Monday, 8 April 2013

What rape culture is and why it matters

This is crossposted from the LY Libertine who this piece was written for.

TRIGGER WARNING: This article includes descriptions, pictures and discussion of topics which may serve as a trigger for victims of sexual violence.

I'm putting pen to paper (figuratively speaking anyway) today to talk about rape culture. Rape culture is an important subject - particularly for young people (for reasons I'll come to later) - and yet very few people will have heard of it.

In this article I intend to explain what rape culture is and why it matters - and I hope you'll have the patience to bear with me and read the entire article.

What is rape culture?

(Good basic guides to rape culture can be found here and here).

Unfortunately, there is no single definition for rape culture. However, it can be described - and examples of it can be found all around us in our society and all around the world.

At it's heart, rape culture is a system of beliefs and customs which encourage and supports sexual violence and rape. Women are usually the most common victims of rape culture but men can are the victims of it too.

Since that sound rather clinical, let me give some examples of what it really means, starting with the most recent, prominent, example, the Steubenville rape case.

Rape culture is where two young men kidnap, rape and urinate on a 16 year old girl who is to drunk to even know what is going on - let alone consent to sexual activity. Rape culture is where dozens of witnesses watch this occur and no one says "stop". Rape culture is where those same witnesses film and photograph what's going on and share the pictures and photos on social media. Rape culture is where those dozens of witnesses refuse to come forwards to give evidence when the rape is reported. Rape culture is where the rape is reported to adults and they choose not to do anything because the young men say "nothing happened". Rape culture is where the coaches of the young men involved joke about it, sweep it under the rug and still get to keep their jobs. Rape culture is where the two young men are finally convicted, with evidence they themselves recorded, and the mainstream media coverage focuses on what a tragedy it is that the young men's athletic careers have been dashed by their crimes - as though they were the victims. Oh, and when the mainstream media also avoid mentioning the rapists' names but mention the 16 year old victim's name on television.

Rape culture is when the response to the convictions is for hundreds of people to take to social media to call the victim a "whore" and a "slut". Rape culture is when, despite video evidence of what happened, those same people blame the victim for what happened and say that she was "asking for it" and where the victim receives death threats. Rape culture is this:

Hat tip to this article which you should definitely go and read in full right now.
I'll come back to it later but that's just a recent example.

Rape culture is where 70,000 women and 9,000 men a year in the UK are raped and only 1,070 rapists are convicted. Rape culture is where a man being raped by a woman is automatically considered amusing. Rape culture is where rape victims are automatically asked "are you sure it was rape?" in a way that no one would ask victims of other crimes like muggings or burglaries.

Rape culture is where 1 in 4 women experience rape or an attempted rape in their lifetimes and hundreds of thousands of women have been sexually touched or molested in some way in their lives so many times (you should seriously follow that link and read the article and the comments) that it scarcely gets mentioned. Rape culture is where the fear and threat of being raped or sexually assaulted governs the daily movements of most women. You should read this as well.

Rape culture is where it was legal in England and Wales for a man to rape his wife right up until 1991 (1982 in Scotland).

Rape culture is where a British judge says that a ten year old girl is to blame for her rape by a 24 year old man. Rape culture is when a court rules that even if she is being hurt or has changed her mind a woman is not allowed to withdraw consent after being penetrated.

Rape culture is where women are told that if they are raped while dressed a certain way then it's their fault. Rape culture is where it is assumed that men cannot stop themselves from raping someone if they are wearing a short skirt. Rape culture is where almost all rape prevention campaigns focus on telling women to modify their behaviour as though it's their behaviour which is to blame if they get raped.


Rape culture is where the stereotype of rape is where a victim is violently overpowered and raped in an alley by a stranger before reporting it immediately - despite the fact that women are three times more likely to be raped by someone they know than by a stranger and despite the fact that women are nine times more likely to be raped in their own home or the home of someone they know than in the street.

Rape culture is the widely believed myth that there is a typical way to behave after being raped - rather than the understanding that responses to rape are as varied as its victims and that, immediately following a rape, some victims go into shock; some are lucid; some are angry; some are ashamed; some are stoic; some are erratic; some want to report it; some don’t; some will act out; some will crawl inside themselves; some will have healthy sex lives; some never will again.

Rape culture is where it is impossible to have a discussion on the topic of rape without the issue of false accusations being raised and presented as though it were a major problem - rather than false accusations making up a smaller percentage of cases, 1.6%, than they do with almost any other kind of crime and despite the fact that 61% of rapes go unreported.

Rape culture is where a footballer and his friend rape woman obviously too drunk to consent while two other friends film it and then, following their conviction, the victim is verbally abused and has her identity revealed by dozens of people on twitter and a team mate of the rapist calls the victim a "money grabbing tramp".

Rape culture is where rape is used and encouraged as a weapon of war and a tool of genocide and oppression - as it was in Europe in the Yugoslav wars and Kosovo in the 90s and as it is being used in countries around the world right now like Darfur or the Congo where tens of thousands of women have been raped by foreign militias and their own government's army. Rape culture is where gang rape is used as to "cure" queer women or where men with HIV are told that raping a virgin will cure them.

Why does rape culture matter?

The last section was pretty long so I'll keep this section as brief as possible (which isn't easy when discussing a topic as multifaceted as this). Rape culture matters for many reasons but the most important one is that it feeds and causes an environment where people are not safe and where rapists are able to get away with their crimes and act with the tacit approval of society.

Remember the Steubenville case I mentioned earlier? Well one of those witnesses I mentioned became involved after tricking the car keys away from a drunk friend of his in order to prevent him from drink driving - so far so responsible. But then he walked into one of the multiple locations where the rape took place and witnesses the victim lying on the floor, unconscious and half naked while one of the rapists slapped her thigh with his penis. The witness laughed awkwardly and left.

That's why rape culture matters. It matters because a teenager knew enough to say "no, I'm not going to let someone drink drive because drink driving is bad and can harm people" but didn't do anything to stop sexual assault and rape happening right in front of his eyes. And not just this teenager but all the other witnesses there. We live in a culture and a society where we have effectively communicated the message that drink driving is bad but haven't effectively communicated that you should try to stop rape if you see it happening right in front of you.

It matters because, upon the conviction of the rapists in the Steubenville case, one of the rapists apologised for taking pictures of the rape - but not for the rape itself. And the father of the rapist then went on record as saying that he didn't consider his son a rapist - despite the incontrovertible video and photographic evidence that he himself had seen shown in court and that his son had helped produce.

It matters because the Steubenville case isn't unique - 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18 and often the abusers are other young people. It matters because cases of sexual assault and rape happen all the time, often in ways similar to the Steubenville case, yet most of the time they go unreported and the rapists go free without even being charged - not least because such conclusive photographic evidence as in Steubenville is very rarely available.

Rape culture matters because rapes take place and, on many occasions, someone could have intervened and stopped it but failed to do so. Rape culture matters because 1 in 20 male university students have raped or attempted to rape someone (63% of the 1 in 20 had committed an average of six each) and 1 in 5 female undergraduates have experienced an actual or attempted rape or sexual assault.

Rape culture matters because someone is raped every six minutes, because 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, because only 17% of rapes are reported to police and because 50% of rapes are pre-planned.

Rape culture matters because it is the reason that these things happen. Whilst almost everyone knows, or should know, that no means no, it doesn't take much detailed questioning to find out that that understanding breaks down and that a lot of people don't understand or refuse to accept the legal definition of rape/sexual assault - any sexual activity where one of the people involved does not actively consent. Yet many people will argue, for example, including George Galloway MP, that having sex with someone who is asleep (and therefore unable to consent) isn't rape. And there are plenty more other examples. These widespread misconceptions are part of the reason that rapes happen - a lot of rapists genuinely do not consider their actions to be rape.

But a far more pervasive, and urgent, aspect of rape culture for young people is what is commonly referred to as "lad culture".

This isn't the same thing as being someone who happens to like sport and drinking by the way. This is a culture which is seen at it's worst in lads mags and in websites like unilad.com. These are publications which are littered with casual sexism and a truly shocking approach to consent. For example, a study at my own university recently found that it was impossible for people to tell the difference between quotes from lads mags and quotes from interviews with rapists.

As two examples:
You do not want to be caught red-handed . . . go and smash her on a park bench. That used to be my trick. - Rapist 
I think girls are like plasticine, if you warm them up you can do anything you want with them. - Rapist
Pretty disturbing right? Now let's see what the lads mags said... oh, wait, sorry, I got that wrong. Both of those quotes above are actually from lads mags.

And that's the problem - people read these things which tell them that women are gagging for a bit of rough sex and that they might resist at first but if they're forceful then the women will end up loving it. Which then leads to some people, not all, but some, going around thinking that that's true. Which in turn is a recipe for sexual assault - particularly when, for example, someone might be in a vulnerable state such as having had a bit too much to drink.

Now let's look at unilad - the website voted "number 1 lads mag for students" and with half a million likes for its facebook page. A website which doesn't talk about women, a website which almost exclusively talks about "wenches”, “hoes”, “clunge”, “skank”, “sloppy seconds”, “pussy”, “tramp”, “chick”, “bird”, “milf”, “slut” and “gash”. Which is completely dehumanising language which turns women into nothing more than targets for sex - 'prey' for want of a better description.

That alone is bad enough. But it also runs articles like one saying that "85% of rapes go unreported. That seems to be pretty good odds" and which come up with point scoring systems for things like inserting a finger into a woman's vagina on the dancefloor. Pretty unpleasant, right? But it gets worse, it also has had articles about things like competitions to grab a woman, say "I'm going to rape you" and then seeing how long they can hold onto them for.

That, quite simply, is assault. It's terrifying for the victims concerned and yet you have entire websites which just see this as a bit of a laugh and talk about it as such.

The fact is that sexual assault is now scarily common place - a lot of female students will have stories to tell about either themselves or one of their friends being the victim of groping or an attempted sexual assault. Yet at the same time you get massively popular websites and a widespread culture saying that all of this is just "banter" which they should laugh off.

And the fact is that people are constantly subconsciously influenced by things around them. Reading websites like unilad doesn't automatically turn people into rapists - but it subconsciously reinforces the kind of attitudes which do lead to rape and helps provide self-justifications to rapists as well as creating a culture where people who complain about rape and sexual assault are dismissed and told to "laugh it off". And a culture where women are told that they should "laugh off" attempted sexual assault is fundamentally wrong.

Which brings me to rape jokes. There are so, so, so many rape jokes about. Lots of students tell them. I told them myself during my first couple of years at uni. And, as someone who's never been in a position of feeling vulnerable to sexual assault myself, it never occurred to me just how creepy and scary those jokes must have been to women in our social groups - particularly when there were more men than women in said groups. And it never occurred to me that some of them might well have been rape survivors who would have been reminded of their experiences every time somebody told such a joke - or how isolated it would have made them feel when people were laughing about the kind of things that had happened to them.

But the real problem is that jokes like "It's not rape if she doesn't have the chance to say no" help feed a culture where myths about rape are commons - such as that it really isn't rape if someone doesn't say no, rather than it being rape if they fail to give active consent to what's happening. Those kind of jokes are one of the reasons why we get MPs like George Galloway thinking that it's not rape to have sex with someone who's unconscious. Additionally, when you laugh about something, it helps you think of it as being less serious - how can we take rape seriously as something which is despicable and yet at the same time laugh about it? It's like

And, what's more, sexual predators and sexual predators, hear such jokes from their friends and take it as validation for their actions. There's hard evidence that, for example, sexist/racist jokes increase people's tolerance for and likelihood to commit sexist/racist acts themselves. So, similarly, rape jokes can help rapists justify their violence and their disrespect for their victims. It helps them dehumanise their victims and find their actions amusing. It sends a message that society doesn't abhor what they do - it sends a message that society thinks it's just a bit of a laugh. What's more - rapists genuinely believe that all other men rape which is how they justify their actions to themselves. They're not predators that everyone abhors, they're just the same as all other men. This is absolute rubbish, of course, but they can believe that because things like other people joking about rape help support their delusion that they're doing nothing different from what all other men do.

That's the fundamental problem with rape culture. It exists and, while it doesn't turn people into rapists, it does make it much easier for rapists to get away with it, makes it easier for rapists to justify their actions to themselves, makes it harder for victims to speak out about what happened to them, and it fosters a sexist culture where victim blaming and the view of rape as something normal or funny is far more common than it should be. Instead of a culture that discourages rape, rape culture at best turns a blind eye to it and at worst encourages it.

What do we do about it?

I'm a feminist. I abhor rape culture. But, at the same time, you can't ban rape culture. You can't pass a law against it. You can't censor the way people think and what they say. You can't even demand that websites like unilad be taken down as much as you might like them to.

But you can speak up about it. Just as unilad has a right to freedom of speech to say horrible, sexist, offensive, misogynist things, we have a right to freedom of speech to call them out on it. We have a right to challenge people reinforcing rape culture. We have the right to say that, actually, rape jokes aren't funny or socially acceptable. We have the right to insist on better education about sex and consent and relationships in  schools. We have the right to ask for rape prevention campaigns which focus on the rapists rather than telling  victims what they should do to avoid being raped. We have the right to say that we don't agree with rape culture and to explain to people what it is and why and how it hurts people.

We have the right to say that we believe rape victims and that we will support them and stand up for them when other people try to blame them for what happened to them.

We also have the right to boycott publications which encourage rape culture and the advertisers which support them and to call on others to do the same.

And, above all, we have the right, and the duty, to make sure that when we something like the Steubenville case happening right in front of us that we have the courage to step in and stop it rather than cowardly standing by. And we have the duty to make sure that we encourage our friends and family and, when the time comes, our children, to make sure that they do the same.

Thanks for bearing with me throughout this lengthy piece. And thanks for reading it.

Friday, 5 April 2013

The Conservative Party - still the nasty party

There's already a lot of outrage on the internet by the Daily Mail deciding to scream a narrative that Mick Philpott (the violent partner who burned six of his kids to death in a plot to get revenge on an ex) is somehow the product of our welfare system. Which, in addition to absolving Philpott of any responsibility for his crimes, is despicable in saying that this individual monster is somehow reflective of everyone who claims benefits - not to mention is hypocritical in the extreme given that the same edition of the Fail had an article about a millionaire who murdered his family yet who wasn't seen by the newspaper as being symptomatic of all millionaires.

But today's blog post isn't about that because, let's be frank, nothing is too low for a newspaper which supported the fascists prior to World War II and who ran vicious polemic complaining about European Jews fleeing the Holocaust coming to Britain. No, today's blog post is about this:


The above is a compilation of screenshots from today's ConservativeHome.

In short, the Conservative party, led by George Osborne (our beloved Chancellor of the Exchequer and all round fuckwit), saw the Daily Mail's disgusting demonisation of everyone in receipt of benefits and decided to raise them by going on a full on offensive saying that the welfare state (which, you know, exists to make sure that vulnerable people don't starve to death) is to blame for producing Philpott and we should all be jolly concerned about it. (Subtext: and we'd give the welfare system a bally sorting-out if it weren't for those pesky Lib Dems blocking us, so make sure you vote for us next time.)

Now this alone, is to be expected, because, after all, Conservative MPs are normally vicious scumbags anyway.

But what really goes the extra mile is ConservativeHome talking about this as a cunning "trap" for Labour (hohoho - aren't we Tories clever?) as when Labour disagree with Osborne blaming the entire welfare system for the actions of one man, the tories now rush to smear them as "taking the same side as Philpott".

Excuse me? I have no love for Labour - they've spent fifty years betraying the poorest and the most vulnerable - but when someone disagrees with tarring everyone on benefits with the same brush as a particularly evil toerag that DOES NOT EQUAL defending the aforementioned evil toerag.

And what this shows is, quite perfectly, the utterly despicable true nature of the Conservative party. Man burns six of his kids to death in a deliberately set housefire - "hmmm, how can we find a way to politicise this to hurt our opponents and find fuel for our ideological opposition to providing a basic safety net for people living in poverty?" That's their mindset. Not one comment about the tragedy of it, not one shred of decency to stop and think that maybe, just maybe, dead children should not be used for political pointscoring.

I'll also say this: my father, who served in the armed forces, claimed child benefit for my brother and I when we were growing up and it made a big difference for all of us in terms of helping us get by after my mother died. Yet, to the best of my knowledge, my father has never burned anyone to death in a deliberately set housefire. For the tories to smear everyone claiming child benefits, including my father, by insinuating they're part and parcel of the same "benefit lifestyle" bollocks, which they claim produced Philpott, is disgusting and morally offensive.

I'm incredibly angry about this which is why I've used swear words on this blog for the first time in a while. But I'll stop here and leave the last words to the Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather who I don't normally agree with but got this particular issue spot on:
I am shocked and appalled that George Osborne has stooped so low as to make a crude political point out of the tragic deaths of six young children. It’s one thing for a tabloid newspaper to make unsophisticated, clumsy political arguments, quite another for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to join in. 
It is deeply irresponsible for such a senior politician to seek to capitalise on public anger about this case, and in doing so demonise anybody who receives any kind of welfare support. Mr Philpott should be held fully accountable for his awful actions and it is reprehensible to seek to explain it away by blaming the welfare system which Osborne has been so happy to wage war on. 
On Tuesday, when answering a question about living on £53 a week, Osborne said that it’s not sensible to reduce the debate to an argument about one individual’s set of circumstances. It makes you wonder what has changed in 48 hours.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

WARNING: Child Abuse

[Trigger warning for graphic violence]

Today I saw something horrible. It's a video, uploaded to facebook, in which an adult male is physically abusing a young boy - slapping him, hitting him, forcing him to stand in stress positions. It's child abuse. And it's there for the world to see in a video on facebook.

The video itself is below because words cannot describe how sickening it is. I couldn't watch all of it and I didn't want to. As I said, the video's below but I'd strongly warn you that you will find it very difficult and upsetting to watch.

I reported the video to facebook for containing "graphic violence" as there wasn't any way to report it simply for being child abuse. A friend did the same as well and we both got this response:


According to facebook there's nothing wrong with the video. Someone in facebook received our reports, and others like it no doubt, and then looked at the video, saw a grown man beating up a child and said "there's nothing wrong with that".

Yet this is the same facebook that frequently takes down images of mothers breastfeeding for containing "sexually explicit content".

I'm writing this just because I'm so outraged by how fundamentally wrong this is. There's nothing more I can do about it, I've reported it to CEOP because the child in the video might still be in danger and I hope the police will be able to identify the child and ensure that he's safe but that's all I can do. But, judging by the fact that the person in the video isn't speaking English, the actions in it probably didn't take place in the UK and there won't be anything the police can do about it.

That's a harrowing thought. But there's so much violence in this world, so many crimes, that goes unaccounted for and unpunished - we know that, it can't be helped as much as it sickens us.

But this video doesn't have to be up on the biggest social media site in the world for all to see. It doesn't have to be hosted and then formally given a seal of approval by facebook when they say it doesn't breach their "Community Standards". The same Community Standards which say they prohibit "sadistic" content.

We don't have to live in a society where a multibillion dollar company sees nothing "sadistic" about a video of a man violently abusing a child who can't defend itself. That's why I've written this blogpost. Because there's nothing else I can do but draw attention to it and hope that, some way, some how, enough attention will be drawn to it that facebook are forced to act.

Here's the video I'm talking about. It's hosted on facebook so as soon as and if they take it down then it will disappear. But until they do it will remain up here as a reminder of what they find acceptable.

UPDATE: The CEOP got back to me and informed me that the police were already investigating the video and that Facebook has previously told them that it takes the view that, since the video is mostly being shared by people saying how horrific it is, it don't think it's something action should be taken over as long as the video is only being shared to condemn child abuse. For that reason, I've removed the link to the video on Facebook from this article.