Monthly Archives: April 2012

A Culture of Violence & Rape: how the normalization of rape perpetuates inequality and injustice

Image souce: Sexual Assault Awareness Month

By Becky Owens Bullard

Desensitization surrounding rape and sexual abuse seems to continuously invade our lives – it’s in the TV shows and movies we watch, in the songs we listen to and it’s even woven into every day speech as if it weren’t a horrifying crime that affects millions of women and men in the U.S. alone.  While some may think that a rape joke is harmless or a TV show graphically depicting a sexual assault is just interesting television, the prevalence and normalization of sexual violence in our daily lives has very serious consequences. Namely, it furthers the perpetuation of a culture of violence and rape in which the sexual objectification and dominance of women is just the norm.

This so-called “rape culture” creates an unhealthy and warped reality that communicates to our children, ourselves and even to perpetrators of sexual violence that we don’t take these crimes seriously and even in some cases, we condone it.

When we use rape as a casual term in everyday language (for example, to express something has gone poorly – “man, our project proposal totally got raped in that meeting”), we are equating rape to an mildly unpleasant event or a hard day.

When we see rape themes or violent scenes in our entertainment (so that by age 18, children will have seen 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence on TV – and that is from a study conducted in 1998), we are consenting that sexual violence is a normal part of life – a part of life to watch without reaction or disgust, a part of life that our kids learn about in the shows they watch or the video games they play.

When we see explicit ads that depict male dominance and sexual violence supposedly meant to be sexy or even funny, we are saying that rape and force are sexy, glamorous and somehow central to our marketing themes.

When we make light of rape and sexual violence, we reveal that we are insensitive to horrific and violating crimes that affect someone every 2 minutes in the U.S. We separate ourselves from an incredibly traumatic type of violence that is also very common – 1 in 6 women in the U.S. (and 1 in 33 men) have experiened rape and 1 in 4 girls (1 in 6 boys) have experienced sexual abuse by the age of 18.

This normalization, along with long-standing gender stereotypes and discrimination, perpetuates myths and misconceptions that lead normal people to trivialize rape and blame victims. So much so that we rarely see a jury of 12 U.S. citizens convict an alleged rapist, as 97% of them do not spend a day in jail. But, why in the world would everday people not want to see justice done and a rapist in jail, especially so they couldn’t perpetrate further violence?

If justice were simply about justice, we would not have to ask this question. Unfortunately, justice also entails individual prejudices from jurors, judges and sometimes even prosecutors as well as pointed antagonism from defense attorneys intent on blaming the victim, not seeking justice. When juries deliberate about a rape conviction or when normal people see news stories about rape and sexual assault, they inevitably ask the inappropriate victim-blaming questions of “why was she alone with him?”; “what was she wearing?”; “what did she do to provoke him?”, etc.  The misconception that these factors should come into consideration of a rapist’s guilt only serve to further injustice and silence future survivors who hope to speak out against their attackers and abusers.

April is Sexual Assault as well as Child Abuse Awareness Month. This month shines a light on issues that most people would prefer to pretend don’t happen, on issues we’d rather joke about or distance ourselves from by making them something more casual. However, the campaign slogan for 2012 Sexual Assault Awareness Month is “It’s time to talk about it” and if we’re ever going to live in a world without sexual violence, it is time to talk about rape and sexual abuse as just what it is and what it isn’t:

Rape isn’t a joke | Rape is a horrible crime.

Rape isn’t appropriate to use in everyday speech | Rape is serious and the word shouldn’t be normalized to the point where it isn’t seen for what it really is.

Rape isn’t somehow exciting, glamorous or something to use to sell products | Rape is traumatic, terrifying and innappropriate to be used as a marketing tool.

Rape isn’t the victim’s fault because of where she was, how she dressed, what substances she might have used, or what she said | Rape is only the fault of the perpetrator, the person who is willing to commit a sex offense.

Rape is not an inevitable byproduct of life, conflict or war | Rape can be stopped, but only if we talk about it, educate ourselves and our communities and stand with victims and survivors to put perpetrators behind bars.

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Filed under Pop Culture, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women

A Crime without Repercussion: How Street Harassment has gone Unacknowledged for Too Long

By Becky Owens Bullard

This year, International Anti-Street Harassment Week March 18-24 highlighted an important new movement to raise awareness about an issue that affects an extremely high proportion of women and girls every day.  This movement to bring attention to harassment by strangers in public spaces is an exciting new focus that anti-violence groups have historically been silent on. While there are a number of organizations, campaigns and events surrounding violence against women and girls, stranger-street harassment is often times left unacknowledged and untouched upon in discussions about crimes that perpetuate the cycle of gender-based violence.

While it is understandable how stranger-street harassment might get lost among crimes like domestic violence, rape, trafficking and femicide, the nature of this harassment is fundamental to our fight against all violence against women.  Stranger-street harassment reveals the underlying discriminatory and abusive attitudes still held by many men that a woman is an object and is to be treated like one wherever she goes, whoever she is, at any time of the day.

When I was growing up, the general message I got from adults was that although stranger-street harassment was unpleasant, it was also somewhat accepted as an unfortunate reality. If I was upset about someone looking at me inappropriately, hooting at me from a car while I was jogging, or just outright saying what they’d like “to do with me”, the general message was that it was just “boys being boys” and I should let it go. This reality had a negative impact on me – it meant that I didn’t feel safe in public, especially when I was alone. And sadly, what was not regularly reinforced from women or men was that this reality was unacceptable, that I have every right to be disturbed and upset, and that I should feel empowered to report this person who harassed me, grabbed me, made me feel unsafe.

As I grew up, I began to understand that claims of “boys being boys” was only minimizing harmful, harassing behavior that has deeper implications for sexual assault, exploitation, and abuse. Unfortunately, the attitude that stranger-street harassment is just an unpleasant part of life continues in our conversations with young girls and boys, as well as among adult men and women. For example, a friend called me recently upset and angry about being grabbed on the street by a stranger and she asked me if I thought she was overreacting to what had happened. Although she and I both knew she was not overreacting at all, I realized many people might not agree. If she had talked to any number of people about this male stranger touching her on the shoulder and saying something inappropriate, they very well may have told her that it was a yucky situation, but may not have understood why she was so upset.

Every female on the planet has stories of harassment, with a survey study on the topic showing 99% of women who have endured some form of stranger-street harassment from honking and whistling to being followed and assaulted.  By failing to acknowledge the harm of this harassment and responding apathetically with a “just shake it off” mentality, we send a dangerous message to women and girls that if you’re walking down a street or in any public space – you just may get stared at, hooted and hollered at, and even touched without any recourse. We also send a clear message to perpetrators that they can do any number of these things to make women feel threatened, unsafe and violated without any repercussion.

So, it is time to ask ourselves – how many times do we have to experience/witness/hear about stranger-street harassment to do something about it? When do we commit to educate our society about respect and equality in public places, so that women and girls can feel safe walking down the street?

For the stop violence against women movement, it is time to ask ourselves – why has it taken us so long to acknowledge the critical role of stranger-street harassment in ending gender discrimination and what can we do to combat it?

Fighting stranger-street harassment as a prevalent form of gender-based discrimination and violence is absolutely essential to the stop violence against women movement. With the momentum from the newly initiated International Anti-Street Harassment Week, now is the time to incorporate this issue into our  programs to end gender-based violence and discrimination and make a commitment to stop public harassment and make public spaces safe for women and girls.

For more information about the movement to end stranger-street harassment, go to:

Stop Street Harassment: http://www.stopstreetharassment.org/

Meet us On the Street: http://www.meetusonthestreet.org/

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Filed under Gender Equality, Sexual Violence, Stranger-Street Harassment, Violence Against Women, Words Hurt Series