The Problem with Porn

(Cross-posted from Woman as Subject)

I sometimes struggle remembering what I did  yesterday but the details of the first porn film I ever watched have stayed with me. I knew my brother had somehow managed to procure a dirty video and I also knew that if I was careful I could watch it quietly in the living room when nobody was around. I must have been around the age of 11  or 12, a gangly soon to be teenager teetering on edge of the precipice of puberty. I sat in my front room nervously listening out for any sign of my parents, and giggled at the opening credits. A woman came jogging into sight wearing tight seventies shorts and the camera panned in to a close up of her jiggling breasts. The action quickly moved to a bedroom where the portrait behind the bed had holes for eyes and the female inhabitants all transformed into lesbians as soon as the men disappeared. Perhaps because the emphasis was on women enjoying themselves together, with the male voyeur always behind the painting, I found the film amusing and a little bit exciting. A bit of cheeky harmless 70s fun.

The naughty video that I watched as a pre-adolescent and the even naughtier ones I went on to watch in my twenties are so removed from the pornography that is available online today that it is hardly comparable.  But still, the porn I watched shaped my sexuality. Who on earth talks to their parents about the intricacies of performing fellatio? Or ponders about the nature of lesbian sex over Sunday tea? When my friends first told me about cunnilingus I was 13 and I found the entire concept disgusting, but a few dirty movies later, and I was ready to try it myself. I don’t want to turn this blog into a series of sexual revelations but this wasn’t the only thing I saw and then went on to try myself. Porn undoubtedly informed my view of what was normal and normalised things I had never previously dreamt of. I can not separate out the sexual being I am today from these early experiences and I have no way of knowing whether things would have been different if I had never watched that first footage of the clandestine lesbians.

Fast forward to 2014 and two of my friends have recently had to deal with their 8 year old children accessing hardcore pornography accidentally on the internet. When I was young, porn films were passed around like contraband between groups of teenagers. Hard to come by and watched in giggling groups of naughty friends. Now a young girl curious about the imminent changes to her pre-adolescent body is confronted with images of impossibly young looking women having violent anal sex when she googles “naked teenage girls”.

This immersion in pornographic culture is a uniquely new phenomenon. Children and teenagers have never had such instant access to the kinds of images that we are now able to find at the click of a mouse. It is estimated that 88% of pornography shows physical aggression towards women, with the most popular acts depicted in porn being “vaginal, oral and anal penetration by three or more men at the same time; double anal; double vaginal; a female gagging from having a penis thrust into her throat; and ejaculation in a woman’s face, eyes and mouth”. I am grateful I wasn’t exposed to such footage when I was teenager or who knows what I might have accepted as normal. A survey back in 2006 found that 40% of teenagers know a girl that has been coerced into having sex with someone and that 42% knew a girl who had been hit by her boyfriend. The survey also found some worrying attitudes in terms of entitlement to sex with 27% of respondents thinking it was acceptable for a boy to expect to have sex with a girl if she had been very flirtatious. Rates of heterosexual anal sex are also on the increase, as are resultant reported injuries and coercion is an increasingly common factor.

There is undoubtedly a need for more research into the impact and effects of such widespread pornography consumption by young people but there are some things that seem obvious to me. If you hold a social constructivist view of reality, then it makes utter sense that these things make a difference. Anybody that doubts that what we watch influences what we do obviously didn’t spend half their childhood climbing in car windows in emulation of the Dukes of Hazard like I did.  And they probably haven’t heard about the 12 year old boy who raped his sister after watching hardcore pornography online either.  If teenagers and young people are exposed to porn that routinely degrades, abuses and disempowers women then this is bound to affect their emerging sense of their selves as sexual beings and influence how they then behave in their relationships. Exposure to porn that embodies negative attitudes towards women perpetuates and reproduces further negative attitudes towards women which in turn eventually produces porn producers with negative attitudes towards women who produce porn that exhibits those negative attitudes towards women and so on and so on…. A neverending cycle of patriarchy reproducing itself. We will continue to fail our young people unless we find a way to interrupt the cycle.

Parents and educators seem unwilling to talk about such sensitive issues because to do so is to acknowledge that our children are at the stage in their lives when they are losing their innocence. Perhaps there is still an outdated notion that the porn our children are accessing is the sort of thing that we watched secretly in our front rooms as teenagers ourselves, rather than the violent abusive reality it so often is now. I have lost count of the number of times that I have had arguments about this issue with those scared of state censorship and the loss of freedom they envisage as a result – the individual freedom to wank somehow trumping the freedom of our teenagers not to be exposed to this stuff.  I’m not one for quoting philosophers generally but I think it’s worth referring to John Stuart Mill in this instance as he makes a vital point:

“The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good, in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it”

Too often those arguing against censorship privilege their own freedom above that of others. Misogynistic porn both degrades the women who have to act out abusive scenes whilst pretending to enjoy it, as well as having a serious impact on societal attitudes. It is gradually normalising coercive and violent sex and this has an impact on all the women in our society. This is not the kind of world that I want to live in, let alone my children.  I believe that it is possible to be both positive about sex as well as anti-pornography as it currently stands. To believe that we can instigate reforms in such a male dominated and powerful industry is so politically naive it is almost laughable. The porn industry does not care about women, it cares about money and that will always be its main concern. Whilst the main consumers of porn continue to be men who are seemingly turned on by such misogynistic abuse, then nothing will change. It is about time feminists stop arguing that pornography is ‘empowering’ and ‘liberating’ and wake up to the reality. Our children and young people do not deserve to be the unknowing subjects of a social experiment of this nature and we need to start talking about why porn is problematic for all of us.

 

Women as Subject: consists of feministy musings about things I argue about. It is a mixture of feminist theory, personal experience and ranting.

I’m No Heroine: On Feminism and Strength by Gappy Tales

Originally published: 05.02.14

I have been thinking a lot lately about online identity. As in how we put ourselves across to others through our writing, and the ways in which that can be received and interpreted.

It was a short exchange over Twitter that started me thinking. A #saysomethingnice hashtag was floating around and I had tweeted an online friend to tell her that I thought she was kind and funny, and that I really liked her. She had replied back saying:

“Well then I think you are strong, amazing, defiant and kickass! I am rather envious of you. x”

Which was lovely and made me smile, of course. But perhaps more confusedly than anything because the truth was that I just did not recognise myself in those words at all. Strong? Amazing? Kickass???No, not me. And then a realisation hit me and I thought, my god, is that really the impression I give of myself with my words? Because honestly, it just isn’t true.

And then I got to thinking of a much wider picture, of how feminists are often regarded as “strong” women; stronger and braver somehow than supposed “other” women. I don’t necessarily think that’s true either, nor do I think the idea particularly empowering – not for anyone. We are all of us just women getting by, having a lot of the same experiences, interpreting and reacting to them in our own way. When you are a woman living in a world that does not value women equally, simply learning to survive and thrive as best you can is brave enough.

Defining ourselves as feminists and writing, however passionately, about feminist principles cannot ever make us impervious to the daily grind of male supremacy. Indeed, I think sometimes it is because we are so affected that we become so inspired. We empathise with – and are angry on behalf of – all women yes, but the anger is generated from within our own selves as a reaction to our own lives and experiences. The personal is political after all.

So if I am enraged by the incessant body fascism depicted in glossy magazines, then please know that this is always at least partly informed by the fact that after birthing and feeding three children, I find my own stretched skin so hard to accept without judgement.

And if you read me railing against street harrassment and shouting about the right of women to go about their business without being subjected to the endless staring, cat-calls and intimidation that occur daily in our public spaces, then understand too that the last time I walked alone down a dark street, I was approached by a strange man whose low muttered obscenities frightened me so much I ran straight out into the road to get away from him and was almost mown down by an on coming car in the process.

Know that feminism for me is neither an abstract concept, nor an academic exercise. I can intellectualise and deconstruct and pick apart patriarchy’s every premise, but I will still suffer the same pains and indignities of having been born female in a mans world along with everyone else. My feminism is born of lived experience. Really, it was the only rational response.

And of course it isn’t just me. In fact I was reading an article by Helen Lewis in the New Statesman recently – the article was about intersectionality, but it was this passage that jumped out at me:

“Here are some of the things I know that the kind of feminists regularly decried for their privilege have had to deal with, in private: eating disorder relapses; rape; the stalking of their children; redundancy; clinical depression; the sectioning of a family member; an anxiety disorder that made every train ride and theatre trip an agony. (Yes, one of those descriptions is me.)”

There are none of us immune to that daily grind. Even those feminists who might be considered some of the most successful, celebrated and widely read. Outspoken, vocal feminists in the public eye. Surely they must be the strongest of the strong? But take a peek below the surface and what you discover are ordinary women who can still struggle right along with everyone else.

And no, I do not mean to imply that being in receipt of privilege does not have a significant bearing on a womans life experiences (from a purely personal perspective I cannot remember the last time I could afford to go to the theatre for a start), and nor do I wish to paint women as hapless victims. Certainly not. My intention is simply to draw focus on our common humanity, our common experience, our common strength, our… commonality.

Because there are no “strong” women as set apart from “weaker” women. Feminism is for everybody. The words I write and the values that I hold true do not make me inherently more powerful than anyone else. And with that I’ll leave you with Ani di Franco who invariably says it better than I ever could…

 

Jeni Harvey: Writer, feminist, mother. Likes cake, hates Jeremy Clarkson. These are my principles – if you don’t like them, I have others. @GappyTales or Huff Post

Let’s talk about rape pt 2 by @helen_a15

content note

(cross-posted from Helen Blogs)

Both this blog, and the ‘lets talk about rape … Part 1′ were written some time ago, but were both popular blogs at the time. However when ‘Fragmentz’ ceased to exist, so did the blogs. I had been asked a few times recently to repost them and declined, however having read tonight about Judy Finnegans comments today on a chat show regarding the rape footballer Ched Evans is convicted of, and serving time in prison for it felt relevant to put them online again. 

RAPE IS RAPE IS RAPE IS RAPE. 

I’d like to challenge her, and anyone else who thinks its OK to categorise rape to come and live the life of a survivor, even for just a day or two. 

Also to the people who tell me rape culture does not exist -YES IT DOES. 

 

‘i woke up this morning … and little did i know, that by the end of the day i would be blogging about a topic i have already written about once. I always intended on writing a Part 2, and in fact had a draft already typed, but thats deleted now. I’m starting over, because this week, the word ‘rape’ has been front page of most media types due to some french bloke i’d never heard of until his arrest for allegedly raping a hotel maid, and now comments made today by the justice minister.

two things i’d like to start off by saying :

first one is: this blog is about RAPE. As i start writing, I have dont have any idea of where my writing will go, but i feel it fair to warn you of the topic nature, if you hadnt picked it up by the title, so if your sensitive to it, or it potentially could trigger you, consider yourself warned.

second thing is: i am not a profressional. I dont write for a living, i dont have any academic qualifications that give me a right to have an opinion, i’m not a ‘well known’ person who’s opinion matters to people. i’m just me. a little dot in this huge world who takes some space, and attempts to write about issues that mean the most to me. i write about my life, and the life that goes on around me. I am perhaps not going to be writing anything any different to the many blogs always written, lots today by people. i definitely not able to express words and thoughts as eloquently as the things I have read today.

if you want some background and an idea as to why i am writing about this topic, now, then please feel free to check out ‘lets talk about … rape’ – link is below.

lets talk about rape

in my previous blog i gave some definitions of the word rape. essentially it is imposing sexual intercourse on someone who does not consent. that could be a man against a man, a woman against a man, woman against a woman, and the most widely talked about variation of a man against a woman. it is really really important to acknowledge that all variations exist, and do happen, and that rape as a whole is so very under reported anyway, and so by default some of the variations, for example males being raped are even less reported, but still happen.

Last week I got embroiled into an argument on facebook. as some of you will know, getting into debates/disagreements with people on social networking sites such as FB or twitter is not a rare occurance for Fragz, although lately the occasions have become much less. Anyhow, last week, someone who is on my facebook, and an odd exception to the ‘i only have people i’ve met on my FB account’ rule, posted the most offensive thing i have ever read my friends post. I am used to people updating status’s with stuff i dont agree with, lame jokes, filthy stories about whatever, however i have never been so offended by anything as the status that said ‘i’m sorry, but woman should take responsibility for being raped, after all men are men arent they’. WHAT? When I dared to totally disagree with this line of thought, i was told i was mis hearing what was being said. I disputed that too. I was not mishearing what was being said, i was simply disagreeing. I heard what was being said. I just didnt like. I still dont. This person’s argument was that if a skantily dressed woman is raped then they should accept some esponsibility, especially if they walk around looking like prostitutes (their response, not mine!!). Their trying to condone their thoughts just seemed to make it worse, because in my view, it is not acceptable for a non sex worker to be raped, and it isnt acceptable for a sex worker to be either. end of.

I was blown away and stunned by the response this status got, and the fact i was the only person arguing a womans right to say NO, and that ‘men being men’ is NOT an acceptable reason for raping someone.

Rape is rape. Whether you are out having a drink, whether you have gone to a dance, whether your walking home at night, or in the day. Whether you spend your time on the streets, or whether you meet someone for the first time while out and get chatting. Whatever the situation, whatever happens, if you DO NOT WANT SEX and someone forces you too, in my mind that is rape.

There is no ‘serious’, ‘more serious’ or ‘less serious’ rape, as has been suggested by Ken Clarke, the justice minister no less today.

I am aware some people will be saying that his comments were taken out of context, some will be saying, including himself that this current media storm is ‘spin’, however, my own view is, that if he didnt feel/think what he said, then why say it? he knows the position he holds, he knows he is talking to the media, he knows what he says is going to be reported. he says he knows that rape is rape, but to be honest, does he really? someone who says rape is rape, AFTER suggesting there are more serious ‘rapes’ than others, and who is also suggesting sentences for convicted rapists are cut, doesnt seem to have a clue, does he?

I am not sure that he really understands the effects on a person, a woman, a man, a child, who is raped. the life changing, heart breaking, never going to be the same effect is has.

I’d like to invite Ken Clarke to live the life of a survivor of rape. Maybe to live the first 5 years of their life or longer after the event. To live through the pain, hurt, anger, desprair, self loathing, blame, nothingness, dirtiness, the depression, the flashbacks, the nightmares, the tears, the sleepless nights, the fear of going outside, reliving time and time again what happened. Maybe he would like to live a life with feelings, that for some never go away. For some, maybe the moving on can happen, but where the memories never leave. memories that are always there, even if not in forefront of a mind, memories that are never far away, ready to come flooding back at the click of a finger. maybe a smell, a sense, something that triggers the mind to flood back the memories.

Maybe he would then understand that rape is rape, whether it was violent or not.

I am unable to do this topic justice, really. I just get sidetracked. So I’d like to recommend, if your interested, two beautifully written articles, one by Johann Hari, and one by Laurie Pennie.

johann hari – the prejudices that allow rapists to go free

laurie penny – ken clarke comments rape

both blogs express eloquently what i wish and want to, but am unable to’

 

Helen Blogs: christian, feminist, rape survivor & survivors advocate, Jaffa cake lover. writer about #faith, #mentalhealth, #chroniclife & #violenceagainstwomen.  @helen_a15

Let’s Talk about Rape (Pt 1) by @helen_a15

(Content Note)

(cross-posted from Helen Blogs)

Both this blog, and the ‘lets talk about rape … Part 2′ were written some time ago, but were both popular blogs at the time. However when ‘Fragmentz’ ceased to exist, so did the blogs. I had been asked a few times recently to repost them and declined, however having read tonight about Judy Finnegans comments today on a chat show regarding the rape footballer Ched Evans is convicted of, and serving time in prison for it felt relevant to put them online again.

RAPE IS RAPE IS RAPE IS RAPE.

I’d like to challenge her, and anyone else who thinks its OK to categorise rape to come and live the life of a survivor, even for just a day or two.

Also to the people who tell me rape culture does not exist -YES IT DOES.

 

‘yep, you read the title right. rape. thats what this blog is about. if it is something that just reading the word or thinking about it makes you flinch, for whatever reason, i understand if your unable to read the following post.

I just felt it fair to warn you right at the very beginning so you can make the informed decision as to whether to read on or not. I really do not wish to upset anyone, and whilst writing this blog, and rereading it for the umpteenth time I have considered and re considered whether to actually publish/post this, however I came to the conclusion that I would not be being true to myself and this blog if I didn’t.

so, on we go …

.
.
.

when I logged into my computer this morning, like every morning, the first thing I do is to check out the BBC News website, just to glance over, to check out whats going on in and around the world. One of the headlines I saw was
‘ Rapist attacked woman twice in 12 weeks in south London’. I then clicked to read the story which you can find here …

i dont know about any one else, but as I read this, and the story, all i could do was think of the woman. the victim. the person who was raped. the survivor. and even as i am writing this, right now, i am thinking of her, and sending her my silent thoughts and prayers, that she may somehow learn to live through her ordeal and somehow come to a place of peace.

throughout today, my mind kept returning to this story, and to the woman involved. thinking about what a horrific and life changing moment it is for it to happen once, but to happen twice?

then, this evening, i was watching tv, and law and order UK came on. never seen it before, but nothing else was on that i liked the look of. the story line was complex, i don’t deny that, and please dont think i am trying to make light of any of the other issues the episode this evening used, however, towards the end, rape was one that was bought in. the woman, already in prison for other offences (all fictitious) was then in court accused of murder, of someone who was raping her. there was a scene, which was almost tearjerking where the barrister trying to help her sat with her in her cell and talked to her about what some would see as the human aspect of being raped.

the aspect of not having a choice. of not being in the wrong. of not asking for it to happen. for losing a part of something that is yours. something that you hold dear, that is yours, that gets taken away. it nearly made me cry.

i thought and thought about blogging on this topic, decided not to, then decided to, and went round in circles.
as i was deciding i looked up the definition of rape online. and found a dictionary which says this :

noun, verb, raped, rap·ing.
–noun
1.the unlawful compelling of a woman through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse.
2.any act of sexual intercourse that is forced upon a person.
3.statutory rape.
4.an act of plunder, violent seizure, or abuse; despoliation; violation: the rape of the countryside.
5.Archaic . the act of seizing and carrying off by force.

point 3. is Statutory rape. this would appear mostly in US law and is the act of sexual intercourse with a person under the age of consent. I would like to point out, that that is something i am not writing about at present.

In fact, what i am really focussing on, as i write this blog, is the act of rape against a woman, which essentially is having sexual intercourse without her consent.
there are lots of ways this occurs, such as stranger rape, so a random attack, maybe in the street?
it could be marital rape, so within a marriage this act occurs.
it could be date rape, where drugs are used, so persons are not aware.
it could be something that happens within many boundaries.

I’d also like to highlight that rape among men happens too, there are men who are raped. its not as highlighted as woman, and maybe not so common, however that does not mean it is not a real thing happening out there.

if you want to find out more about the definitions, or what constitutes rape, or within what circumstances it can happen, do google. You can find a whole world of information out there, that might educate you, that might shock you, that might make you want to pray for people involved in this.

months ago, i wrote a blog about depression, and it was after i watched a programme about the illness in the sporting profession, and how rife it is. I wrote something on the lines of how indiscriminate depression is, as an illness, how it can find and attack all kinds and every kinds of people.

this afternoon, that was my exact thought about rape.

rape can affect anyone, and everyone, god forbid, but if could even be you, your wife, your husband, your daughter, your son, your best friend, your neighbour, your mum, your dad. who knows? it could be anyone.

as mentioned above it could be, and often is within the constraints of a marriage, but when it comes to random attacks by strangers, as well as the victim being anyone, it could also occur anywhere.

on the bus you travel home on, on the street you walk down to get to the shop, the shopping mall you buy your clothes in. it could be the train station you wait at everyday. maybe it could be at the festival you go to every year, and camp out with friends at while listening to great music ? (i was shocked to read several reports over the summer of rape occurring at a UK based music festival)

it could be outside or inside a place you feel the most safe. a hospital maybe, a church, who knows …. it could be anywhere.

i dont say the above as scare tactics. thats the last thing i would want to do to. i don’t know the statistics, but one thing that is clear is although it can happen to anyone, and anywhere, it doesn’t. the amount of people who are attacked and raped are in minority to those who are not. so pleased do not walk away from this blog being afraid of all the above places. thats not the intention (but obviously good personal awareness and safety is always wise) .

what i have been thinking about all evening, tonight, is about the victims of such attacks. the victim of a rape. how they are left feeling, how their lives are so changed by something that maybe only took a few minutes to happen. how one minute, life was ok, and you were walking to the bus to go and see someone, and the next your in a heap on a floor in the middle of an empty street, sobbing as they run away from you. one minute you had your phone in your hand, texting a friend to say how long you would be and the next minute someone is running towards you to help you up off the ground, and to call an ambulance, or the police.
how one minute life was pretty clear and defined, and the next in all the haze and commotion, you realise that your life has changed forever. because nothing will ever be the same again. ever.

the thing about rape, is that physically one may be able to recover quite quickly. depending on the nature of the attack. for others it may take longer. maybe physical bruising and pain takes longer to disappear and fade. but eventually they do fade, as do all physcial signs of what happens. and what your are left with is what is in your head. what is left are the memories, the thoughts, the flashbacks, the nightmares, the scin crawling moments where all you want to do is scrub your skin over and over until it bleeds or you feel clean again.

thing is, for many victims, and i dont speak for them all, in fact, maybe i dont speak for any other than one, but i guess for many, and i know for one, that actually, for them, to ever feel clean again, is the biggest of tasks.

its hard to explain that kind of thinking to someone who may not have the empathy or understanding. and thats ok, because not everyone will or does. its a big complex area. however, something kicks into your head. all you want is cleanliness, but whether you actually every achieve that again, who knows.

because the way you see it, the only way you can see it, is that something you had absolutely no choice over happens, took over, and that some of you was taken away.

you spend weeks and months trying to wipe it away, erase it but you cant. you spend days sitting in silence, with tears rolling down wishing you had done something different. wishing perhaps you hadnt walked down that same road you walked down every day. or thinking perhaps it was your fault because you dared to leave the house and walk the street you live on. you analyse what you could have done differently. what you did that made it your fault. you come up with one hundred reasons why it was your fault, even though every single one of those is wrong, and not true.

and then, because a few years before, the only way you knew how to deal with life was to cut your body, you decide that right now, its the only way again. so you find the knifes, and razors and start to carve your body up.
you also decide that maybe alcohol will change whats happen. so you drink. and drink.

and pretty damn soon, the physical scars are gone, and your left with an emotional mental heap with thoughts going round you can deal with , and cant process, and figure out.

perhaps it is the most life changing thing you will experience? maybe it is one of the most life changing experiences, because maybe, you were abused as a child anyway, and bullied as a teenager, and beaten by your siblings, and so, as an adult when this happens, maybe you shrug it off and think, well, i deserve it anyway.

maybe.

maybe not. maybe you would deal with it different. maybe you have?

somehow though, you have to keep going, keep breathing, taking each day as they come, day by day, and week by week and very quickly those days and weeks turn into months and years.

and although the pains and non visible scars dont go away, are not forgotten about, maybe you discover a way of living, that means you can move on. maybe you can learn to be at peace with yourself? and dare i say it, the person who committed this crime against you?

i dont know. maybe.

being raped tears a soul apart. being raped can break a person. being raped
rises up such a huge amount of emotions. rage. anger. pain. humiliation. embarrassment. silence.

often there is silence. a huge silence because you dont know what to say or how to say it. a huge silence because people around you dont know what to say. or how to say it.

and i guess, the reason i personally am writing this blog, is to be part of a process that is breaking the ‘silence’.

i mentioned i was writing this blog to a few a people today, i got a couple of positive reactions, and a couple of ‘oooh do you think thats a good idea’ responses.

i am aware, that some of this blog has gone into ramble mode, and i have to confess i am not too sure what my main objective of it was, as i started to write, other than to raise the topic, type it, write about it, and bring it into the blogosphere (i am sure others have done this too, so it isnt just me). i wanted to be part of the group of people breaking silence on the topic. i want people to talk about it. so it is not something others feel they have to be silent about. i want it talked about in our churches too. because right now, how churches meet the needs of survivors of abuse, and rape has alot to be desired for, if you ask me, though i acknowledge there are some good places.

i think i wanted to say out loud to whoever is reading this, that if you are a victim of rape it is not your fault. you didn’t ask for it. you didn’t want that happen. sex was not designed to be something that was taken away from you. it wasnt back then in jesus day, and it isnt now.

i have run out of writing steam, although i have more to say on this topic.
but please, if you feel you have something to say on this, please feel free to respond.

i shall be back to write about this again.

also, if this has stirred anything and you want to talk to someone, in the UK the Samaritans run a 24 hour service where you can call and find someone on the other end of the line : UK 08457 90 90 90′

 

Helen Blogs: christian, feminist, rape survivor & survivors advocate, Jaffa cake lover. writer about #faith, #mentalhealth, #chroniclife & #violenceagainstwomen.  @helen_a15

I believe you by @FeministBorgia

(Cross-posted from Feminist Borgia)

Edit: I see I have acquired some visitors from the Mens Rights subreddit. Hi there! Just so you know, this is my space. You can comment if you like (I see some of you have) be aware that I will authorise your coments or not, on my whim. No free speech here.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

So, here we are again. Another ‘high profile’ rape case-and by ‘high profile’, I mean involving someone the media can get plenty of column inches out of. Another acquittal. Another round of calls for anonymity for men (and let’s be clear, the vast majority of cases involving sexual violence have men as the perpetrator) accused of rape. Another round of misogyny. More screams of ‘liar’ against the victims (although to be entirely fair to those who hate women so very much, they scream liar whether the defendant is found guilty, or is acquitted. You have to give it to them, they are consistent).

There has been a lot written about this case (and there will be a lot more), by more eloquent women than I. I am just adding my voice to the choir, or at least adding my howl of sorrow and rage at yet more women failed by the justice system.

What can I even say? I can point out that a not guilty verdict does not mean that he was found innocent. It means that the jury were unable to convict beyond a reasonable doubt. And a not guilty verdict does not mean that the victim lied.

I can offer my unconditional support and belief to all women who come forward to say they have been raped or abused. And I can offer the same to women who can’t come forward (and give the appalling conviction rates, who could blame them).

I can hope that one more voice of support and belief can act as a counterbalance to the appalling media coverage. One more voice of opposition to the sympathetic cries of ‘why was this poor pensioner dragged through the courts’ and discussion of ‘false claims like these’. If these are phrases that make my skin crawl and my throat hurt, then I can only imagine how the women in this case feel.

And I can ask, why is it that famous men are so rarely convicted of the rapes and abuses with which they are charged?
I suspect that the answer lies within their fame, and the crimes with which they are charged. Evidence for rape or sexual abuse (especially hisotrical offences) so often comes down to the testimony of the victims vs the testimony of the abuser. And the jury is to decide who they believe, who they trust.
Trust comes with familiarity. With a face you know. Who is the jury going to believe? Women they don’t know (against a background of a deeply misogynistic media which constantly spins them the story that women lie about sex, and they lie about rape), or a face that everyone knows?
Which story will they accept as true-the well written, well rehearsed, consistent script, or the painful, confused recollections of abuse, memories that shift like smoke.
It’s no wonder so many women have feared coming forward. It’s no wonder so many famous men can rape and abuse with apparent impunity.

So what’s the answer? I wish I had one to give. I’m starting to suspect that the jury system may not be the best one when it comes to judging the crimes of famous men. And the alternatives would only work if judges were given mandatory training in how to deal properly with cases of rape and abuse, to stop them spouting the same victim blaming garbage they are prone to.

In the mean time, all I can do is say the same thing: I believe her. I believe them. I believe you.

 

Feminist Borgia : I blog occasionally about feminism, rape culture and games [@feministborgia]

 

This is what male violence does by @God_loves_women

(Cross-posted from God Loves Women)

Today is my son’s 9th birthday.  He is an amazing child; intelligent, articulate, funny and extremely cute!  I am married to the most extraordinary man, who has selflessly given so much of himself, his gifts, his time and his energy to enable me to fulfil that which I have been called to.  I have an 11 year old daughter who is wonderful; clever, sensitive, funny, kind, beautiful inside and out.  Today should be a day of celebration and for my son and daughter that is what today is.

I have wept most of the morning and the pain inside weighs me down. Most of the time I feel blessed to have such a beautiful life, most of those who know me, know me as I am now; confident, strong, articulate, filled with the spirit of the living God.  Yet, today I weep and am filled with great pain.

Nine years ago today my beautiful son was born 3 months premature weighing only 2lbs 6 oz. He was born premature because a week before his birth my ex-husband raped me.  Nine years ago today at 5.30am in the morning I gave birth to a tiny precious life and immediately he was whisked away to be ventilated, I didn’t get to see or hold him.  In fact the first time I held him was about 3 weeks later.  I was then put on drugs to keep my contractions going for another 4 hours in case anything from the birth was still left inside me.

I saw him briefly before he was transferred to a hospital an hour away. He was in a large plastic box, naked, hooked up to machines, his chest moving mechanically as the ventilator kept him alive.  There was blood on the towelling mattress where they had pierced his skin with intravenous drips.

Later that day I went home to collect my clothes in order to be driven by my dad to stay in the hospital with my precious son. My ex-husband was in the house and took forever to let me in.  2 years previously he had been placed on the sex offenders register after being found guilty of sexually abusing teenage girls.  As I collected my things, I realised there was a teenage girl hiding in the house; her jewellery on the fire place.  Hours after watching me give birth 3 month early, he had invited a fourteen year old girl to the house and abused her.  I couldn’t face calling the Police.  The last time I called them to report my ex-husband’s abuse of teenage girls, the officer who interviewed me said to me, “Don’t you think you should stop allowing him to see teenage girls?”

I can’t remember much of those hospital days. I remember it took a lot to convince my ex-husband to bring my two year old daughter to the hospital.  That in the end, it was less than two weeks after the terrible event of my son’s birth which convinced me to separate from my ex-husband, for the last time.  That I would express milk using an electric pump in a little room, day and night.  That my daughter and I lived in hospital for five months in total.  That I would take her swimming, to the park and to toddler groups, because she would remember being neglected in favour of sitting in a hospital room with a tiny baby on the edge of life, but that my son wouldn’t remember that I could only sit with him for a little while at a time because my daughter needed the stability.

I only cried a few times in that whole five months; once was when a nurse told me not to touch my son so much as it could cause him distress. People naturally want to stroke tiny babies in their plastic incubator boxes.  But you can’t stroke them because their skin is too fragile.  All you can do is gently hold their head and their bottom and even then, not for too long.

My daughter would do her dolls’ observations, checking their temperature and using the little pink sponges we used to wet my son’s tiny mouth to pretend to wet her dolls’ mouths. We shared a room in most of the hospitals we stayed in and it was only because we lived so far from the hospital that we were allowed to stay, most parents travelled in each day.

After a month of being in hospital with my son, I reported my ex-husband to the Police. Friends took my daughter out while I made a statement at the police station.  It took hours.

One of the hospital cleaners asked me where my ex-husband was. I said we had separated, she asked me why I’d let such a good one get away.

During the time I was in hospital I would pray, a lot. At first I prayed for my son to live.  Hoping that he would make it through.  And then God clearly said to me that I needed to stop praying that my son would be okay.  He said, “Stop praying for him to live and start praying for my will to be done.  Can you praise me the same this week, with your son alive, as you will praise me next week if your son dies?”  In that place of utter desolation, God wanted to take away even my hope of a better future.  And I thought for a long time about whether I could and from that moment on I stopped praying for my son to live and began praying for God’s will to be done.

I don’t explain this lightly or without knowledge of how this sounds to those who do not have a relationship with God. But I can tell you with all surety, that I would not be who I am today without having surrendered everything to God.  Because when everything is stripped away and there is nothing left, it is then that true freedom and life can be found.

The only weekend I had away from the hospital was when I went back to my house to move all my possessions out. My ex-husband left the electricity key so low in credit that it went off during me organising the house, which meant I had to collect the key from him.  I removed everything of mine from the house.  Cleaned it from top to bottom, so that I could collect my half of the deposit back from the landlord.  This was the same house my daughter had spent most of her life in.  The same house I had tried to commit suicide in.  The same house at which a neighbour punched me in the face for being married to a sex offender.  The same house I had been sexually abuse in day in day out, called names, constantly devalued, intentionally been made exhausted.  I stored my possessions in my parent’s garage and travelled back to the hospital.

Three months after he’d been born my son was moved to a less specialist hospital. I knew that if I moved back to my home town, I’d re-enter the relationship with my ex-husband.  I now know that is because of something called Trauma Bonding, at the time I thought it was because I was too weak and pathetic to even keep myself safe.  We moved to Gateshead.  And my son’s care continued.  Twice after being released from hospital he stopped breathing and went blue/grey.  I resuscitated him, once in a car, once at home.  When we arrived by ambulance at the hospital, I would play colouring in with my daughter on the floor, watching as my son was surrounding by medical professionalstrying to save his life, smiling at my daughter saying, “Isn’t that wonderful colouring in? You’re doing a brilliant job!”

My ex-husband was charged with rape. The Police contacted me and asked if I thought he should have bail.  “Of course!”  I said, “He wouldn’t hurt me!”

He would call me and threaten to tell people about the bad stuff he’d made me do. He would call me and say he couldn’t remember what he’d done.  And I would call him.  When I needed support, when there was news about my son’s health, when I couldn’t cope with not having spoken to him.  I genuinely believed the only person who really deserved to hear me moan about how hard life was, was him.  One time he spent twenty minutes telling me on the phone how terrible a person I was.  I cried and pleaded with him to stop, but I couldn’t put the phone down.  No matter how much I wanted to.  He controlled me absolutely.  On two occasions while on bail, he manipulated me into sleeping with him.  The Police thought he may threaten me to keep himself out of prison, but he used something much more effective than fear, he didn’t have to threaten me to keep himself out of prison, all he had to do was pretend to love me.

When asked by consultants, “Are you on your own?” I would respond with, “Yes!  I’ve separated from my husband.  He is a registered sex offender.”  I couldn’t just say yes.  I needed to explain.  To prove I’d really tried at being married, that I wasn’t a failure, or worse, one of “those” single mothers the media goes on about (turns out there’s no such thing!).  This meant that my ex-husband wasn’t allowed on the children’s ward where my son was being cared for.  I received a phone call via a hospital payphone from the police officer who was responsible for my ex-husband’s rehabilitation process.  He proceeded to shout at me over the phone, berating me for “stopping a father from seeing his child.”  Apparently I shouldn’t have told the hospital about the conviction.  I think it convinced him of my vindictiveness towards my ex-husband.

At one point my son contacted bronchiolitis. I came into the intensive care ward to find him paralysed by a drug that stopped him pulling the ventilator out of his throat.  All his veins had been used and the only one left was on the top of his head, so they had shaved the area and put a drip in there.  He was ventilated and still needing to be resuscitated every two minutes.  They said they were sending him for a lung bypass which they explained had a 70% chance of physical or mental disability.  On his way to the specialist hospital he miraculously began improving.  They didn’t need to do the bypass in the end.

Eventually my son was released from hospital on low flow oxygen, not long before my daughter’s 3rd birthday.  After turning a year he rarely needed any medical treatment.

This is what male violence does. Men take the lives of women and children and destroy them, rape them, kill them.  And no matter how wonderfully we rebuild our lives, no matter how beautiful the restoration is, every birthday is never just a celebration of life, it is also a reminder of death.  I was 21 years old when my son was born, I am now 30.  And each year seems to get harder, as the years travelled show me more clearly what I have lost.  My wonderful husband and I have chosen not to have any children that are biologically ours together.  The two I brought into the marriage need to know they are enough, and God made it clear to us that we shouldn’t have more children.  And though that decision was right and obedience to God is always worth it, the pain of knowing that my pregnancies and the early years of both my children were filled with such pain is something I mourn deeply.  This is what male violence does.

I don’t have any life giving words or clichés about how it all gets better. Even though it does.  Because for now, in this moment, the cost feels greater than the cause.

Yet, by the time I collect my wonderful son from school, no matter how much it hurts, I will greet him with the biggest smile, because it’s his birthday, and for him that means it’s a really happy day.

 

God loves women: A blog sharing my love of God, the love He has for women and my frustration that the Church often doesn’t realise this (@God_loves_women)

Reclaim the Night by @Sianushka

(cross-posted from sian and crooked rib)

 

Violence against women is not inevitable

Here’s the speech I gave at Bristol Reclaim the Night on Friday.
Thank you so much for all being here tonight. Standing here, together in solidarity, you are showing your commitment to ending the international crisis of violence against women and girls.
Today is a day of celebration. For it is the 4th birthday of the Bristol Feminist Network. I know that I am so proud to stand here with you all today, part of a network that is buzzing and vibrant and making such a difference to gender inequality in the city and beyond. I have been with the network since it began in November 2007, in fact I was one of the organisers of Ladyfest Bristol 2007, from which BFN was born. I am so proud of the achievements of our network, and so happy to stand with you all tonight, as we say no more to violence against women and girls.
So, why are we here? What are we fighting against? The recent Bristol Fawcett report, Cutting Women Out, estimated that 130 women will be raped in Bristol each month. That means that since we began planning this year’s Reclaim the Night in August, there will have been approximately 500 rapes in our city. This week in the UK, two women will have been murdered by her partner or ex partner and many, many more will have been abused. In fact, across the world, 1 in 3 women will experience sexual violence in her lifetimes. In the UK, 1 in 4 adult women will experience intimate partner violence in her lifetime, a figure that goes up to 1 in 3 teen girls.
Surely then, these figures should be on the front page of the newspapers every day. Surely this should be a national scandal. Surely, with these numbers, our government should be investing serious money in funding support services, tackling rape myths and improving a justice system that so often lets rapists go free. And yet, instead of action to end violence against women and girls, we see cuts. Cuts to legal aid, preventing victims and survivors of domestic abuse from accessing affordable legal representation. Cuts to vital local support services for victims and survivors. Cuts to social housing, making it hard for victims and survivors to escape violent homes. When I wrote to Theresa May in April, she assured me that ending violence against women and girls was a priority for this government. But, as she said to the Women’s Aid conference in 2010, it’s actions that count, not words. And I’ve counted this government’s actions. It isn’t looking good.
It is very rare that cases of violence against women and girls get reported in our media. However, there have been three cases this year that have stood out in my mind and that have revealed so much about how rape and sexual violence is discussed in the mainstream. They were the accusations against Julian Assange and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and the gang rape of 12 and 13 year old girls in Reading, where a group of men were found guilty and sentenced.
Whatever people here tonight think about the accusations against Assange and DSK, because of course we do not know what happened, one thing has been clear. The reaction to the cases was a checklist of how pervasive rape myths and victim blaming is in our society. All three alleged victims have been portrayed as liars, and have had their sex lives, politics, poverty, nationality and friendships used to discredit them. They have found themselves at the centre of conspiracy theories, and in some cases we have seen the legal definition of rape mocked and disregarded by lawyers, and by left and right wing commentators. We do not know what happened in either of those cases. But we do know that the immediate and continued reaction was to discredit and disbelieve the women. Because, in a rape culture that is almost always our reaction.
In the third case a 12 year old girl was gang raped, and her 13 year old friend was raped by one man. The men were convicted in March, but by July they were free after winning their appeal. One of the reasons given by the judge for their release was that the 12 year old girl was more sexually experienced than the men, and the convicted rapists had shown remorse. Yes, you heard that right. Our judicial system basically said that if someone rapes a child, but can then find a way that makes it look like the child was to blame, then they have nothing to worry about. Just admit it frankly, show a bit of remorse and easy. You’ll be out of jail in less than a year.
In a rape culture, victim blaming, lack of justice and silence around the levels of violence against women and girls is the norm.
But what I want to say to you all here tonight is that rape culture does not have to be the norm. Violence against women and girls is not a fact of life. It is not inevitable. It is something that can change, something that can and will end. By standing here tonight, by marching through our city streets, you have shown your commitment to ending it. The aims of Reclaim the Night, education on consent and respect, support for victim and survivor services and improving the justice system – these are all steps on the road to end violence against women and girls. Things are better than they were when the first Reclaim the Night was held in the 70s, and together, standing in solidarity together, we can make a difference and we will make a difference. I believe that. That belief gets me out of bed every day. A world without violence is possible, and by being here tonight, you are part of the movement to make that world a daily reality for everyone.

Thank you.

“We Must Not Always Talk in the Market-Place of What Happens to Us in the Forest”: Victim Blaming is Our Scarlet Letter at Americas Studies

(Cross-posted from Americas Studies)

Source: Wikimedia Commons. “”Hester Prynne & Pearl before the stocks”, an illustration by Mary Hallock Foote from an 1878 edition of The Scarlet Letter”

“She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom” – Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850

Are we all born with scarlet letters, unseen until someone or something makes them visible? Like unlucky lottery scratch cards, a letter rubbed raw, eczematous, infectious: one for every woman who dares to speak out against rape and sexual assault. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s fictional character, Hester Prynne donned a red letter “A” for adultery, a signal of her deviant sexuality, a public warning, a badge of shame. Today, society has become that puritanical scarlet letterfor every woman, every victim, everyone who tries to take back the power and make a try for justice.

Victim Blaming

Victim blaming is the scarlet letter used by rape culture to marginalise women. It is as much an elaborate cross-stitch of (un)reasoned words as a flaming mark left by a phallocentric branding iron. In an article examining the problematic attitudes toward rape in Ireland, Amnesty International state that, in relation to low conviction rates for sex crimes, “It is clear. . . .that public attitudes to victims of rape are a significant part of the problem, and something the UN too said needed to be addressed. Rape, as with other forms of ‘gender-based violence’ against women, is directed at a woman because she is a woman. The underlying cause, according to the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, is the historical and ongoing discrimination against women by men. Also, these attitudes necessarily dictate how victims are treated subsequently.” As Hawthorne says of Hester’s scarlet letter, “It [the scarlet letter] had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.” Isolation, social exile, mockery, threats, even violence are some of what can face rape and sexual assault survivors who speak out against their attackers.

An accusation is worth a thousand brandings

Hester says to her daughter, “Hold thy peace, dear little Pearl! We must not always talk in the market-place of what happens to us in the forest.” What Hester was talking about is sexuality. Not much has changed for women since Hawthorne’s 19th century exploration of 17th century womanhood in Puritan America. We are not supposed to talk about rape, sexual assault, sexuality, or gender-based violence. An accusation is worth a thousand brandings leaving the victim mottled and worn by the collective prejudice of a society that is stunted by patriarchy, shackled to a medieval chauvinism, and hog-tied to ignorance.

Education, Justice, Support

There has been a surge of posts, articles and commentary about rape culture and victim blaming since the Steubenville rape case became global news. Many bloggers have compiled lists of why victim blaming happens, how it happens, and how to put a stop to it. Quite simply, we need to educate, improve our justice systems, and provide more support for victims of rape and sexual assault. As long as statistics like the ones below exist, we have an impossible task ahead of us. These figures are also the glaring reasons why education, justice and support are essential, yet lacking.

 

BGDBuztCEAAnbtY.jpg-large

“Violence against women is not a private matter – it is everyone’s business. We too must challenge negative attitudes to women, and resist images and information channels that reinforce discriminatory attitudes and perpetuate violence against women” – Amnesty International.

 

Americas Studies: This blog, Américas Studies is the product of an Irish feminist researcher in transatlantic dialogue with the Américas. It is grounded in my current experience as a doctoral candidate with posts about literature, film, feminism, and issues related to academia.

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.

I want 140 characters which will end rape by Sam Berg

(cross-posted from John Stompers) 

 

So men, what do you want to hear?

Not all men are like that? You’re not like those other men?

Let’s say I tell you men that you are wonderful, kind, heroic and humble. Will these words of praise stop the girl enslavement called “child marriages”?

If women change tactics from demanding the return of girl children stolen in Africa, if instead we engulf men in a cascade of compliments assuring men that we know they are decent and devoted, will men return our generosity by raising the average age a girl enters prostitution out of the early teen years?

So men, if it is not flattery you want from women, what are the words you want to hear? What can women say that will cause you to finally stop what you have always had in your manly hands the power to end?

Women have been forgiving of what men have done to us. We have to if we want to leave our homes. We have to forget what pornography shows us men like to masturbate to if we want to go to work or buy food while looking into the porn-soaked eyes of the men around us. We have to forget what happened the last time we went out, and the time before that, and we need to remember the times nothing happened.

I’ll remember that you are the good ones and that most violence is really the fault of madness or money. I will forgive and forget whatever it is you want of me if you tell me what you want to hear women say. Then good men like you will stop telling us how we’re doing feminism wrong, because we’ll be doing it exactly as you command.

Then men will stop the violence your mentally ill brothers and financially destitute brothers commit against girls and women.

Men will stop the violence.

Not because women have always begged men to stop. Not because women have always acquiesced to silent invisibility in the hope that men would respond with civility. Not because men haven’t kept masculinity’s vaunted promise to protect women and children.

Men will stop the violence because women will finally have spoken the word sequence whose non-utterance has kept the dignity of full personhood out of women’s grasp.

So men, enough with telling women when we speak the wrong words. What would you have women say to get men to end the violence sinking humanity’s ship, the result when something naturally balanced is forcibly tipped for too long?

You can go over Twitter’s 140 characters if you need to, or whatever Facebook’s limit is, but do try to keep it from becoming a 141-page manifesto if you can.

Just say the words and I will work tirelessly getting women to repeat them, then men will stop the violence.

Men will stop the violence.

Women will say what men want to hear and men will stop the violence.

And that will work this time.

 

JohnStompers: My blog neatly collects my published articles about prostitution, porn, and other human trafficking issues into one easily found blog. I don’t twitter much, but I’m fairly active on Facebook as “Samantha Berg” from Portland, Oregon, USA.

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.

Rape Night by @cathjanes

pic metro

Hold the boat, kraken lovers. Hold the bloody boat. I have just read something so heinous and bleak-hearted in that faux-newspaper for mouthbreathers, The Metro, that I may have to leave you a moment to soak my frontal lobes in a cleansing mixture of hydrochloric acid, washing-up liquid and bees. Let me explain. On Saturday 3 MayThe Metro printed an article entitled 27 Things Men Do In Bed That Women HateWritten by one Hannah Gale, the piece listed various alleged irritants such as, “When they ask you to put the condom on”, “Man stubble “, and “Trying to remove underwear with their teeth”. That’s not the problem, though. Fuck no. The problem is with the fact that eight of the points list sexual assault and rape before passing them off as annoyances, much like overpriced coffee and bad drivers. And for your rage and delectation, here they are:

‘When you give them a blow job and they act as if you don’t have a gag reflex. How about I’m sick all over your penis?’ Yup, you read that right, kraken-lovers. According to The Metro a man forcing his penis into my throat, even though it is making me uncomfortable, scared and upset, now deserves to be shrugged off more than it deserves to be a moment of monumental distress. Somehow the notion that this will make me vomit as a result is far more important than the fact that it’ll also make me want to call a rape crisis line.

 

‘When you’re in the middle of foreplay and they thrust a finger up your bum with NO warning.’ Oh, and there I was kicking out of the bed the man who does this to me before scrubbing myself in the shower when all along I should have been giggling about it with my mates over a stereotypical Lambrusco. That’s right, because being intruded upon by a rogue digit is right up there (pardon the pun) with forgetting to buy stamps.

‘Putting their fingers everywhere at once like they’re playing some sort of instrument. Far too confusing, you just don’t know what’s going on down there.’ Really? Confusion is the only emotion that’s supposed to well up in me when I’ve been digitally skewered like a bowling ball?

‘When they think it’s a good idea to stick objects in you. Just no.’ I dread to ask, but what exactly are these random objects? Courgettes? Mugs? Push chairs? And why does The Metro think that it’s Ok for me to just lay there and take having objects wedged into me if that’s not what I enjoy? The ‘Just no’ response is so lacking in emotion, meaning and horror that Gale and her paper are essentially presenting this sexual assault with a giggle and shrug.

‘Casually trying to have anal sex without asking and without lube. It does not just slip in there.’ Well, let’s be fair now. A woody does just slip in there but usually because a rapist is attached to the other end of it. Seriously, tell me when it was during your last trusting and loving relationship that your partner subjected you to a sexual act he or she knew would hurt or not be consented to? Exactly. When a partner does this to me, it’s time to call the police.

‘Being so aggressive with their hands during foreplay that they pretty much give you internal bleeding.’ Excellent, because nothing conveys all of those eye-rolling moments of a relationship quite like bleeding from internal injuries as my bloke clambers off the bed to go watch the Match of the Day.

‘Nipple biting. It just f*****g hurts.’ Much like having your cock bitten off, in fact.

‘Pulling your hair so hard you scream and your eyes water.’ Is that before or after the perpetrator has torn my cervix or shoved a windowbox up my arse?

I wish to fuck I had made all of that up but I haven’t. It actually appeared in The Metro as a form of entertainment. Thing is, the paper will probably dress this up as a service to us women because it’ll claim it is honest reporting of the roguish (as opposed to rapey) behaviour that we have to put up with. Yet even though the issues listed are clearly from women who are not consenting, at no point does The Metro label any of this as unacceptable violence.

The article even comes with the message that after reading women should, “print it out and leave it where your boyfriend can see it…”. That’s right, instead of saying “No!” clearly and loudly, kicking their boyfriend out or going to a place of safety, women are encouraged by The Metro to tackle their experience of sexual violence by dropping hints. Now I know where I’ve been going wrong. Instead of telling raping men that if they don’t get their hands off me I’ll call the police I should have been pretending to enjoy a little light internal bleeding before crying alone in the toilet and leaving Post-It notes all over the fucking house.

And this list is made all the worse by what the article infers. You see, by mixing comments about assault and rape with comments about removing knickers with teeth and ball stubble, it attempts to blur the lines between what is and what is not a criminal offence. Go on, imagine you are young woman with little sexual experience and you read this article. What does it tell you? That being forced into throat-bruising oral sex is no worse than being kissed when you have morning breath. That violent sexual behaviour isn’t worth being taken seriously. That it’s Ok for your partner to not understand that his determination, ignorance and selfishness in bed has a direct correlation to whether you need a doctor to see to your internal bruising.

Believe me, if The Metro wants to highlight the irritants women face when they are having sex, I’m all for it. May I throw in the suggestion that Barry White is never, ever played in the background? However, what I do not expect it to do is list incidents that are the same as those noted in the judgement of the Max Clifford trial. Feel free toread the judgement here and compare it to The Metro’s efforts. Gale’s article could have been written by Clifford himself, don’t you think? They are as damaging, frightening and abhorrent as each other.

That’s why if you ever do find yourself being intruded upon without your consent, left bleeding on the bed or missing actual clumps of hair in the name of romance, whatever you do don’t listen to The Metro. None of these incidents are a normal part of sex. They are rape and it is assault. Telling young women to shrug this stuff off is exactly why we carry the burden of rape alone, because we have been told over and again that it’s just a normal part of an adult female’s life. So the next time you read The Metro remember it for what it is: a pervert encouraging women to stay silent and, believe me, that’s what is most irritating of all.

– See more at: http://www.thekrakenwakes.org/culture/rape-night/#sthash.yYiIustT.dpuf

 

The Kraken Awakes: I’m forming a black hole of feminist fury so you don’t have to and no aspect of sexism or womanhood is left untouched. No, really. I even have a ‘sexist rage’ button on my site so you can access my ire directly.

On two dangerous and persistent rape myths by @sianushka

(cross-posted with permission from Sian & Crooked Rib)

originally published 11.9.13

Trigger warning for rape and rape myths

I’ve been thinking about two rape myths today, and what they mean for our understanding of rape in and out of the courtroom.

The first myth is the idea that there is a ‘correct’ way to respond to being attacked, and that response is to scream. And the second is that a if the jury acquits a man accused of rape, the accuser is immediately guilty of the crime of ‘false accusation’ or perverting the course of justice – despite not being found guilty in the law courts.

The ‘she didn’t scream’ myth is a persistent one. It’s the belief that a woman or girl would always scream or fight back if they were attacked, and that if they didn’t scream or fight back, then there was no attack. It is based on the idea that ‘rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman, and therefore a woman would do everything in her power to stop it’. Responding to this statement, CWASU writes on their rape myths page:

Many women assess their attacker, and make moment by moment decisions about their survival. In many circumstances, women being sexually assaulted fear for their lives. When rapists have a weapon, or threaten the victim, most will strategise for their own survival by not unduly alarming or aggravating their attacker; they follow his instructions in order to stay alive, and this may include not making a noise or resisting. Being raped is not worse than being dead or permanently injured – opting to submit is a rational decision, made in a context where there are very few choices or options.

One of the problems I see here is our skewed understanding of consent. We see consent as the ‘absence of a no’, not the presence of an ‘enthusiastic yes’. Freezing and not screaming is not an indication of consent. Consent does not rely on silence, and the fact we continue to believe it does leads to the rape myth that if she didn’t vocalise no, she must have meant yes. This myth then leads to women blaming themselves for not saying no.

When I interviewed TV writer Emilia di Girolamo about this issue, she said:

‘It was something that I felt had happened to me and I didn’t understand – I grew up thinking that I was in the wrong and that I should have fought and should have shouted no, and I didn’t. It was only when I started reading about freeze response that I realised that’s exactly what happened to me. That’s how I felt, I couldn’t move and I couldn’t shout or scream.’

Freezing and silence is not an indicator that no assault happened. It is a survival tactic and it is a normal response to being attacked. It should be respected and understood to be so.

Every time we repeat the myth that there is a correct way to respond to rape, then we are telling women who don’t respond that way that they are to blame, that they were in the wrong. As with every single rape myth out there, it moves the focus from the perpetrator’s behaviour onto the woman’s. It says that it is up to the victim to behave in an approved manner, and that her response is then ‘proof’ of her innocence or guilt. We ignore the responsibility of the perpetrator not to rape, we ignore that it is up to him to prove that the rape didn’t take place. It is his behaviour that should be under scrutiny and yet time and time again we return to the woman’s actions.

The CPS has started to challenge the defence that if a woman didn’t behave in a pre-approved manner, then it wasn’t rape. In their guidelines on rape myths, they write:

If she didn’t scream, fight or get injured, it wasn’t rape.

Implications:

Disbelieves and re-traumatises victim

Invalidates the experience of the victim

Discourages him or her from seeking help

Facts:

• victims in rape situations are often legitimately afraid of being killed or seriously injured and so co-operate with the rapist to save their lives;
• the victims perception of threat influences their behaviour;
• rapists use many manipulative techniques to intimidate and coerce their victims;
• victims in a rape situations often become physically paralysed with terror or shock and are unable to move or fight; and
• non-consensual intercourse doesn’t always leave visible signs on the body or the genitals.

The CPS is right. Accusing a woman of not responding in the ‘correct’ way to rape invalidates the victim, brings back trauma and tells them that they shouldn’t report because no one will believe them or respect their experience. And so the terrible cycle continues where reporting rates stay low, and those who do report risk being disbelieved, and the rape myths infiltrate the public imagination and the conviction rate stays low.

That’s what makes this myth so dangerous.

The second myth I want to talk about is on how when a man is found not guilty of rape, the woman is found guilty in the court of public opinion of making a false accusation.

Making a false accusation of rape is a serious crime which results in a jail term if an individual is found guilty. It is perverting the course of justice.

If you believe in the principle that everyone is innocent before proven guilty, then you MUST extend that right to women who make a rape complaint too. They are innocent of the crime of making a false accusation unless the courts prove otherwise.

Here’s an infographic of false accusations against incidents of rape:

 

It really seems to confuse people, the idea that the principle of innocent before proven guilty applies to women who make rape complaints too.

A not guilty verdict of rape does not equal a guilty verdict of false accusation. The belief that it does fosters the rape myth that false accusations are incredibly common and rape is rare. We know this is not true. According to Keir Starmer, in the period of 17 months there were 5,6751 prosecutions of rape, and 35 prosecutions for false accusations of rape. In the same period, there were 111,891 prosecutions for domestic abuse and 6 for false allegations of domestic abuse. Every year, according to the BCS, there are 1.2 million incidents of domestic abuse and 500,000 incidents of sexual assault – up to 90,000 of which are rape. False accusations are incredibly rare and rape is incredibly, terrifyingly common.

Last night I was talking with a friend of mine about these rape myths. We said we both believe that in the future, perhaps in the next generation, we will look back at society today in horror. We will be horrified that we were a society that allowed rape to happen. We will be ashamed that our response to rape was to find ways to blame and accuse the victim. It will be as ridiculous and embarrassing as witch burning or other historical disgraces. Our grandchildren will look at us and ask how we dared to allow this, how we dared to tell a woman that she should have screamed, she should have said no, that she is guilty of a crime she hasn’t been convicted of because she made a rape complaint.

I believe this will happen because things are changing, and they are changing because of feminists. Two years ago, when a group of men group raped a 12 year old girl and they got out of jail on appeal because the judge said she was sexually experienced and wanted sex, there was silence. This year, when a lawyer called a 13 year old rape survivor ‘predatory’ and the judge gave her rapist ridiculously low sentence, David Cameron got involved and action was taken against the lawyer. Feminists didn’t get any credit despite Everyday Victim Blaming leading the march on this case, but at least there was uproar. At least people said it wasn’t ok to victim blame a child.

Things are changing. Feminists are leading this change. We are having an impact. We are facing a helluva backlash as a result. But the day when we are ashamed of our attitude to rape and survivors is coming. It is coming.

 

Rape crisis helpline: 0808 802 9999

Sian and Crooked Rib I‘m a bristol based blogger who writes stories, talks about feminism and politics and generally muses on happenings. [@sianushka]

The hypocrisy of calling for anonymity for rape defendants by @sianushka

(cross-posted with permission from Sian & Crooked Rib)

originally published 12.9.13

TW for rape and rape apolgism

I don’t know how many more times I can write this blogpost.

But, unsurprisingly, the not guilty verdict in the Michael LeVell trial has led to more calls across the media to introduce anonymity for rape defendants. From Philip Schofield’s tweet to this frankly disturbing Peter Lloyd piece in the Mail, those who believe that those accused of rape should be afforded the same protection as victims of rape are out in force.

The formula is the same. A man’s life has been ‘trashed’ because – in their belief – a woman ‘lied’. His reputation is in ‘tatters’. In this case it’s the reports of drinking and extra-marital affairs that are the problem. The logic goes that if this girl had not made a rape complaint, no one would know about the affairs and therefore all rape defendants should have anonymity.

The hypocrisy of the press in this matter is astounding.

It’s the press that gleefully reveals the embarrassing personal details such as affairs and drinking, and then use the fact that this embarrassing information is out there as a reason to re-open the debate foranonymity  for rape defendants. In the run up to the trial I saw gleeful headline after gleeful headline on the tabloids in my corner shop on alcoholism and affairs – the very stories that are now seen as reason to change the law in favour of men accused of rape.

As Glosswatch  says in her superb blog, we don’t know what the motivations of his accuser were. But we know what the motives of the press were in reporting his affairs and drinking. And it wasn’t motivated by showing solidarity to the rape complainant, but a prurient delight in celeb bad behaviour.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It isn’t rape survivors or rape crisis centres of feminists campaigning against violence against women that are ‘dragging a man’s name through the mud’. We just want to encourage victims and survivors to feel safe and supported and for victims and survivors to have access to justice. And part of that involves naming defendants.

Despite the views expressed across the press today, and the increasing results of public polls on the issue, naming rape defendants works in the interests of open justice. It improves justice for victims and survivors. It simply does. The academic research bears it out – with research from Professor Clare McGlynn  published in the Criminal Law Review making a comprehensive case for why naming defendants supports justice and encourages convictions for rape.

In her concluding comments, Professor McGlynn writes:

‘First, there is no justification for singling out the offence of rape for special treatment. There are many stigmatic crimes: indeed that is one of the reasons for labelling an activity criminal. Secondly, while parts of the media may be irresponsible, this alone cannot justify limits on media freedom which may impinge on its ability to report issues of public interest and attempts to catch the public’s attention. Similarly, and thirdly, it may be that the difference between suspicion and guilt are not as apparent as they should be to some people. But this does not include all people, and it would be dangerous indeed if public debate could only proceed at the level of the least able. There is, therefore, no basis on which to single out the offence of rape. The final lesson, and perhaps the most important conceptual message to be drawn from the analysis in this article, is that privacy rights, the mainstay of justifications for reform, are generally not accorded greater weight than freedom of expression, when open justice and media freedom come into play. If the media are to be able to report matters of important public interest, such as rape cases, the choice of method of doing so, often likely to include the personal details of a defendant, is an important element of media freedom and open justice.


It isn’t just academics. Police and legal experts are also of the belief that anonymity for defendants will impact on justice for victims and survivors. Responding to the Stuart Hall case, Lancashire Police confirmed that naming the suspect helped survivors to come forward, leading to his conviction.

The cases like Stuart Hall’s bear out the argument for naming defendants over and over again.RochdaleWorboysGordon Rideout are all cases where naming the defendant(s) has encouraged survivors to come forward, report and secure convictions. Without the ability to name these defendants, without women seeing the reports and feeling that finally, they are able to come forward, these men probably wouldn’t have been convicted. We all know, after all, how often the police knocked back women reporting Worboys, delaying justice as he continued to rape. How often the girls inRochdale were ignored.

And I’m sure we can all agree that we are glad these serial rapists have been convicted and put into prison. I’m sure we can all agree that we would not have wanted anonymity for rape defendants in those cases – anonymity that may have prevented the cases progressing. And yet this is what those calling for anonymity are leading us towards.

But unfortunately it doesn’t matter how much research you quote, how many case studies you give and how many experts you refer to – the belief that anonymity for defendants is necessary sticks. Why? Well, the argument against naming defendants lies in the belief that a rape accusation ruins lives. But it is something else too. It is the belief that has developed that somehow false accusations are equal to being raped, and that false accusations are common. We know the latter isn’t true and in fact false accusations of rape are rarer than false accusations of other crimes. And, let’s face the facts. Being accused of rape is not the same as being raped.

Rape can ruin lives. It does ruin lives. It can lead to depression, PTSD, it can leave women with STDs that impact their physical health or their fertility. The impact of rape is far reaching, and can go on for years. Each woman or girl will respond differently to the violence committed against her and not everyone will feel the same long-term impact. But the fact is rape isn’t just a one occasion thing that happens and then is done with. And it is astoundingly, terribly common. The BCS estimates there are between 60,000 and 90,000 rapes in the UK every year. That’s 60,000 to 90,000 people every year who are living with the devastating impact of rape.

It simply is not equal to false accusations of rape. It certainly is not equal to being accused of rape. And let’s remember that most men who are accused of rape actually committed the crime. In fact, for the handful of cases that make it to court, 63% of defendants are found guilty (the conviction rate from incident to guilty remains at 6.5%).

Of course I know that to be falsely accused of rape can ruin lives too and I appreciate that. But – and there is a but – we only have to look at our popular culture that celebrateslaudswelcomes andsupports men who have been found guilty of rape or domestic abuse to know that men who abuse women aren’t automatically placed beyond the pale. It’s embarrassing just how much our culture is happy to boost convicted rapists and abusers, whilst hounding and attacking their victims. 

The calls for anonymity ignore the reality of what rape is. It places making a rape complaint on the same level as being raped – suggesting that one is as damaging as the other. It argues that rape defendants are victims too, victims of women who have a legal right to make a rape complaint. They’re not. They are defendants. They have been accused of rape. They are not victims.

The calls for anonymity ignore the overwhelming and repeated evidence that naming defendants is good for justice. And that is what matters in the end. Justice. There is no convincing argument out there that supports anonymity for rape defendants. There isn’t. Each one of the arguments ignores the rights of victims and survivors and the voices of victims and survivors. And that isn’t good enough.

Rape crisis helpline: 0808 802 9999

Sian and Crooked Rib I‘m a bristol based blogger who writes stories, talks about feminism and politics and generally muses on happenings. [@sianushka]

 

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 

a blog about not blogging about Max Clifford by @helen_a13

(cross-posted with permission from Helen Blogs)

originally published 29,04.14

I tweeted late last night that I wouldn’t be blogging about Max Clifford.

And yet, here I am, 24 hours later writing a blog about … Max Clifford.

Why? Well …

Yesterday I was quite busy. I had a morning meeting for work, then met some people for lunch and then ended up at some more lovely peoples house for a cuppa which led to tea and evening chatter. I didn’t check my twitter all day. I know, I know. It didn’t seem to be working in the morning anyway, and then I just actually didn’t have time.

So it was not until I got home fairly late last night that I found quite a few messages sent to me about the Max Clifford verdict. And some were asking for my response. My thoughts. If I was going to be writing anything about it, and how I felt about it.

I was largely disconnected from ‘online’ life yesterday – but because I was expecting an important call I was checking my phone a fair amount so as soon as the guilty verdicts were announced and BBC Breaking News flashed it up on my phone, I knew about it, as did the people I was with because it went straight to their phones too.

So I was aware. And yes, I was relieved. Because for months, time after time we have seen high profile cases going to court and a constant barrage of ‘not guilty’ which then leads to horrific victim blaming. I still don’t have any faith in our current legal system with regards to how it supports and seeks justice for people who have survived abuse. So, yes I was relieved to feel that maybe hopefully I wouldn’t need to spend the next day or two defending women and men who have been abused who are being called the most awful things because a ‘not guilty’ verdict apparently = innocence of the perpetrator (which I don’t believe). A not guilty verdict does not = innocence – it often simply equals that some technicality has meant they got off. Or ‘not enough evidence’ (do you know how hard it is to provide ‘ENOUGH’ evidence to a court of abuse/sexual abuse/rape?!).

Anyway – back to why I’m writing a blog about not writing a blog …

I was really honoured, moved and felt valued that people were messaging me and asking for my thoughts. That they felt my voice was and is important enough to be heard, and that they genuinely wanted to hear it. I was really honoured that people remember my initial writings in the immediate aftermath of the Savile expose and that I had written one or two blogs that got incredibly wide readership. I’m honoured that they felt they could contact me, to ask for a response in the context of Max Clifford being found guilty being the first conviction since the set up of Yewtree, and the investigations taking place post Savile.

I responded to people as personally as I could explaining that I didn’t intend on blogging/writing or particularly engaging with the conversations taking place especially on twitter. I didn’t feel I needed to give an explanation.

And yet they felt I should have. Given an explanation. So today, whilst I have been largely away from my phone (again, shock horror it isn’t actually tied to my neck) and whilst I have been busy working and doing stuff I got quite a few more messages back.

A few of them have accused me of being silenced. A few of them have accused me of not using the voice I’ve been given. A few of them have accused me of distancing myself and not continuing to represent women affected by abuse. And a few of them seem to feel that I have let someone/something/some people down? I’m not quite sure why or how but that would be the theme coming from one or two messages – simply because I have said I am not able to engage with this topic in the depth that they were expecting/wanted.

And this is why –

I had a really bad weekend. A really really bad weekend. Friday night I found myself having a flashback which totally takes me off track for a bit and sends my mind into a whirl. So it has been a tough few days. And yesterday I found myself spending some time with some great people, thinking about some upcoming stuff and then time with some more great people just chatting/sharing etc. I was hugely impacted by some of the conversations. And challenged by some too. So driving home before I saw all these messages I was thinking about my identity. And my identity online. And the fact that actually, before Christmas I made the conscious decision to stop writing under the pseudonym I had adopted and written many things using. I decided to become ‘Helen’ online and offline. And learn how to be vulnerable offline too instead. Any many things spurred that. But I remember in the midst of the many things that were spurring this change, was someone phone me, who  I love, trust and respect a lot and asking me if I had considered whether I was becoming defined by the identity I had created/was creating – and was I becoming defined by being a survivor. And it was quite a ‘moment’ because up until that point that was all I believed I was. I was nothing else. I had nothing else. But they spoke into my life and made me realise I am MORE than a survivor. Being a survivor is part of my story. Its not it all. Being a survivor is part of who I am. But it is not the whole of me. There is more to be than abuse. Rape. Suicide. Depression. All the things I consistently wrote about as ‘fragz’. I am more than those things. And so for a while I stopped writing about those things. I spent time moving forwards and actually it coincided with being pretty sick most of the time and not really writing much about anything anyway. But over the last few months I’ve began to re engage with all the things I am passionate about I’m passionate about seeing women treated as equals in society, passionate about speaking out against violence against women, and raising issues of abuse and rape. I’m also starting to write again more of my journey, my story and the current journey I am on. I love writing. And I will continue to do as and when its right.

BUT in all of that I’m also starting and learning to self care a bit more. And I am also learning and starting to learn that actually whilst I am beginning to recognise I do have a voice, and would love to work on using that more proactively in the future years that actually there are just times when its ‘right’ to not have anything to say. That sometimes self care is important. That whilst my voice is valued by the people contacting me to hear it, that actually I have the power to say ‘NO’ , and not feel I ‘have to’ tweet/write about something and that actually that is OK.

Its not that I DONT have anything to say – its just that I am choosing not to throw myself in at the deep end and engage on a personal level every single time there is a case in the media, or a high profile celebrity has been found not guilty/ or guilty as is the case this week or a particular theme trending. Don’t get me wrong – I do engage ALOT of the time, but just sometimes its right to back off.

One of the things I am learning on my journey especially with social media is how to pick your battles wisely, and that is so true in terms of disagreements but actually also true on many levels in terms of what we choose to engage with.

I choose not to read articles by certain people/groups on particular topics late at night now. I choose not to follow certain people who often tweet things I find quite difficult to see in my timeline. I choose to attempt to look after myself better.

And that goes for this week. That goes for why I am not engaging specifically with the Max Clifford conversations. Its why I am not sat reading tweets with the hashtag of his name. Its why I tweeted just a couple of tweets last night and intended not to think about it again this week. Because just this week, I don’t need it. I don’t need to be constantly thinking about abuse. I don’t need to be constantly thinking about how poorly treated victims of sexual assault are treated and how society as a whole blames the victims more than the perpetrators. I actually just don’t need it. And so I’m choosing not to be as proactively outspoken this week as I sometimes have been in the past. And how I sometimes am generally. And I’m sure, maybe even in a day or two something will come up I feel strongly about and will want to discuss, tweet, write about etc. But please don’t attack for me for what I choose to or to not be involved with.

I’m thankful some people contacting me have been able to respect that, and hope the ones who don’t seem to read this and perhaps understand slightly more.

 

 

 

Helen Blogs: christian, feminist, rape survivor & survivors advocate, Jaffa cake lover. writer about #faith, #mentalhealth, #chroniclife & #violenceagainstwomen.  @helen_a15

“You’re not like a rape victim” by @Herbeatittude

(Cross-posted with permission from Herbs & Hags)

“You’re not like a rape victim”

That’s what someone years ago said to me, when I pulled him up on some shit he was talking about rape. I can’t remember the exact stuff he was saying, but it was the usual stuff I expect, about how rape victims ask for it and how rapists can’t help it. I pointed out that for all he knew, I might be a rape victim, so what the hell did he think he was doing saying things like that about rape?

And that’s when he said it. That I wasn’t like a rape victim. Which made it clear, that he had a certain idea of what rape victims were like. An idea which didn’t fit with me and what I was like. Which is a bit misleading, because I was a rape victim, though of course I didn’t tell him that.

So what is a rape victim like?

When I first thought about this, I found myself at a bit of a loss. I’ve thought loads about rape over the years, about rape myths, consent, victim-blaming – you know, all the stuff you usually engage with.  But for some reason, I hadn’t thought about that image of the rape victim.  I hadn’t been able to face that.  So I asked around because it seemed easier to get other people to tell me how I would have been categorised all these years, than to try and imagine it myself.

What people came up with, imagine your surprise, is that as with so many other images of women, the Madonna / Whore dichotomy is present for rape victims/ survivors as much as it is for all women

So first to the Madonna Rape Victim:

She is preferably a virgin or if not, pregnant or married, who has never done anything exciting or interesting or likely to cause any eyebrow-raising. She’s possibly a bit naieve, not very streetwise or assertive and too trusting. She must not have been drunk or wearing anything revealing at the time of the rape (or at any other time). She will not have known or been personally acquainted in any way, with her rapist prior to the rape.

Afterwards, she is required to be broken by the rape; afraid to go out, untrusting of men, timid, scared and has gone off sex forever. She can never enjoy sex again unless it is with a pre-existing boyfriend or husband. If her personality is outspoken, vocal or assertive, she will be deemed not to have been a rape victim, so she had better be unassertive and shy.

Now for the Whore rape victim:


She will have been drunk at the time of rape, or on drugs or at least have had one alcoholic drink. She would have been wearing a short skirt, low cut top or other sexualised item of clothing. She was not a virgin at the time of the rape and she may well have either been single or had lots of boyfriends (by which I mean more than 3) in the past. She knew her rapist or had exchanged social niceties with him before the rape and she gets more whore-points if she had either kissed him or flirted with him. She gets whore-points full-house if she had consensual sex with him on any other occasion before the rape. The fact that she was raped, proves that she wasn’t very careful, prudent or sensible.

Afterwards, if she has lots of lovers and treats sex casually, this will be seen as evidence that she wasn’t really raped.  Because someone who likes sex so much, or doesn’t think it’s that important, can’t have been raped, right?

When I was raped, I wasn’t a virgin; I’d had one lover, though sex was still quite new to me. I’d had an alcoholic drink, though I wasn’t drunk. Afterwards, I went out with my rapist and later still, I had a series of casual, “no strings” relationships (which were much less usual in those days than they are now – the term “fuck-buddy” hadn’t been invented) and one night stands

All this clearly put me in the Whore rape victim box, rather than the Madonna one. And here’s the thing: most rape victims get put in the Whore rape victim box, because it’s actually quite hard to make it into the Madonna one. Even in the small percentage of cases where women are the victims of the classic stranger in the bushes/ dark alley scenario, that’s not enough to get you into the Madonna box; you have to meet the dress, personality and behaviour criteria as well as the stranger rape criteria. 

Being in the Whore rape victim box, means that either you weren’t really raped and you are making a big fat fuss about nothing, or that you maybe were raped a bit, but you probably asked for it, deserved it or at least didn’t do enough to avoid it. Since most rape victims belong in this box and deep down, we know that that is how we will be categorised, it is no wonder that we’re not keen on reporting rape or even telling the people in our lives on whom we should be able to rely on for support, about our experiences of rape.

We know that they will instantly see us with different eyes; we will be cut off from normal women, who haven’t been raped and even if we get put in the Madonna box, we’re still “othered” as rape victims, people who weren’t able to keep themselves safe from predators – at the kindest, incompetent or foolish. That’s the best estimate of our character, that we can hope for. But for most of us, that’s too high a bar; we’ll be judged as feckless tarts who would inevitably end up getting raped sometime.

Because rape is not something a man chooses to do to someone; it‘s a natural phenomenon, like the rain or wind; sensible people will take umbrellas out with them and those who don‘t, will get rained on. Rape is presented as something women can avoid, like the rain, but those who don‘t, are a special breed of women apart from all others; something about them meant that nature picked them out to be raped; it wasn‘t something about the rapist that caused them to be raped, it was something about them.

When that man told me that I wasn‘t like a rape victim, that shut me up about being raped for nearly a quarter of a century. He didn‘t know it, but he was telling me that if I spoke up about having been raped, I would be declaring myself different from all other women. I didn’t analyse it at the time, but at a gut level I knew that to be a rape victim, meant to be either the Madonna or the Whore type and I knew I didn’t fit into the Madonna box.

So I shut up for twenty-five years. That’s what the othering of rape victims does to us – it silences us.

And now I’m no longer silent.  Not like a rape victim, then.

HerbsandHags: Meanderings of a Hag: I have no fixed subject matter for my blog, it tends to be whatever grabs me, but for some reason lots that has grabbed me has been about rape or other male violence. It’s all with a feminist slant though. [@Herbeatittude]

 

 

Being in the sex game: who gets to define rape? by @Herbeatittude

Cross-posted from Herbs&Hags: Meanderings of a Hag

First Published August 31. 2012

 

Now that the first flurry about George Galloway’s depressing remarks about rape is over, I’ve had some time to think about it.  I know, I’m a bit slow like that.  But I have been on holiday, so that’s my main excuse.

That video really is more triggering and upsetting than hearing the reports of what he says.  There’s something about an aggressive man actually sitting there jabbing his finger at you while telling you that once you’ve agreed to go to bed with a man, once you’ve consented to sex with him once, you then lose all right to decide what happens to your body from that moment on, which is far more unpleasant than just reading about it.

And that of course, is what George Galloway and everyone who agrees with him, is saying.  I have no idea whether some of these lefty-boys are simply being disingenuous and pretending to believe that consensual sex is the same as rape, or whether they do in fact genuinely believe this and are on the same side as rapists in this debate.  The idea that once you are “in the sex game” with a man, anything can happen, you’ve lost your right to have any bodily integrity, is an incredibly frightening, intimidating idea and makes sex a really unattractive prospect.  At least with George Galloway and those who agree with him.

Because let’s look at what he’s saying.  If a man has the right to insert his penis into you while you’re sleeping, because you were happy for him to do that earlier on while you were awake, then what else does he have the right to do?  Insert his penis into your mouth?  Into your anus?  Tie you up so that you can’t go to the loo when you need to and when this may be deeply distressing and scary for you?  I don’t ask this question frivolously; we live in a culture saturated with porn and many young men get much of their sex education from it.  Sexual practices which George Galloway may consider unreasonable to do to a sleeping woman with whom one is not well acquainted, may be considered part of a normal sexual repertoire for the porn generation of men.  

This is the problem isn’t it.  If you argue that once women have had consensual sex with a man, they have morally and legally given up their right to bodily integrity, then any practice which any individual man decides is OK, can be done to them whether they are asleep or not and be defined as consensual by George Galloway, other lefty-boy rape apologists, the courts, the police, the man himself and everyone except people who believe that women are really human beings and don’t give up their right to have some say over what happens to them when they consent once to sex with a man.

It’s only in the area of sexual conduct, that men like Galloway and the other rape apologists, believe that consent once given, is given unconditionally and forever.  I’m reminded of Hugh Grant’s complaint at the Leveson enquiry, where he made the point that the press feel that if you give one interview to a magazine, that’s it, you are now fair game for every paparazzo in town to hound you because you’ve given away your privacy:

“It is also very important to remember that when a person DOES do an interview with a paper or magazine they are doing it by consent. It’s a form of barter. The paper gets what it hopes will be a boost in sales, and the person gets what he hopes will be some helpful noise about his forthcoming project. It is like bartering 12 eggs for a bale of hay. Or like me selling you a pint of milk for 50p. When the deal is done, it’s done. You wouldn’t then say, “You sold me your milk, you slut. I’m now entitled to help myself to your milk for ever afterwards”.

I wonder if Hugh Grant would apply that argument to sex. Possibly, possibly not, I know nothing about his views on women’s autonomy (except that he once thought he had the right to insert his penis into a woman who would only endure him doing so, because he gave her money to allow it). Most men seem to understand that when you engage in any other activity with someone, you have the right to set boundaries about it.  If you agree to go to dinner with someone, that isn’t an agreement for them to force-feed you cake until you vomit;  if you agree to babysit their child for an evening, that doesn’t mean they can go away for the whole weekend leaving you to it; if you buy a red diesel 1000cc renault from them, they don’t have the right to deliver a silver petrol 1800cc volkswagen – after all, you’ve agreed to buy a car, you’re already in the car-buying game.  Only when it comes to sex, do men like George Galloway argue that when women agree to sex, they have no right to stipulate the terms under which they will have that sex.  Once they’ve said yes, the yes is unconditional it seems.  

Which makes me wonder if they believe the same of men.  I suspect they do actually, when it comes to gay men, because men who believe that women who agree to sex with a man, have lost their right to decide how and when they have that sex, are usually homophobes as well as misogynists.  They’re as undisturbed by the idea of a gay man being raped by a partner with whom they had previously consented to sex, as they are by a woman being raped after having had consensual sex with her rapist; moreover, they don’t even recognise it as rape, because in their minds, a woman or man who has chosen to have sex with a man, can no longer be raped by that man, because for a certain period of time (I’m not sure how long, any rape apologists out there who believe in this model of sex, do let me know), that man has an absolute right to use the body he’s with as a wank sock (rather than treating the owner of the body as a human being) and not have that called rape, because he gets to define what rape is.

And of course, rapists define rape, the same way alcoholics still in denial define alcoholism: the old joke is that the definition of an alcoholic, is someone who drinks more than you do.  For rapists and their apologists, the definition of a rapist, is someone who uses a bit more force than you, or is less well acquainted with his victim than you are with your’s, or employs a sexual practice you wouldn’t at least without first discussing it.  Alcoholics tell themselves that they aren’t really alcoholics, because they don’t drink 2 bottles of wine in one sitting, like that woman last night did, or that they always have at least one day a week where they don’t drink, or that they never have a drink before six o’clock, or whatever the practice they can point to is, that proves that although someone else who drinks and acts and speaks about alcohol the way they do is an alcoholic, they aren’t.  Rapists and their apologists do very much the same sort of thing. The difference being that as a society, we don’t let the alcoholics define what alcoholism is, but we’re still letting rapists get away with defining what rape is.  If we weren’t, it just wouldn’t be possible for an elected representative, to sit there and tell women in no uncertain terms that once they have consented to sex with a man, they are in the sex game and he can do what he wants with them.

 

HerbsandHags: Meanderings of a Hag: I have no fixed subject matter for my blog, it tends to be whatever grabs me, but for some reason lots that has grabbed me has been about rape or other male violence. It’s all with a feminist slant though. [@Herbeatittude]

Rape as Genocide: Understanding Sexual Vulnerability, Abuse, and Rape in the Holocaust by @LK_Pennington

This is a conference paper I wrote in 2006. Since I wrote this paper, more research into rape and the sexual exploitation and violence perpetrated against women and children has been undertaken. Women Under Siege is an excellent source of information as is the book Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women during the Holocaust. My own research in feminist theory has changed my understanding of sexual violence and genocide.

 

In the light of the stories of sexual vulnerability, abuse and rape that are a part of the larger narratives of genocide in Darfur, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, it is almost becoming a truism to suggest that sexual violence is an intrinsic feature of genocide. In the realms of Holocaust history and studies, however, it is still a subject that has not attracted a great deal of attention. Certainly, scholars who are working on the ambit of female experience, such as Myrna Goldenberg and Joan Ringelheim, have always acknowledged the existence of these stories in Holocaust testimonies, but they have focused on the specific sexual vulnerability of women due to pregnancy, motherhood, and amenorrhea and so mention only small numbers of testimonies of women who claimed to have been sexually assaulted or raped, or even having witnessed these. Furthermore, they have also tended not to look at male testimonies concerning the sexual vulnerability, abuse or rape of female prisoners and even fewer have looked at stories of male sexual vulnerability, abuse or rape.[1]

My own (feminist) readings of the testimonies of witnesses Lucille Eichengreen, Sarah Magyar Isaacson, Thaddeus Stabholz, Weislaw Kieler and Fania Fénelon[2], however, led me to believe that there were more stories of sexual violence than have been acknowledged. Furthermore, if one accepts that sexual violence is not only a common part of genocide but can also be a genocidal act, then it is one that needs to be explored within the context of the Holocaust and the murder of Soviet POWs, the Sinti and the Roma, the mentally ill and differently-abled, and the exploitation of ‘Slavic’ slave-labour during the course of Nazi Germany. This includes not only the sexual violence perpetrated by the German SS, the Wehrmacht, and other Aryan administrators, but also that of the Soviet mass rapes of women at the end of the war and during liberation, as well as the sexual violence by all other militaries, Allied or Axis, and that perpetrated by ‘victims’ of Nazism against other victims of Nazism.

In fact, stories of sexual violence are more common than early feminist Holocaust scholarship has previously acknowledged, which is not to say that it was widespread, although this is likely, but simply that there are more stories than first recognized. There has also been an expansion in the number of stories of sexual violence in testimonies, partly due to new feminist research into rape, pornography, prostitution, and sexual trafficking,[3] which casts some testimonies in a new light, partly also due to the fact that the number of Holocaust testimonies published has increased exponentially since the genocides in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. These new testimonies include more stories of sexual violence and interpret more events as having a sexual component rather than simply an act of violence of humiliation.

But while the increase in the numbers of stories of sexual violence is partly simply because witnesses now understand and write about specific events in this manner it is also because current feminist reading of testimonies includes a greater knowledge and awareness of sexual violence and reading my/contemporary definitions of sexual assault against the definitions given by witnesses is also essential to my thesis. Furthermore, it is the tension between my reading and what is written/not written that makes this a fascinating area of exploration. It also acknowledges, as Anna Hardman has previously noted, “the difficult interpretative questions as to the relationship between actuality and representation.”[4]

I believe, therefore, that the most significant reason for the expansion in the number of stories are the evolving definitions of the terms rape, sexual abuse, prostitution, humiliation, and choice by scholars, witnesses, and readers of these stories. There are numerous stories now interpreted as sexual violence. These include but are not limited to forced sterilizations of Mischlinge Jews, the Roma and the Sinti and the ‘asocials’, (that is the undesirable elements of society); forced abortions due to race; refused abortions due to race; forced pregnancies; viewing the abuse of others; forced stripping and performance; forced ‘prostitution’; brothels in the concentration camps; and the fear of rape. As a feminist, I feel that these stories needed to be placed in the centre of Holocaust studies along with the stories of abuse, humiliation, torture, starvation, deportation, murder and mass murder, ghettos and gas chambers.

What I consider to be the one of the more common forms of sexual violence during the Holocaust is what Myrna Goldenberg has termed ‘sex for survival.’[5]That is to say, stories of women, men, and children being exploited sexually in exchange for food, clothing, accommodation, work permits in the ghettos, or ‘good’ jobs in the slave-labour and concentration camps. Stories of ‘sex for survival’ exist in diaries written during the war and post-war biographies and oral testimonies.[6]

One such story may be found in one of the most well-known Holocaust testimonies: Fania Fénelon’s published testimony Playing for Time, also published as The Musicians of Auschwitz. Fénelon’s text is one of the most [in]famous memoirs of women written about Auschwitz-Birkenau and, more specifically, about the women’s orchestra in that camp. Fénelon was arrested as a member of the French resistance but was also half-Jewish. She spent nine months in the transit camp of Drancy, where she was tortured, before being deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in January 1944. She remained in Birkenau until November 1944 when the Jewish members of the orchestra were deported to Bergen-Belsen, where they were eventually liberated in April 1945. Upon arrival in Birkenau, a member of the orchestra recognized Fénelon as a cabaret singer and her ability to sing Madame Butterfly placed her in the privileged orchestra protecting Fénelon from the severe abuse and torture of the ‘normal jobs’ in the main camp.

Before discussing in depth the stories of ‘sex for survival’ in Fénelon’s testimony one must acknowledge the controversy surrounding it and the subsequent Arthur Miller play and film adaptations based on the text, particularly in relation to the issue of lesbianism and Anita Lasker-Wallfisch and her testimony Inherit the Truth 1939-1945: The Documented Experiences of a Survivor of Auschwitz and Belsen.[7] The debate is worth mentioning because of its discussion of identity, the use of survivor interpretations of the behaviours of others, the labels they attribute to other inmates, and the differences in the types of witness testimony, (literary texts, memoirs, poems). Succinctly, the debate concerns Fénelon’s description of the other members of the female orchestra in Auschwitz-Birkenau and the boundary between ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’, particularly of the characters ‘Marta’ and ‘Clara’. Fénelon devotes a section of the text to the relationships between the other prisoners in the privileged orchestra which includes a reference to a lesbian relationship. One of the women involved in the lesbian relationship was a cello player. Lasker-Wallfisch has been very clear that she was the only cello player in the orchestra and that she was not involved in any lesbian relationship and that Fénelon was well aware of this.[8]

There are a number of stories of ‘sex for survival’ in Fénelon’s text but the ones I want to discuss centre around Fénelon’s relationship with the character ‘Clara’ who she meets on the train to Auschwitz-Birkenau. I am engaged in a ‘literal’ reading of the text here in order to demonstrate some of the difficulties inherent in [re]-reading and [re]-writing representations of memory and identity. The problematic status of this particular text is does not lessen its value as a document, rather it is another instance of the problematic use of memory and representation to write a ‘history’ of  the Holocaust. The character of Clara is described as “a girl about twenty with a ravishing head set upon an enormous, deformed body”[9]; a body deformed in the transit camp by starvation, a well-brought up girl who was engaged to a boy she loved. Clara is apparently still a virgin; we do not know about Fénelon. The two young women become friends during the journey and pledge to help one another in the camps.

Fénelon and Clara’s first encounter with the concept of ‘sex for survival’ happened quite quickly after arrival in Auschwitz:

A soldier was walking next to Clara. He had a totally unremarkable face, something between animal and mineral. Suddenly he addressed her in French, in a voice as devoid of expression as he was himself: “I’ll get you coffee if you’ll let me make love to you.[10]

The two girls ignore him and the subject is not brought up again. But the soldier’s statement, so early after arrival, after several days trapped in a cattle car, is a lesson about Birkenau. As Fénelon comments:

Coffee? Either a woman wasn’t worth much around here, or else coffee was priceless. She said nothing and he let it drop.[11]

We do not know if either girl has some prior experience with this in Drancy; both were there for an extended period. It is quite likely that they did but this is assumption rather than factual knowledge. The other, more experienced, girls in the orchestra are quick to point out how cheap a woman’s body, and, by extension, a man’s and a child’s, were in the camps. Jenny, another girl is the orchestra tells them: “All you need to do is find yourself a man; here sausage replaces flowers.”[12]

We can interpret this as a story of prostitution but, while, there is a tremendous amount of feminist research into the coercive aspects of ‘prostitution’ in ‘normal’ society, exchanging sex for food in the midst of a centre for genocide changes and questions the terms we use to define the activity. Not all women who were given the option to engage in sexual activities in exchange for food ‘chose’ to do so, but, some did. Obviously, the term ‘choice’ is also questionable. The terms prostitution, sexual vulnerability, and sexual slavery are debated in feminist scholarship, but once we are within a situation where the intent to commit genocide is evident, trading sex for food, moves outside of common definitions of prostitution. Yet, the term ‘sex for survival’ also seems insufficient to describe the situations that many people found themselves during the Holocaust; indeed, the terms we use to describe these stories seem almost irrelevant in their inability to demonstrate depth of meaning.

Clara, quite quickly, makes the ‘decision’ that food is so important that sex can be traded for it. Furthermore, according to Fénelon, she hoards the food for herself and she is not particular in who the partner is. Several of the other girls have ‘lovers’ whom they sleep with for food, some even sleep with the SS but Fénelon does not describe these other women in the same manner that she describes Clara or her ‘choice’. In fact, Fénelon is extremely dismissive of it, claiming Clara was more interested in food than remaining ‘female.’ Thus it is unclear whether Fénelon is disgusted with Clara because of the sexual act, claiming Clara had lost her ‘womanly dignity’, or that she is disgusted with Clara because Clara is actually transgressing sex or gender boundaries, by refusing to engage in communal survival and share the extra food received. As Fénelon says:

Clara had changed quickly, very quickly. A month after our arrival in the music block, one evening at six o’clock, she’d said to me … I won’t share with anyone anymore.” The next day, at dinnertime, I opened her box by mistake and saw a pot of jam. Clara rushed at me. “Leave that; I told you to keep your hands off it.”

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking. All our boxes look alike. I certainly wouldn’t touch that nobly earned jam of yours!”

There were tears of rage in her eyes, perhaps a last glimmer of a former morality, a remnant of dignity. The donor was probably a kapo from the men’s camp. Only the kapos, the blockowas, all Poles, Slovaks, or Germans, could come to our block.

Had she been a virgin? It was possible, it wouldn’t have been a decisive factor. Besides, the risk of pregnancy for internees was virtually nonexistent.

I felt sorry for Clara when I saw her twitching her large behind, … She had been an innocent young girl who loved her boyfriend and who still nourished childlike dreams. Living in a sheltered milieu she was innocent of life, like the adorable and naïve Big Irene, who remained so, while Clara changed so quickly and so totally. She had become frighteningly selfish; she would do anything to get food. In the middle of all these painfully thin girls, her obesity was a wonder, a most effective lure for men, who paid court to her in butter and sugar.[13]

But what is ‘womanly dignity’ inside a concentration camp? Can we not interpret part of Clara’s behaviour as an attempt for semblance of human contact or even love?  It is easier to interpret it in this fashion when Clara is engaged in relations with other male prisoners in privileged positions, but it is more difficult to do so when the boyfriend is a particularly brutal (German) kapo who, apparently, voluntarily worked as an executioner for the S.S. guards in the camp, apparently for pleasure rather than requirement. Fénelon posits Clara’s relationships against her own relationships with Leon, her ‘lover’ from Drancy who volunteered for the transport to Auschwitz in order to be with Fénelon.[14] Clara’s ‘boyfriends’ gave her food in exchange for sex, Leon gave Fénelon poetry and letters for, apparently, nothing. Love exists but Clara does not know what it is and is confused.

What is particularly interesting is Fénelon’s construction of Clara’s changing identity, and the way in which she contrasts her transformation from a good virginal girl to a prostitute with her understanding of the behaviour of ‘real’ prostitutes in France. While Fénelon defends the behaviour of French prostitutes who engaged in sexual acts with German soldiers to gather information for the French Resistance in terms of heroism, Clara’s attempt to survive through sex is viewed with disgust, a contrast that is highlighted in Fénelon’s description of Clara’s outrage at her participation in cabarets where German officers were the major clientele:

“I couldn’t have heard you sing,” said Clara rather primly. “We’d stopped going out at night. We didn’t mix with the Germans, and no one went to nightclubs except Germans and collaborators.”

I fell silent, slightly ashamed; it had been very good business. How would Clara have judged the proprietress of Melody’s, who looked like a madam – indeed, perhaps she was – but who protected us? How she would have despised those tarts that hung from the necks of German officers and gave us papers, photographs, and information.[15]

But, why is Clara’s transformation into a ‘prostitute’ to save her own life so negative? Partly, it is because Clara does behave increasingly violently towards the others. Certainly, when Clara is given the job as a kapo, (an inmate barracks supervisor), Fénelon claims she behaves with ruthless and vicious violence, beating the block inmates sadistically for various rule infractions. But this did not happen until after the girls were transferred to Bergen-Belsen; Clara’s ‘prostitution’ occurred in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.[16]

This story of ‘sex for survival’ is not uncommon. What is different is the way in which it is contrasted with ‘good’ stories of using sex for resistance. But how is resistance different from survival? Obviously Clara’s brutal behaviour as a kapo in Bergen-Belsen is part of the story and can partly explain Fénelon’s construction of Clara, but we do need to separate Clara’s behaviour in Bergen-Belsen from that in Birkenau to understand how Clara’s ‘choice’ was choiceless and thus to recognise her experience as one of sexual assault. More generally I think this story reveals the complexity of sexual vulnerability, abuse and rape in the Holocaust in that at a certain point Fénelon forgets Clara’s identity as ‘victim’ and recasts her as a ‘perpetrator’ and in so doing, makes the sexual exploitation of Clara a footnote to the dehumanising effects of their situation. In order to rehumanise her (and many other victims of the Holocaust) we must therefore acknowledge and recognise the way in which sexual vulnerability is accentuated by and essential to genocide.

 

 



[1] This is not a criticism of their research but an acknowledgment of the research required. See Myrna Goldenberg, “Different Horrors, Same Hell: Women Remembering the Holocaust”, in Roger Gottlieb (ed.), Thinking the Unthinkable: Meanings of the Holocaust, (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), pp.150-166; Joan Ringelheim, “Women and the Holocaust: A Reconsideration of Research”, inSigns: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 10, no. 4, (University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1984-1985), pp. 741-761. Other examples of this sort of scholarship include Judith Tydor Baumel, Double Jeopardy: Gender and the Holocaust, (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1998). Renate Bridenthal et al., (eds.)When Biology Became Destiny: Women in Weimar and Nazi Germany, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1984); Anna Hardman, Women and Holocaust, (U.K: Holocaust Educational Trust Papers, 1999–2000); Marlene E. Heinemann, Gender and Destiny: Women Writers and the Holocaust, (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986); Sara R. Horowitz, “Memory and Testimony of Women Survivors of Nazi Genocide” in Judith R. Baskin (ed.), Women of the Word: Jewish Women and Jewish Writing, (Detroit: Wayne University Press, 1994), pp.258-282.

[2] Lucille Eichengreen with Harriet Hyman Chamberlain, From Ashes to Life: My Memories of the Holocaust, (San Francisco: Mercury House, 1994); Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, translated from the French by Judith Landry, (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1997, 1976); Judith Magyar Isaacson,Seed of Sarah: Memoirs of a Survivor, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Illinois  Press, 1991); Wieslaw Kielar, Anus Mundi: Five Years in Auschwitz, translated from the German by Susanne Flatauer, (London: Penguin Books, 1982 [1972]); Thaddeus Stabholz, Seven Hells, translated from the Polish by Jacques Grunblatt & Hilda R. Grunblatt, (New York: Holocaust Library, 1990)

[3] Much of this research has grown in relation to the wars in the former Yugoslavia. See: Beverly Allen, Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Croatia (Minnesota: The University of Minnesota Press, 1986); Alexandra Stiglmayer, Mass Rape: The War against Women in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Bison Books, 1984); Anne Llewellyn Barstow, War’s Dirty Secret: Rape, Prostitution, and Other Crimes against Women (Ohio: The Cleveland Press, 2000).

[4] Anna Hardman, Women and Holocaust, (U.K: Holocaust Educational Trust Papers, 1999–2000), p. [check notes]

[5] Myrna Goldenberg, “Rape and the Holocaust”, paper presented at Legacies of the Holocaust: Women and the Holocaust Conference, (Krakow, Poland: May 2005)

[6] Mary Berg, Warsaw Ghetto: A Diary, (New York: LB Fischer, 1945); Trudi Birger with Jeffrey M. Green, A Daughter’s Gift of Love: A Holocaust Memoir, (The Jewish Publication Society: Philadelphia, 1992); Lucille Eichengreen with Harriet Hyman Chamberlain, From Ashes to Life: My Memories of the Holocaust, (San Francisco: Mercury House, 1994); Hedi Fried, The Road to Auschwitz: Fragments of a Life, edited and translated from the Swedish by Michael Meyer, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990); Gisella Perl, I was a Doctor in Auschwitz, (New Hampshire: Ayer Co., 1992, 1948).

[7] Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, Inherit the Truth 1939-1945: The Documented Experiences of a Survivor of Auschwitz and Belsen, (London: Giles de la Mare Pub., 1996)

[8] For an excellent discussion of this debate see Anna Hardman, Women and the Holocaust, (U.K.: Holocaust Educational Trust Research Papers, 1999 – 2000), pp. 20-27.

[9] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.12

[10] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.18

[11] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.18

[12] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.66: Jenny to Clara

[13] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.105-106

[14] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p. 15

[15] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p. 15

[16] This post facto reconstruction of Clara may of course speak volumes about the nature of memory and memoir.

 

My Elegant Gathering of White Snows: a blog about male violence against women, celebrity culture and cultural femicide. [@LeStewpot] [FB: My Elegant Gathering of White Snows]

 

See also:

What about the Women? The existence of brothels in Nazi Concentration Camps  by @LeStewpot