Last month I attended the Manchester Slut Walk to protest against rape myths and victim blaming. Our point was to show the world that victims are being judged unfairly all the time and all around the world. By family, friends, the victims themselves, the general public and professionals such as police officers and judges. Amongst many other important things, they’re being judged on what they look like. There’s something new, a woman being judged on her appearance.

Photo taken by Kate Morrissey.

The general public believe the common rape victim must have been “slutty” but in reality the most common perpetrators of rape are partners. So, victims of rape are much more likely to be wearing indoor ‘lounge-y’ clothing or yummy sushi pyjamas rather than 'slutty' attire.

What about street harassment then? Apparently many men don’t realise how often women are effected by it. But if a man vocally objectifies a woman, she must be dressed in such a way to invite this behaviour. She must be dressed at least, a tinsy bit slutty. Therefore it’s what she wants, and it’s just a compliment anyway - so stop making such a big fuss.

I was in town with my best (male) friend last week and a man looked at him. He presumed the man was checking him out and went a bit mad, linking his arm around me to show the man he wasn’t gay, or interested, or whatever. Yet if a man shouts out something about our bodies and says he’d like to fuck “it”, we’re making a big deal over nothing?

I was walking along a main road in Salford with my sister on Saturday evening. I was wearing a long sleeved top, my scruffy jeans and had 3-day-old greasy hair. Two men on a motorbike shouted, most of it was inaudible but I managed to catch "look at the arse on that" as I crossed the road in front of them. On "THAT", see I'm not even a person, just a body part for them to look at. And I wasn't even wearing anything that made me look good and they still openly objectified me. Which goes to show it doesn't matter what we wear, whether it's "slutty" or not, men are always going to behave this way as long as it's encouraged by our media and culture.

Just to note, this doesn't happen to me very often but I know it happens to some women on a daily basis and they have no choice but to put up with it because it's "just the way things are."

Maybe he thought his mate would think he was super cool and “manly” or maybe he thought well hey, they do it on TV and in Nuts magazine so we’re normal and it's completely fine. It’s our entitlement because our culture says so. And woman are all sluts anyway.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

One man cried wolf. Women cry rape.

Women who "cry rape" makes an eye-catching headline. Both the general public and professionals could be forgiven for thinking it is extremely common and that most women lie about being raped. After all, we seem to hear these reports more often than the experiences of genuine victims.

Sharon Xuereb is a senior lecturer in Psychology and has worked directly with convicted rapists. She explains that professionals aren’t immune to rape myths; “rape myths are these unrealistic beliefs that various people hold… this includes police officers, people who sit on the jury… many people involved in the investigation”. She illustrates that openly doubting the victim is “a very dangerous game to get into” because they may well be genuine. As long as there is that possibility, they all need to be given the support and encouragement they require. At the moment though, this isn’t the reality.

The women who do lie and “cry rape” not only affect the falsely accused but real victims. It creates doubt in everyone, even the victim themselves. Victims of partner rape often find it hard to define the abuse as rape, because society tells us a ‘real’ rape is committed by a stranger in an alleyway. Anything other than that is difficult to articulate, especially if the victim is experiencing other forms of domestic abuse; physical and emotional which often comes as part of the package. Through my own experience and knowledge of other survivors of partner rape, I believe victims suffer from something similar to ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ in which they are so controlled by the abuser that they begin to doubt themselves and identify with the person abusing them. Antonella Sofia Zottola is a brave survivor of partner rape who wishes to speak out about her experience in order to encourage change. She describes the confusion her partner brought about; “most of the time I tried to be in denial because the truth would be too much.”

The police reasonably investigate allegations from both sides of the ‘argument’. However what is not reasonable is the method they can use to investigate, focusing on whether the woman is “crying rape” rather than whether the perpetrator is guilty or not. Joanne Holder knows from her experiences working with victims that the police “definitely question and doubt when victims tell them of any situation that might not be a stranger [rape] scenario” - acting on the myth of ‘real’ rape being committed by a stranger and anything else being viewed as suspicious, even though in reality only 8% of rapes are committed by strangers. This cultural and societal reaction along with the victims own confusion can make it very difficult to be taken seriously and treated the same as any other rape victim.

Some victims who report rapes and especially acquaintance rapes are still treated in insensitive ways; their morals and sexual history are put into question even though they are irrelevant. Antonella explains that she felt the police judged her not on her account and evidence she provided but on her sexual history and because she was wearing lingerie during the rape. Rape cases are notoriously difficult to reach court as it has to be proven beforehand that a ‘guilty’ verdict is likely before a trial is allowed. Even though she had a letter in which he confessed to physically assaulting her and additional forensic evidence, her case never even reached the court room. She describes that “I couldn't even explain myself, the police just had made their minds made up”. In partner rape cases there can be a strong argument that the rapist did not realise sex was not consensual just because they were already in a consensual relationship with the victim. Screaming “no” is not clear enough, struggling is not clear enough. What would be extremely clear in any other case, is not clear enough when a partner rapes the one they are meant to love. Antonella describes her own experience of this, “they said to me yes it's non-consensual but we have no proof that he knew what he was doing was wrong.” She also feels that she was not in a fit emotional state to make a statement but once she had made one, they “twisted” her words against her; “I said I wanted to take control meaning I felt I had no other choice. I was trying to see how I could control my safety and make it stop. They twisted everything, saying I wanted to take control meaning I was consenting.”. Antonella’s experience with the police strongly echoes that of many other survivors. It is disturbing to know that this treatment is so widespread. It is not a one off.

Additionally, we are still branding women as liars or being told that we are exaggerating, partner rape is not 'real' or serious and we are still blaming victims instead of rapists. Under 6% of rapists are convicted of the 20% that are reported. That means 98.8% of rapists go free. I thought this was meant to be a crime? Slut Walk is just the beginning of much needed media awareness. There are thousands of women right now screaming and crying out inside for their voices to be heard. Why are we still ignoring them?

A ten minute documentary examining a person experience of partner rape and the wider implications of rape myths:

Silence from Laura Connett on Vimeo.


Statistics: Allen, J and Myhill, A (2002) Rape and sexual assault of women:
the extent and nature of the problem. Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate.

Permission given for use of quotes:
Joanne Holder, interviewed by Laura Connett during ‘Silence’ (documentary, 2011)
Sharon Xeureb, interviewed by Laura Connett during ‘Silence’ (documentary, 2011)
Antonella Sofia Zottola interviewed by Laura Connett (article research, 2011)