The Attack in Manchester was an Attack on Women and Girls by @K_IngalaSmith

Cross-posted from: Karen Ingala Smith
Originally published: 25.05.17

Manchester 16

We now know the names of the 22 people confirmed dead in the attack in Manchester, and we know the 17 of them were women and girls.  Whilst not to deny or denigrate the lives of the 5 men that were also taken, it is essential that we view the attack as an attack on women.

Daesh have claimed responsibility and so the attack is rightly framed in the context of religious extremism.  The patriarchal oppression of women by men is at the heart of this ideology,  and in that respect Daesh is not alone.  Inequality between women and men and men’s violence against women go hand-in-hand the world over.  It is estimated that across the globe  66,000 women and girls are killed violently every year .  Generally those countries with the highest homicide rates are those with the highest rates of fatal violence against women and girls; but other factors are at play too,  countries with higher levels of sex  inequality also have high rates of men’s violence against women and girls. Links between men who perpetrate violence against women  and terrorism are being identified and mass killersincluding school shooters, are almost always male.
Read more The Attack in Manchester was an Attack on Women and Girls by @K_IngalaSmith

The murders of Clodagh Hawe and Megan Short by @EVB_Now

Cross-posted from: Everyday Victim Blaming
Originally published: 21.10.16

There was a tremendous amount of outrage about the appalling media coverage of the murder of Clodagh Hawe and her three sons in September. Unfortunately, this level of grossly inappropriate and inaccurate representation of family annihilators is not an aberration.

Mark Short Sr. murdered his wife Megan and their children — 8-year-old Lianna, 5-year-old Mark Jr., and 2-year-old Willow. He also killed the dog. Time magazine covered their murder with this headline:

Pennsylvania Father Took His Kids to a Theme Park Before Killing Them

Because murdering your children and your wife is somehow a lesser evil if you treat them to a day out in a theme park first. 
Read more The murders of Clodagh Hawe and Megan Short by @EVB_Now

Richard Dawkins: Belittling Rape by The Feminist Writer

(Cross-posted from The Feminist Writer)

originally published July 29. 2014

These are just a few of the horrendous Tweets posted by Dawkins today:

This morning Richard Dawkins took to Twitter to announce the idea that there are varying levels of sexual assault (a view that he has never kept quiet) and one which unsurprisingly caused a ruckus on the social media site. To put briefly, in a discussion about syllogism, Dawkins suggested the enduring rape myth that there are varying degrees of rape, and he was wrong to do so. Based on the misconception that ‘date rape’, or rape by a partner, is less violent and therefore less important than rape by a stranger, Richard Dawkins excellently showcases misogyny in all its glory. Not only is this completely untrue, (let’s look at the facts) anybody who choses to utilise sexual violence as an acceptable example of syllogism clearly undermines those who have gone through the pain of being assaulted, showing complete disregard for survivors.

Dawkins ‘logic’ does not need to be based on such an unnecessarily horrific (and inappropriate) analogy. Rape is rape and all rape is violent. If we look at the lowest statistics recorded by the MOJ and ONS (and reported by Sian Norris in today’s Independent Online), every single one of the 1,100 rapes that occur weekly in the UK is a violent crime. And regardless of whether or not you know the perpetrator (even though evidence by Kelly suggests that 89 percent of rape victims know their attacker), the violence still stands. So rape is rape, but Dawkins choses to ‘rank’ sexual violence in terms of severity, and brushes off doing so by suggesting that regardless he is not “endorsing” the lesser of two evils. In fact, I have no issue with catagorising things in terms of severity, but like most women, I have a huge issue with claiming that rape can be categorised dependent on the situation. Richard Dawkins may not be “endorsing” date rape but by suggesting that date rape should be taken less seriously, he is most certainly adding to the difficultly that survivors face when reporting or speaking out about their experiences.

As ‘stranger rape’ is more likely to be reported by the media, it creates the false impression that these assaults are ‘more serious’, and therefore ‘more newsworthy’. The rapes that fit the narrative of what society is told constitutes rape. The rapes where the perpetrator hides in a dark alley way, knife in tow. And the rapes that all too familiarly distance society from the fact that most rapists are actually “husbands, boyfriends, fathers, brothers, colleagues and friends”(as Norris puts it). The very fact that Dawkins alludes to varying levels of sexual assault only heightens the culture of victim shaming, and encourages the questioning of the victims behaviour (what was she wearing? Did she go home with him? Didn’t she like him?) We shift the focus away from the perpetrator and examine the behaviour of the victim instead. This is never ok. The fault of the rape lies with the rapist and never with the victim regardless. This negative portrayal of the victim not only heavily supports the enduring rape myth, but also has a huge impact on women’s access to justice, which is heartbreaking. Considering the ideology that partner rape is ‘less serious’, in a society where only 15 percent of rapes are reported, 89 percent of sexual assaults are committed by an acquaintance, and men like Dawkins encourage such harmful misconceptions, is it any wonder that so many rapes go unreported?

The Feminist Writer: Soprano. Music Student and feminist. University of Bristol. Identify yourself as a feminist today and you’re automatically assumed to be a man-hating, whinny liberal; we need to challenge this perception. Feminism is misunderstood and it seems important to fight against these misconceptions. @amymarieaustin

Not all men by Kiss Me and Be Quiet

(Cross-posted from Kiss Me and Be Quiet)

Well it’s been quite the week for victim-blaming hasn’t it? Another week of people loudly proclaiming that sex offenders and abusers are not actually at fault for what they do, oh no. It’s the person who’s been attacked, abused or violated of course.

Victim-blaming is a big thing when women are attacked. It always has been. Court cases (if it even gets that far) filled with questions about whether the victim was drinking, wearing make-up, wearing a short skirt, is a virgin etc. This isn’t news. The fact that women who are completely covered up, or that men get attacked too doesn’t seem to change this narrative. Logic doesn’t apply here, it’s all about ensuring women understand the do’s and don’t’s of “acceptable” behaviour.

This week, the victim-blaming got louder for a moment, when half of twitter couldn’t stop screaming about Jennifer Lawrence. That she shouldn’t take photographs of herself that she isn’t prepared for the whole world to see. That it was a publicity stunt. That it would help her on the casting couch. That she is sexy, so she should ‘own it’. That it was worth it. Because apparently when you are famous, you are no longer allowed to have boundaries, be private or give consent. Because apparently when you are ‘hot’ then your distress is secondary to other people’s voyeurism.

And then there were the responses to the people who wrote about this. When people pointed out this was abuse, or that you wouldn’t blame someone for online banking and yet we do for storing photos online, when people said ‘stop’, or painted the picture in the wider context of misogyny or the patriarchy and of men trying to silence women.

‘Not. All. Men’ came the immediate reply.

‘Not. All. Men’ yelped the men who considered themselves to be decent citizens.

‘Fuck you. Not all men’ shouted some adding extra abuse in a heartbeat.

 

Not all men, we are repeatedly told, while being sold nail varnish that can stop us being raped.

Not all men, we are told, while being sold hairy leggings to stop us being raped.

Not all men, we are told while being given rape alarms for when we need to walk somewhere alone in the dark.

Not all men, we are told, while being advised not to wear short skirts. Or get drunk. Or kiss anyone without wanting to sleep with them.

Not all men, we are told, while being told that our mere presence in a bar, on the street, on a train, in a car park, could trigger any one of the bad men to lose control. And it will be our fault.

Not all men, we are told, while being told that the mere vision of us on our own private cameras could cause one of the bad men to go to extreme lengths to get those photos and can’t help but share them. And it will be our fault.

And it may be a surprise to realise that in spite of this, we actually know that it’s not all men. We are aware that we can walk down the street without every male we walk past abusing us. That we can take a chance and try and meet a man on a date and see if we like each other. That we can go to work and have male colleagues with whom we might have a good conversation. but I don’t know a woman who hasn’t at some point been verbally or physically abused by a man. I don’t go out with my friends without us texting each other at the end of the night to let each other know we’re home safe. The majority of my friends will wince if told to ‘cheer up love’ by a random man in case he turns nasty. And here’s the thing – we don’t know if you are the nice guy, or the man who can’t control himself. We don’t know if you’re the guy to stay near in case something happens, or you’re the guy who will make something happen.

So if your first reaction to learning how widespread verbal and physical abuse of women is, is ‘not all men!’, instead of ‘holy crap I had no idea!’ then you either need to challenge your response, or rethink your status as a nice guy, because screaming, or even calmly stating ‘not all men’ isn’t helping to change the reality that women get attacked, and then get blamed for it.

 

Kiss Me and Be Quiet: “Be plain in dress, and sober in your diet; In short my deary, kiss me and be quiet.” A satirical summary of Lord Lyttelton’s Advice to women, written by Lady May Wortley Montagu in the 1700s. Not enough has changed since then. I am a feminist, parent to two small children, and I have lived with chronic back pain for nearly two years, and counting. These are 3 topics that occupy a lot of my thinking. I’ll share some of those thoughts with you here.

On Exercising Empathy by @CatEleven

(Cross-posted from One Woman’s Thoughts)

I would like to try a little exercise with you. I would like you to try on some shoes. Most of them won’t fit, they’ll be too small but putting aside practicalities for a moment we can metaphorically slip them on for our purposes today.

Ok, so they’re on? Done up? Good. Now I want you to close your eyes and picture a young girl, 14, maybe 15, it’s not all that important-she’s below the age of legal consent, that’s all you need to know. She’s wearing a pair of shorts, a vest, flip flops, she’s a little bit mouthy, did you just hear what she said to her mum? Typical teenager right? Now, see that man over there? To her right? That’s her dad’s mate from work. That’s the man that in about 20 minutes is going to rape her. It’s up to you whether you watch, I’d prefer it if you did, to see the act, put into context, not some words on a page.

Because the act of rape is what she’s about to experience, not a nebulous “assault” or “a situation that got out of hand” or a “sex game gone wrong”. Rape, forced entry, deadly and life changing. I’d like you to watch, but I’m not convinced you’d have the stomach.

Right, moving on, the purpose of this exercise is not to make you feel ill but if it rattles, if you’re feeling uncomfortable maybe it’s starting to get through. Maybe it will open your eyes, to get you to see that these attacks and assaults, these rapes and murders that happen to women every single day are not happening in a bubble. They are not happening to cardboard cut-outs, these are real human, flesh and blood women and girls. And EVERY SINGLE TIME that you hold those women and girls responsible for their attacks you’re saying the following;

• They deserved to be harmed
• The men who attacked were justified
• That men will be believed
• That women will not be believed
• That the traumatised victims are not worth our empathy
• That the traumatised victims do not deserve justice

Every time you caveat a tilted head at a headline with “yes but” you join the scores and scores of onlookers who help create an environment and culture that treats women as second class citizens whose voices are not considered and whose experiences of trauma do not generate empathy but derision and blame.

You cannot ever know what the words “I believe you” mean to a victim of abuse, rape, assault. If you’ve always had your word taken, if you’ve always been listened to no matter what the circumstance then I can understand entirely why that would be the case.

So look, let’s take those shoes off and you’re free to walk on by. But next time, before nodding at the headlines, before agreeing with the reports, before questioning the tragically rare guilty verdicts I want you to think what you might say if you were sat right in front of those women and girls. Could you look them in the eyes and tell them they deserved it? If you were in the room with the attacks happening would you egg on the abuser, would you look away? If you were in the shoes of those women and girls can you think for one second what those headlines would do?

If you contain one ounce of empathy, I urge you to start exercising it.

Motherhood is not for every woman by @LK_Pennington

Cross-posted from: Louise Pennington
Originally published: 22.06.14

Every single time I read this statement, I twitch. Because I do know what the author, in this case Melanie Holmes, means  but it’s inevitably from a place of privilege. I certainly agree with this statement:

Motherhood is not for every woman. And we shouldn’t assume that it is. It is unjust to view females’ lives through the lens of motherhood. Instead, we should view females through a wide‑angle lens.

Not all women want to be mothers, many become mothers by accident and some want to become mothers but are denied that through infertility or life. Not all mothers are “great” (however you want to define that) but most mothers are “good enough” – a statement which is as patronising as it can be true. Most mothers are doing their best whilst living in a culture which devalues and, frequently, hates women.

The problem I have with the “motherhood is not for every woman” rhetoric is encapsulated in Holmes’s concluding sentences:

When we speak about motherhood, let’s be realistic. No one can have it all. Some don’t want it all. And it doesn’t make them selfish, dysfunctional, or “less than.”

The problem is the phrase “have it all” is absolutely limited to  white, well-educated middle class women who are not disabled and nor do their children have disabilities who live in house free from domestic violence in an area where street violence is minimal and the schools and childcare are excellent. Many women living on this planet are working extreme hours living in absolute poverty with no access to education, healthcare or, in many cases, clean water. There is a vast chasm between white, ‘western’ women who have ‘it all’ (however you define that) and the reality of the lives of most women who become or want to become mothers.

It’s much easier to be a mother when you have money, healthcare, and sanitation. It is much easier to mother your children when they do not have profound disabilities in a culture with very little support for your child and basic access to education for your children, whilst guaranteed by law in the UK, rarely exists. It assumes that you have access to every single specialist that your child needs to support them. It ignores women who have disabilities themselves, who are most likely to be living in poverty. It ignores women living in poverty working 3 jobs to pay the rent whilst their child’s father refuses to pay child maintenance. It ignores the women who are experiencing domestic violence and are desperately trying to protect their children from a violent father and a social structure which blames the mother rather than holding the father responsible for his violence. It ignores women living in conflict zones: from gang-ridden areas of major cities to war zones across the world. Being a mother in an area where violence is the norm is incredibly difficult.

We’ve got to ensure that the “motherhood isn’t for everyone” and “motherhood isn’t the most difficult job in the world” rhetoric don’t end up silencing or erasing women for whom motherhood is indeed like being a soldier – esp when you live in a conflict zone from Iraq to any area where gang violence is endemic.

Motherhood would be easy if we didn’t live in a capitalist-patriarchy. It would be easy if male violence weren’t a real threat that all women live with. It would be easy if access to clean water were actually considered a basic human right and not a commodity to be sold. It would be easy if our government actually invested in our children with well-funded schools, libraries, parks, and healthcare instead of spending £3 billion year on nuclear submarines. It would be easy if mothering our children were valued.

The capitalist-patriarchy harms us all but it disproportionately affects Women of Colour, women with disabilities, and women living in poverty. Not all women want to be mothers, not all women can be mothers and not all women should be mothers. But, we need to recognise that mothering is made harder than it should be because of the culture in which we live.

We need to be realistic about the context in which we live.

India’s Sexual Assult Epidemic- Indian PM says: “Rape… Sometimes it’s Right”

(Cross-posted from The Feminist Writer)

Two young girls were hanged from a tree after being gang raped in the fields outside their home in India, renewing a countrywide outcry over sexual violence. When asked to comment on this horrific act, a state minister from Priminister Modi’s ruling party atrociously stated: Rape “is a social crime… Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong.”  A statement that aborrently echos society’s unjust view on sexual assault and unfairly resonates unethical implications with India’s Social Caste System.

Last months gang rape of two girls has since prompted hundreds to march against violence towards women, rallying for PM Modi to take a real stand against this national crisis, although sadly, this has not come without a price. News of the forth woman to die in such a way made headlines this morning (June 12), as the women of Uttar Pradesh fought bravely to condemn the brutality of such violence. Surely we cannot deny that these assaults- the rape and murder of four Indian women- are nothing less than a sexual assault epidemic, put simply as a national crisis that will not or cannot end when the country’s own leader allows for such a heartless response to such acts of brutality and hatred.

The family of the 19-year-old found hanging from a tree in a village in northern India says she was raped, and this news comes just one day after another woman’s body was found, in the same way, in a remote village elsewhere in the state.

Tragically, however brutal these killings, they are not isolated events. They are not the first, and nor will they be the last. Such attacks, according to the BBC, have long taken place in Uttar Pradesh, unreported unsurprisingly (remember rape “is sometimes right”), but recent outrage over sexual violence has resulted in an increase in cases being reported to the police (although the word corruption comes to mind, if we take into account the three suspects and two policemen accused of dereliction of duty and criminal conspiracy held over the lynching of the two young girls). Importantly however, the media coverage gained by these reports, allows us however tragically, to raise awareness of such brutality, although clearly the world still has a long way to go.

Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, with more than 200 million inhabitants, is home to a huge number of poor people, and it is the “poor and the disadvantaged low caste women who are most at risk of such crimes” (BBC News). India must stop denying caste and gender violence.

There is one hauntingly inescapable detail that surrounds these killings: “their deaths were by no means inevitable” (ibid). The cousins- raped and hanged from a mango tree- were members of a Caste System known as Other Backward Classes (OBC), low on the caste hierarchy, leaving them vulnerable (fatally in this case) to the men of the far more privillaged Yadav Caste, who through their ‘power’ gain worryingly even the support of their leader. With no indoor toilets, the girls had gone out into the fields late at night to relieve themselves; sadly, many low caste women must wait until late evening to do this to avoid predators (horrific enough, when you imagine the poor levels of hygiene and sanitation that these women must endure, let alone the fact that they have to consciously avoid using the the bathroom in order to protect themselves from the men who prey on their disadvantages). Sadly this ‘tactic’ does not always work.

When the girls did not return, the father of one went to report the missing children to the police, only to be slapped and sent away by the constable on duty. We must not forget this. Horrendously the caste system of the father fundamentally dictated the way in which the police dealt with the report. Strikingly, if the father had been from a more privileged caste, the girls may have been found before the country brutally allowed them to be murdered.

The last few months have seen their full freight of witch burnings, caste rapes, and acts of terror against women and children from lower castes, not to mention the significant rate of domestic violence and dowry deaths in Uttar Pradesh alone. According to Nilanjana Ray of the New York Times, the recent crimes highlight two significant factors: “the refusal of the chiefly privileged caste police officers to intervene in time to save the lives of victims from less powerful castes, and the determination, however underprivileged, to force a response from an indifferent state and civil society.” After refusing to let down the bodies of their girls until both the authorities and media had payed attention, the families, today, face threats that cynically attempt to pin the killings on them. Such assertions follow the ‘City Rape Case’ Pattern: the intent is to exonerate the accused men and to place the blame onto their own families.

India has a long marked history of overlooking the deliberate sexual violence inflicted on women, as well as ignoring the lynchings and murders of men, women and children from less privileged caste systems throughout the country. One of the most haunting aspects, is that these killings are branded ‘normal’ and fit the general pattern of caste crimes. “The need to end the collective denial is urgent if the country is to acknowledge just how widespread the epidemic of violence is” within India itself.

The Feminist Writer: Soprano. Music Student and feminist. University of Bristol. Identify yourself as a feminist today and you’re automatically assumed to be a man-hating, whinny liberal; we need to challenge this perception. Feminism is misunderstood and it seems important to fight against these misconceptions. @amymarieaustin 

The importance of women-only spaces

This speech is cross-posted with permission from the campaign group Ending Victimisation and Blame [Everyday Victim Blaming]. The speech was given at the opening of a new rape crisis in Lincolnshire.

Good evening. My name is [redacted], co-founder of the training, consultancy and campaigning organisation Ending Victimisation & Blame.

I’m delighted to have been invited to speak at this event, launching a new Rape Crisis service in Lincolnshire. Thanks to Laura and her team for extending the invitation to our organisation.

I founded EVB in May 2013, both as a response to the media coverage of domestic & sexual violence and abuse, and to challenge the associated disbelief of those who disclose such abuse. Regardless of which professional service I have worked within, it had the threads of domestic & sexual violence woven through it. My experience in education, specifically pastoral support, found children and young people living with domestic abuse. My work with families in crisis via children’s services, found women with experiences of sexual violence as both an adult and a child, current domestic abuse and the after effects of all of these. My work with women and children who had experienced domestic abuse, found sexual violence woven through their experiences. In short, I have not been employed within a professional organisation that didn’t come into contact with Domestic & Sexual Violence.

I am also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. When I disclosed my experience as a child, I was met with disbelief.  The perpetrator was believable. Much more believable than the ‘out of control’ teen I presented as. As a direct result of this, when I was raped as an adult, I didn’t tell anyone for over 17 years. The reason for this was that I didn’t expect to be  believed. I had consumed some alcohol (and incidentally have an overwhelming urge to say ‘But I wasn’t drunk!’), I knew my rapists. I had voluntarily got into the car with them, made choices that I knew would be questioned by the police. I’d grown up in local authority care, I wasn’t a ‘good victim’.  All of those things combined into a cycle of self blame that completely absolved the perpetrators of any responsibility.

At the time of my rape, I didn’t think rape crisis was for women like me. I had become politically active in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and I knew about Women’s Liberation, but in many of the activist groups I joined, women issues were considered marginal.  Almost as if we’d be sorted out after the revolution – which of course meant after the men. In the early 1990’s, I stumbled across ‘Surviving Sexual Violence’ by Professor Liz Kelly & it changed my life. Knowing that there were networks of services set up for women like me helped me to re-evaluate my experience. It didn’t help me to disclose, but it did help me to be kinder to myself and to know that I wasn’t the only one.

I could stand here all evening and talk about the benefits of the Rape Crisis network; instead, I’m going to pick out 2 benefits that I think are crucial, and why they matter.

The first is women only services. We know women make up the majority of those who experience sexual violence. It is important that we have designated services just for women and these services must be run by women. When we are talking about violence perpetrated by men, we should be naming it as such. We should not be derailed by comments such as ‘it happens to men too’. We know this. We also know that sexual violence against men is most often perpetrated by other men and that specialist services for men are important. But not at the expense of women’s.

In January 2013, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Home Office released its first ever joint Official Statistics bulletin on sexual violence, entitled An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales.

    It reported that:

  • Approximately 85,000 women are raped on average in England and Wales every year

  • Over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted each year

  • 1 in 5 women (aged 16 – 59) has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16.

These women deserve a service that will help them to feel safe.

The ‘Why women only spaces?’ Research published by the Women’s Resource Centre in 2006 tells us that women want women only spaces. If they have been a victim of sexual violence perpetrated by men, they need a safe space to heal. When reading the research, one comment stood out for me: The Latin American Women’s Rights Services stated: ‘We provide this service for women to come here and feel safe… in addition to this, it’s very important for women to see women doing this, and thinking they can do something like that in the future’. So women only space has a multitude of benefits. Helping women to feel safe and recover from sexual violence, and supporting their aspirations. All of the women that I have spoken to when preparing for this speech were positive about women only spaces, and how they should be protected.

The second benefit that stands out for me when looking at the service provided by Lincolnshire Rape Crisis is how this is a Feminist space. Why is this important? Do we need to identify as feminists in order to provision an appropriate service for women who have experienced sexual violence? Do we need feminism at all? The answer to this is a resounding ‘yes’! Feminism is the liberation of women from oppression, and the prevalence of sexual violence shows a clear need for feminism. The position of women in society contributes to the rate of sexual violence. Women being considered objects, lesser value and the property of men, leads to violence against women and girls. If we think of violence against women and girls as the trunk of a tree*, its roots are patriarchy.  Patriarchy upholds other oppressions, such as homophobia, class inequality, disability discrimination and racism.  The ‘branches’ of our Violence Against Women Tree are rape, sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, domestic violence, stalking, trafficking, FGM, so-called honour based violence and gang related violence. We have to be able to name the problem of men’s violence in order to solve it.

Research confirms that men silence women just by their presence. Dale Spender did an experiment to find out just how this happens. She published her results in Man Made Language – which is a very interesting read. This is a summary of what she found:

    Present at the discussion, which was a workshop on sexism and education in London, were thirty-two women and five men. Apart from the fact that the tape revealed that the men talked for over 50 per cent of the time, it also revealed that what the men wanted to talk about – and the way in which they wanted to talk – was given precedence.

    […]

    There is no doubt in my mind that in this context at least (and I do not think it was an atypical one) it was the five males and not the thirty-two females who were defining the parameters of the talk. I suspect that neither the women nor the men were conscious of this. There was no overt hostility displayed towards the females who ‘strayed from the point’, but considerable pressure was applied by the males – and accepted without comment from the females – to confine the discussion to the male definition of the topic.

So what does this say? Men set the agenda. Men often talk over women, sometimes without any awareness that they’ve even done so. Women need space within which to discuss their oppression and manage their activism.  That space does not need to include men. If men wish to talk about feminism and the oppression of women, they do not need to be in women’s spaces in order to do this – men can use the space they have in the rest of the world, and make it more feminist.

In preparation for this speech, I did an unscientific straw poll of some of my women friends, all of whom identify as feminists. I asked them to sum up why we need feminist women only spaces in one or two sentences. These are the responses:

“Because of the sheer volume of women who’ve suffered at the hands of men, in many differing ways.  Women need a safe space to trust.”

“Without a feminist understanding, all we have are myths and excuses for men’s violence – all of which disempower women.”

“Because women need to feel totally safe.  That isn’t possible when men are around.”

“Men’s presence means they will be prioritised. Our shared consciousness is important.”

“Because men talk over us, undermine us, and attack us. We need the women running the services to understand how this is systemic.”

Recent research published by Ruth Lewis & Elizabeth Sharp following the North East Feminist Gathering in 2012 adds gravitas to the unscientific straw poll I’ve completed! Women said that being released from having to defend their feminist politics:

“enabled deep discussions. In this safe space, women explored their potential rather than censoring themselves. Safety fostered confidence to speak, to share, to explore one’s skills and talents as well as to be emotionally expressive.”

Defending ourselves from the everyday sexism experienced by all women takes up space that women should be free to use to free ourselves from oppression. Defending our politics is often exhausting. Understanding the roots of the ‘hairy man hating lesbian’ or ‘angry feminist’ tropes as homophobic and misogynistic gives us the freedom to challenge these concepts outside of feminist women only spaces. We should not need to explain what we do, or don’t do, with our body hair. Nor explain our sexuality. Being angry gets things done – we should be angry. Women make up almost 52% of the worlds population, and yet own less than 1% of the worlds property. In the UK, less that 16% of high court judges are women. This should make us all angry, not just those of us who identify as feminist. When a billion of us on the planet are exposed to men’s violence; when the atrocity of rape affects so many of us; when our internal risk assessments become completely normalised – we are right to be angry.

So how does EVB link with Rape Crisis? One of the most significant things we have in common with those services within the Rape Crisis network is that we believe women. When they disclose their experiences of sexual violence, we do not question what they did to ‘provoke’ the abuse. We do not suggest that they should have behaved differently in order to avoid abuse. We do not hold them responsible for the choices men make. And we use that word ‘choices’ deliberately. We do not believe that men are hardwired to be abusive. We know that they make a calculated choice to behave in that way; and that not all of them do so. Questioning a woman’s choices, what she was wearing, why she consumed alcohol, asking why she doesn’t leave, telling women how to avoid abuse, making women responsible for men’s choices – all of these contribute to the expectation that if women changed their behaviour, men would not abuse them.

In the few short months that we have been set up, many women have told us that we are the first people they have disclosed their experiences to. Our supporters said :

“Since finding your site, I can’t tell you how much it has changed my life. I finally felt safe enough to disclose all of the sexual violence I had experienced to my Rape Crisis counsellor. You told me that she’d believe me, and she did. Without your service, I might have taken that information to my grave”

“Thank you. Thank you for all that you do. When I found your site, I didn’t think my experiences were bad enough to be considered sexual violence. I decided to look at the support services you list on your site, and call my local Rape Crisis anyway. They helped me to see that there isn’t such a thing as ‘bad enough’, as we all have different experiences. I couldn’t have done this without you, knowing that you are there for all of us, regardless of how ‘bad’ our experience is considered to be.”

Comments such as these give us hope that we can challenge the institutional disbelief that affects so many survivors. Together, we can support women and say “we believe you and know it wasn’t your fault”.

(*Thanks to Imkaan for the Violence Against Women & Girls tree analogy)

Ending Victimisation and Blame [Everyday Victim Blaming]: This campaign is about changing the culture and language around violence against women and children.  We aim to challenge the view that men cannot help being violent and abusive towards women and children.  We want to challenge the view that women should attempt to ‘avoid’ abuse in order to not become a victim of it.  We challenge media reports of cases of violence against women and children where there is an almost wilful avoidance of the actual reasons for these acts.  Power, control, women and children being considered ‘possessions’ of men, and avoidance of personal responsibility all contribute to a societal structure that colludes with abusers and facilitates a safe space in which they can operate. This is what we are campaigning to change.

You can find more about Ending Victimisation and Blame‘s campaign on their website, Twitter, and Facebook.