Confronting Rape Culture
You need to dress appropriately if you going outside!
Don't be showing off your skin if you’re going outside!
As a young woman growing up in a relatively conservative household, these are the admonishments I often received. I live in the tropics, where it’s either sunny or rainy with very little variation. So, I often wondered why I needed to hide myself or make myself uncomfortable. Later, I realized my parents were trying to protect me from something, but didn’t know how to say it.
All across the world, women have so much taken from them and so many experiences robbed of them. In Trinidad and Tobago, people tend to believe that what you’re wearing is an invitation or justification of sexual assault. However, women are sexually assaulted regardless of what they wear. Think about ancient times in European history, Roman women wore tunics, which were basically like ankle length potatoes sacks. English women wore full length bodices and skirts. And even now, Islamic women are very modest in their dress and yet women are still sexually assaulted. What I wear does not in any way justify an attack on my body or psyche.
Women are often blamed for the injustices or unfortunate events they must battle and confront. Victim blaming is an instrument of patriarchy. The perpetrator who carries out and encourages these actions is not held accountable while the responsibility is forced on the women.
Imagine, you’re standing outside, minding your own business when someone pushes you causing you to fall and get injured. You’re on the ground, in this vulnerable state reaching out for someone to comfort you. Instead of extending a helping hand, they respond, “That’s what you wanted, you asked for it by standing there.”
Our society is one where victims are frequently subjected to public ridicule. Reports of sexual assault have been reduced to a mere spectacle. Women are shamed, ridiculed and then ostracized for speaking about and against sexual assault and abuse. These negative attitudes are all part of an even bigger problem - Rape Culture. This is another extension and mechanism of patriarchy. According to Marshall University (USA), “Rape culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.” Society consumes this violence through the media becoming conditioned to the normalizing of violence against women; and desensitized to their suffering .
Boys will be boys!
She was asking for it.
Why are girls taught the importance of protecting ourselves from sexual assault and yet the education of boys to be responsible, respectful, and seek consent for sexual advances is neglected?
Recently, on Twitter, young women and even men were speaking out about their experiences of sexual assault. Some were brave enough to say the names of their perpetrators. This exchange was meant to be an open and safe space for victims and survivors, which for the first day, it was. In a supportive stance, Twitter users shared information on counselling and justice, showing that young women were embracing their agency. And that truly made me happy - a community coming together, free of judgement, just supportive. I left Twitter feeling proud to be a part of that community. I felt open, vulnerable, and able to say something that I carried for so long. Feeling encouraged to share, I joined the conversation. I began, “I’m barely here but I’m glad I came and saw this thread. Sending love to all those that spoke and to those building the courage to. My story: I was 16 &17. It was a coworker. Thinking about it always stirs up so many emotions but every day I find courage to survive.”
Another user added, “I was 20. In my room. With my boyfriend and now him and his friends telling people I’m crazy and have an std.”
@TheCourtKim tweeted, “I was 17 and it was at a house party”
Someone else said, “I was 21, a sr at ucla. He was my good friend who I trusted and confided in.”
Another user chimed in, “I was 16, visiting family. Reported it to the cops but they didn’t do a damn thing.”
And another, “I was 15 in a bathroom stall and people made jokes about it.”
While you should never force anyone to speak out about their own experience, this outpouring made me feel every other survivor should enjoy this type of relief or weight being lifted.
However, the following morning, I woke up to despair. It felt as though my heart sank all the way to the pit of my stomach then came up again and got caught in my throat, all in the same moment. As more perpetrators were exposed, I saw that once supportive community fall apart and crumble. The timeline was flooded by friends of the abusers claiming that the women were lying. Girlfriends defended their current partners saying that they could never do such a thing. The supportive and empowering environment became a place of bitterness with angry words, hurtful slurs, and human ugliness. Some of the comments were:
Girls say no when they mean yes.
They only saying that cause they’re not together anymore.
She dresses like a h** what do you expect?!
Of course, this only heightened people’s suspicions of whether the claims were based in truth or rooted in ulterior motives to defame character. Many victims with genuine cries for help felt defeated, as they held those secrets for many years. The justice they desperately by speaking out quickly evaporated. The fact is many people believe false accusations are extremely common, yet studies show that in the UK only 4% of reports were false and, in the US, between 2-5%. The numbers of false allegations have been inflated and grossly misrepresented in the media further feeding into the doubts people already have. The focus is placed on this miniscule group of ‘bad apples’ and we continue to ignore the glaring issue of sexual assault, harassment and violence.
To those who said something, whether it is on Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere else in the world, the enormity and courage of what you did is not taken for granted by those who have suffered similar violence. Trolls may ridicule you but your speaking out matters and is appreciated. Your family or friends may not believe you and you may want to blame yourself along with the rest of the world but don’t. As a society we are accountable to you, and here at Future Black Female, we are pushing for social change and justice.