The Best Rape Prevention: Tell Men to Stop Raping

This post was originally published in the Huffington Post. It was shortlisted for the Best Blog category and first runner-up at the Write to End Violence against Women Awards hosted by Zero Tolerance, White Ribbon Campaign, Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid held at the Scottish Parliament.

 

Last week, New York defence attorney Joseph DiBenedetto made headlines when he used the phrase “I’m not saying she deserved to get raped but” live on Fox News. The comment was a response to a question about the rape of teenager Daisy Coleman in Maryville, Missouri. The case hit the national press because of how the criminal justice system in Missouri handled the aftermath of the rape rather than the rape itself; rape being such a common crime that it very rarely makes headline news.

Comparisons have already been made between the Maryville case and that of the rape of a young girl in Steubenville as both cases involve high school athletes, charges were originally dropped and the online harassment of both young women has been horrific. As with Steubenville, it has been public campaigns, which have resulted in the case being investigated by a Special Prosecutor.

The reaction to DiBenedetto’s comment has been one of outrage, which is interesting because DiBenedetto has not said anything different than many other people.

Victim-blaming is endemic in our rape culture. It is the cause of West Mercia Police’s “advice” for women that blames women for drinking alcohol rather than men for committing rape :

“Don’t let a night full of promise turn into a morning full of regret”, says the headline on West Mercia Police’s web page dedicated to tackling rape. “Did you know”, they ask “if you drink excessively, you could leave yourself more vulnerable to regretful sex or even rape?”

Oxford Police ran a similar campaign. The University of Kent and the University of Oxford’s Student Union have both come under criticism for anti-rape campaigns that focus on the victim rather than perpetrator.

Slate recently published an article by Emily Yoffe with the title “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk” which blames women who have been drinking for their rapes rather than the rapists. Yoffe’s article is hardly new though. The advice within it is the same advice women get everyday despite the fact that the only factor that makes people vulnerable to rape is being in the presence of a rapist. The article itself has been publicly criticised by a number of feminist organisations and publications like JezebelFeministing and Ending Victimisation and Blame [Everyday Victim Blaming]. It has also been criticised in more mainstream media outlets.

DiBenedetto’s comments aren’t new either; neither is his suggestion that Coleman has made a false allegation. The public’s reactions to these comments are new. The widespread condemnation of DiBenedetto’s comments is new.

We are at a turning point: we have the power to end rape culture and victim blaming.

The campaigns fighting rape culture and victim-blaming are incredibly inspiring, Rape Crisis Scotland’s anti-rape campaigns: “This is not an invitation to rape me” and “Ten Top Tips to End Rape” went viral because they inverted normal anti-rape campaigns. Parenting website Mumsnet’s We Believe You campaign was instigated by members angry at the prevalence of rape myths. End Online Misogyny was created in response to the rape threats directed at feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez and MP Stella Creasy. Ending Victimisation and Blame [Everyday Victim Blaming] started in May in response to the press surrounding the Oxford Gang case. Reclaim the Night marches are being held all over the UK now, as are Slutwalks.

Only last week, the CPS published new guidelines for the prosecution of child sexual abuse in England/ Wales that actively challenges the existence of rape myths in trials. These new guidelines were in response to feminist activism and, whilst they aren’t as strong as they could be, they are an important start.

However, we need to do more and we need to start with more anti-rape campaigns which put the focus on the perpetrator rather than that victim, like Vancouver’s Don’t be that Guy campaign. We also need a fundamental overhaul of our justice system :

1. Anonymity for rape victims must remain a fundamental tenet.
2. Rape victims should never be required to testify in open court.
3. Rape victims should never be required to testify in front of the accused.
4. Rape victims should be entitled to their own legal advisor to protect them.
5. Rape myths must be legally prohibited from being used as a defence tactic.
6. The CPS and judiciary must undergo constant (re)training on rape myths.
7. Juries must be giving training on rape myths before the trial starts which includes the real definition of what a “false accusation” actually entails [since we consider rape victims who withdraw their complaints as “false accusations” this is absolutely necessary].
8. The “sexual history” of a rape victim must be banned. The defence should have no legal right to undermine the credibility of the victim by discussing their “sexual history”.
9. The press should be prohibited from publishing the specific details of the rape. It is enough to say: X has been charged with child rape.
10. Anyone who attempts to identify the victim should be prosecuted.

Rape has a purpose in our culture, as does victim blaming. We will not end rape culture, victim blaming or the oppression of women by continuing to focus campaigns on rape prevention that hold victims responsible for being in the presence of a rapist.

Most importantly, this change needs to start with a message to men: rape must stop. Men must take personal responsibility for their own perpetuation of rape culture and men need to call out other men who are engaging in sexually predatory behaviour.

We all have the power to change rape culture, but we need men to take a public stand now.

* The legal definition of rape in England and Wales requires the insertion of a penis without consent . Men and women can be, and are, convicted of sexual assault that carries the same tariff as rape. See Rape Crisis Glasgow for the definitions of rape and sexual assault in Scotland.

Reclaim the Night must remain women-only

(originally published in the Morning Star)

The Leeds Revolutionary Feminist group organised the first Reclaim the Night march in Britain in response to victim-blaming and poor practice by police officers in Yorkshire following the serial murders committed by Peter Sutcliffe.

The Byford Report into the investigation, released in 2006, made clear the serious failings of West Yorkshire Police which had actually interviewed Sutcliffe nine times during the investigation.

Very little has changed since 1977.

Only this week, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has released a damning report on serious failings by the police to report crimes appropriately.

This includes under recording 26 per cent of rapes and sexual assaults reported to them. Considering less than 10 per cent of sexualised violence is reported to the police, this figure is an utter disgrace.

The West Yorkshire Police response to the brutal murders committed by Sutcliffe was to tell women to remain inside at night. This same “safety” advice is repeated by police forces across Britain to this day. Curtailing women’s freedom is a tried and trusted method of blaming women for being victims of a crime.

After all, no safety campaign ever suggests that violent men — and the vast majority of violent crimes are committed by men — remain inside in case they are overcome by the urge to commit violence.

Instead, we tell women what to wear, where they can go, and what they are allowed to drink.

If only women stayed inside at night (and if you work shift work, well, that’s your fault too) or wore longer skirts or were more polite to men, then men wouldn’t feel obligated to harm them.

Reclaim the Night is about women standing together and reclaiming public spaces. It is about women supporting women and raising awareness of the reality of male violence and the consequences of it on the bodies of women and children.

They were a reaction to police failures but also about a community of women.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the new Reclaim the Night marches in London. It is the largest march in Britain but also one of the few that remains women-only.

The trend now is to allow men to attend. Supposedly this inclusion is to ensure that men feel involved in the campaign. In reality, the inclusion of men makes a mockery of the spirit of Reclaim the Night.

Reclaim the Night is meant to be a safe space for survivors of male violence. Many of the women marching will have experienced rape, 90 per cent by a man known to them, and then were blamed for that rape.

Focus on male inclusion is at the expense of survivors of sexual violence. The concerns of these women are dismissed by the prioritisation of men’s feelings — and it is very clear that male inclusion is about men’s feelings.

I have attended numerous Reclaim the Night marches over the years. So many have been forced into including men. These men show up at planning meetings demanding the right to attend and silence any woman who objects by insinuating they are hysterical or silly.

They replicate the same male entitlement that results in rape culture and this is without addressing the men who see Reclaim the Night as their own personal dating pool. Nothing quite says sexism like a man propositioning women on a march about sexual violence.

One concession has been the creation of women-only sections at the front of marches. Women are forced to ask permission to walk in public with other women which rather negates the point of women reclaiming the street.

These sections mark survivors out as “other.” If you walk in one, you are the problem — not the men insisting on their right to access all women’s spaces.

At one Edinburgh march, a man following the women’s block kept banging into the women in the “safe space” in the march. He couldn’t understand why women were so angry at being touched, repeatedly, by a man in a march about sexual violence. He clearly thought he was a “feminist ally.”

The women he was touching without permission saw him as the problem. Women had come to march to end male violence but even in this safe space they could not prevent a man from touching them without permission.

Reclaim the Night marches must remain women-only — anything else is the capitulation of the fight for the liberation of women and the continuing violation of women’s boundaries.

Synthia China Blast: convicted for the rape, murder and abuse 13-year-old Ebony Nicole Williams (content note)

Image taken from Gender Trender

Let me be perfectly clear here: I do not like the US judicial system. They have sent generations of communities to prison for the crime of being poor or not white. The entire judicial system is racist, misogynistic, homophobic and simply not fit for purpose. The death penalty is barbaric and the three strikes rule inhumane. Incarcerating people for non-violent crimes is an asinine position – as is incarcerating juveniles with adult men. Hell, I’m not sure incarcerating men with other men, considering the sheer number of rapes which happen daily in US prisons, is anything but a human rights abuse.

That said, I am very concerned with the ways in which the media is covering Laverne Cox’s support of Synthia China Blast and the campaign to have safer housing for transgender people in US prisons. Blast, born Luis Morales, was convicted of the 1993 rape, murder and the abuse of the corpse of Ebony Nicole Williams who was only 13 years old. The campaign for safer housing writes this:

Synthia China Blast, an SRLP client and Prisoner Advisory Committee Member, has been incarcerated in New York for twenty-one years. Synthia identifies as a transgender Latina woman and proud native of the Bronx. Prior to incarceration, she experienced family rejection, lack of access to safe education, homelessness, police profiling and violence because she is transgender. The violent gender policing and various forms of trauma she experienced as a youth have only been reproduced and exacerbated while being held in various men’s prisons operated by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) over the past seventeen years.

There is no mention of Blast’s final conviction for child rape and murder – instead the coverage suggests that the Blast was incarcerated for being a transwoman.

Did Blast grow up surrounded by structural violence – absolutely. He was a member of a gang and had a history of violence. But, recognizing the violence within the system which results in boys like Blast perpetuating the very violence which harmed them does not mean we can ignore the crimes they commit.

We absolutely do need to talk about the criminal justice system and it’s gross failures to rehabilitate prisoners. We need to fight to spend our defence budgets on our own communities to prevent generations of children growing up experience poverty and violence. But, this doesn’t mean that we absolve people of their responsibility in committing crimes. We can believe the system is inherently corrupt and that prisoners deserve better treatment whilst holding individual people responsible for the crimes they committed.

Blast committed child rape and murder. We cannot ignore these facts.

You can read more here.

*As I was writing this blog, the video of Laverne Cox reading Synthia China Blast’s letter has been set to private and is no longer visible on Buzzfeed. These are the chunks of the video published on Buzzfeed:

“I was born and raised in the South Bronx, however since age 15 I’ve been raised in prison. In fact – since age 16 – I’ve only been home once, in 1993, for three months. I’ve been in prison ever since. I’m 38-years-young.”

“I am a political transgender woman ‘slash’ prisoner. I strongly support the rights of LGBT brothers and sisters in the community who are imprisoned also.”

“They may not live in a cage 23 to 24 hours a day like I do, year after year, with no fellow prisoner contact, but they too face the constant torment that LGBT prisoners face in here.”

“Lack of adequate medical care, abusive and evasive treatment by law enforcement officials, denial of basic human rights, the freedom to live among the straight society without fear of retaliation.”

“As a whole, in or out of prison, we all suffer,” Cox reads.

“My members consist of one voice. I want my voice to be heard, I want my dreams to matter, I want people to know who I am because tomorrow is not promised.”

“We each have to be an example for one another, we are minorities in here. If you are part of PAC, you are either directly or indirectly part of the LGBT family.

The letter concludes: “So when I’m asked why did I join the Prisoner Advisory Committee, I smile because I didn’t join anything. I found my family.”

UPDATE:

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project has released a formal statement in response to the removal of the video of Laverne Cox reading Synthia China Blast’s letter. Apparently, they didn’t bother to tell Cox what Blast was incarcerated for and don’t think it’s important. I’m glad Cox has demanded they remove the video,  although the lesson here in checking shit out before signing your name to it is one a whole lot of celebrities might want to familiarize themselves with.

I am very disturbed by the message within the SRLP which effectively states that it doesn’t matter why a transwoman is in prison, they must be supported regardless. Prejudice is a common reason for incarceration in the US and many people within the system should not be there, particularly those incarcerated for substance misuse, prostitution and petty theft. But, there is a huge difference between a transwoman incarcerated for prostitution and one incarcerated for rape, murder and abuse of a corpse – just as there is with any other group of  people incarcerated. We can understand that the carceral system is built on racism, poverty etc and that young men and women living in ghettos end up in gangs for millions of reasons which have nothing to do with personal choice whilst still holding them accountable for their actions. Understanding the system and campaigning to destroy it doesn’t mean that people who commit rape and murder should be forgiven because of the violence they grew up with. Lots of people grow up in families and communities ravaged by poverty and structural violence who do not go on to commit child rape and murder. Whatever we think of the system itself (and it’s a massive failure), the crimes committed by individuals within it need to be spoken about. Failing to address Blast’s actual crimes undermines the SRLP.

UPDATE TWO:

Laverne Cox has posted a response on her tumblr.

UPDATE 3:

This video was just shared on my FB. It is Cox’s reading interspersed with facts about the murder of Ebony Nicole Williams :

 

6 year old boy suspended for kissing classmate

6 year old boy suspended for kissing classmate is the actual title of a Sky News story. As with much of Sky News’ content, the article is high on drama but short on analysis of systemic violence against women and children which starts with grooming girls from a very young age that they have no bodily autonomy. Whilst everyone is an uproar about the suspension of 6 year old Hunter Yelton for kissing the hand of a six year old girl, no one seems to have thought to ask what the little girl thinks of the situation. All we have is Yelton’s statement that he has a crush on the little girl and that “she likes him back”.

What this rather sensationalist title doesn’t say is that this is Yelton’s second suspension for inappropriately touching a classmate and that he has a history of other disciplinary problems.  This is clearly not a case of a once off kiss on a hand in which a school grossly over-reacted with a punishment. It is a case of unwanted touching. If the children were 16, would we be dismissing the behaviour still?

Children are allowed to have boundaries and they deserve to have those boundaries respected. They need to know they will be supported if someone does violate their boundaries, and that includes when the person violating their boundaries is their six year old classmate. Young girls need to be taught that they can say no and young boys need to learn that their wants and desires aren’t more important than the bodily integrity of other people.

The response of Yelton’s mother, Jennifer Saunders, is quite concerning. She has dismissed the punishment as an over-reaction on the part of the school and seems to be implying that her sons ‘crush’ on the little girl means that he is entitled to touch her without her permission. This is rape culture. It is the grooming of a young girl into an object for the (sexual) exploitation by boys and men. It is a young boy growing up to believe that he has the right to touch whoever he wants whenever he wants.

There is a discussion to be had about the appropriateness of the punishment, but this must not come at the expense of the young girl who experienced unwanted touching from a classmate. Rapists and other sexual predators are not born; they are made in a culture which privileges’ men’s needs over the bodily integrity of everyone else. Both of these children have learnt a lesson here: the young girl will know that she has the right to bodily integrity and the young boy will, hopefully, learn that he does not have the right to touch others without permission.

Salacious and misleading headlines aside, we need to start discussing how young boys are groomed in a rape culture. We will not stop the sexual violence of women and children as long as we tell young boys that it’s okay to pull the hair of the girl they like or that they kiss whoever they want without permission.

We all have the right to bodily integrity and 6 year olds need to learn this lesson too.

Update: The school has backed down due to public pressure and is allowing the young boy back to school. Whilst I’m still unsure about suspension, because it would be inappropriate for the school to give out a full record of the child’s behaviour, I do not believe it is appropriate for the school to change it’s position because of public pressure. The article on CNN makes it clear that the young girl did not want to be touched by this boy and that he has done it before. What are we telling her about her right to bodily integrity?

Assange: The Quintessential Example of White Male Privilege and Their Silencing Techniques

I haven’t blogged about the lying git that is Assange yet because it makes me both homicidally angry and thoroughly depressed at the number of people who are on the left of political spectrum but also seem to be clinically stupid. It is perfectly possible to have some good political policies whilst remaining a misogynist with a history of sexually abusive behaviour. Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy both being cases in point. Being critical of the Military-Industrial complexes isn’t a get-out-of-jail free card for rapists. Anyone who claims it is is, simply, a rape apologist who is perpetuating and perpetrating rape culture. We shouldn’t be allowing the existence of that kind of misogynistic bollox.

I haven’t blogged about Assange because I don’t want to add to his messiah complex. He is quite clearly an attention seeking whingefest of the most egregious sort. I didn’t bother to watch his speech from the balcony either. I don’t want to waste my time on someone who has their head jammed so far up their ass that they think they are The Second Coming. I genuinely think the media need to stop covering this case. That attention seeking arsehole doesn’t need the publicity. After all, the official Wikileaks twitter feed published this a few weeks ago:

Despite not even being charged, Assange is the most rape-smeared man in modern history. 2x to 4x that of DSK, depending on how you measure.

He doesn’t need the media feeding his messiah complex too. Assange supporters could join with certain footballer’s fans and form a supergroup of whiny-arsed, stupid nincompoops with serious delusions of grandeur. And, then decamp to some remote island somewhere so the rest of us don’t have to listen to their shit.

As much as I hate the idea of giving this arsehole even more publicity, I think keeping silent whilst supposedly intelligent journalists, like, say, John Pilger, are spreading myths is immoral. We need to change the language we use to discuss this case. We need to stop confusing Assange the person with Wikileaks. We need to stop pretending that being right about one thing means that someone is right about everything. It is perfectly possible for Wikileaks to be an important political tool whilst recognising that Assange is a nincompoop. After all, he isn’t the only person who works for Wikileaks AND it’s not like Assange doesn’t already have form for leaving Wikileaks supporters high and dry. We need to start challenging the myth that celebrities don’t need to rape because they could get anyone woman they want. These are exactly the kinds of men who are rapists because they believe they are entitled to whatever they want whenever they want.

The only reason we should be talking about Assange is to support victims of rape; including the two women Assange sexually assaulted. We need to start taking real action in the face of rape myths to support women who have been raped. After all, we all know that one of the reasons many, many women refuse to report their rape is because they are afraid of being disbelieved. The woman Ched Evans raped has had her reputation and name smeared across Twitter by Ched Evans supporters. The two women in the Assange case, who deserve to have their anonymity protected, have had their real names trashed across the internet.

The only reason to be mentioning Assange’s name is to ensure that rape victims know just how many people believe them and will support them.

We need to make our voices louder than the rapists, rape apologists and their handmaidens.

And, we need to get Assange to shut the fuck up.