victim blaming

Why We Need to Have Classroom Discussions About Campus Assaults

Poster from Equality Within Reach showing a skirt and the caption "Short Skirts Don't Rape. Rapists Rape"by Madison TrusolinoThis piece is dedicated to her students who strive to learn, and trust, and who keep her energized when exhausted. 

The recent sexual assaults at UBC have sparked a discussion about campus safety, particularly around female students. This discussion is not new and for all women, on university campuses and off, this is our daily reality. We’ve heard it again and again – whether it be Duke University, York University, or UBC at the center of the media frenzy it often plays out in the same fashion.

Increased security presence is implemented, rape whistles are handed out, and e-mail alerts sent. And then, eventually, the media quiet down, the university looks to more “pressing issues,” survivors are left with their scars, and students are left feeling just as unsafe as they did before.

In August 2007 I moved into Vanier residence at York University. One week later two young women were raped in the building, which housed new and continuing university students.

That evening I had left after our weekly pub night to watch movies at a friend’s house off campus. When I came back the next morning police were in the lobby of the residence. I walked in and packed my bag for a weekend away. The police officers didn’t say a word to me or anyone else coming and going, and many of us found out through the newspapers or concerned calls from our parents.

There was increased security on campus and in our building. Large men with black uniforms and black boots. I avoided leaving my room in the middle of the night to use our washrooms out of fear of running into one of these men, who were supposedly there to protect me. But I feared the police, and I feared the security, and I feared the campus itself.  Read more

Posted on by Madison Trusolino in Can-Con, Feminism 3 Comments

The News Media’s Troubled Relationship with Canadian Women

Jarrah Hodge at the Women's Forum 2013 podiumby Jarrah Hodge

I had the honour of speaking at Niki Ashton’s second Women’s Forum des Femmes in Ottawa on Tuesday. I was part of an afternoon session on inequality in the media and was tasked with providing a big picture look at some overarching problems.

Rabble supported the forum and has posted audio of much of the day. I’m embedding the audio of my presentation in case anyone would like to listen to the entire thing, but I’ll also summarize below.

My talk was entitled “The News Media’s Troubled Relationship with Canadian Women”. I started off talking about a study that came out earlier this year from the UK, which found that Canadian women (as well as women in the other countries surveyed) consumed less news and were therefore less informed than Canadian men.

I pointed out the important critiques raised at that time by Equal Voice, which argued the study doesn’t necessarily capture engagement, only knowledge of specific “hard news” facts. But I also noted quotes from some reporters and commentators speculating on the study, including these:

Margaret Wente: “Men keep track of batting averages. Women keep track of weddings. Men are interested in facts, systems, sports, competition, status and keeping score. They use the common ground of sports and politics to bond with other men. Women are interested in relationships, gossip, health, education and their kids. They use the common ground of social information and mutual support to bond with other women.”

Shelley Fralic: “On the day the women-versus-news study was widely reported, the four newspapers in my purview — The Vancouver, Sun, The Province, National Post and The Globe and Mail — provided a glaring example of that masculine point of view, a veritable font of off-putting language, with headline after headline shrieking words like bomb, terrorism, plot, death, radicalization, ultimatum, defiant, pariah, risk, reforms, protests, shocking, target, hate-filled, killing, thwarted, turf, showdown, damage, embattled, savagery, casualties, battle, crisis, sex offences.” (I did note that other than this quote, the rest of the article was ok)

It won’t surprise you I don’t think the problem is women being too preoccupied with wedding news to pay attention. Nor do I think women can’t handle words like “death” and “reforms” (try writing headlines on almost anything without using words in Fralic’s list and you end up with something like “Local Man Gets Bad Boo Boo after Not Nice Encounter With Bus”).

But if women are tuning out the news, maybe part of it is they aren’t being well-represented. As the Vancouver Observer pointed out, women still aren’t equally represented in management of our major media corporations. And 2011 research found women who reach the upper levels are still paid less.

That may or may not be related to the fact that women still don’t get quoted in the news as much as men. Part of this is due to pressures to cut-costs and meet the demands of a new reading public that wants news online and up-to-the minute. This means it’s tempting for reporters to turn to the same sources again and again to save time, even if it’s the same pool of men.

But that doesn’t explain why, when women are quoted, it’s often in different contexts. For example, a 2012 report by Guardian editor Jane Martinson found within the context of front-page newspaper and tabloid stories in Britain, 79% of women were referred to as “victims”, while three-quarters of men were interviewed in the role of “expert”.

Three particular areas of problematic coverage I singled out were women in politics, women in sports, and violence against women.

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Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics 2 Comments

My Reality: I Was Blamed for My Assault

Finger pointing at cameraby Leanore Gough

Trigger warning: discussion of sexual assault, victim-blaming

When I was 16 I worked part-time at a drug store. There I met the man who became my most aggressive assailant: a man in his mid-to-late thirties with very white teeth and just a little grey hair. He came in and made small talk a few times always seeming very friendly. After a few weeks of compliments and big smiles he asked if I wanted to see him on my day off. I agreed. We went out a total of three times. Each time he became more aggressive. On the final time I saw him, we went for drinks.

“I know a place,” he said.

It was a pub down the street from his house. We sat in the back where there weren’t a lot of people. He bought me several drinks, he felt for me under the table with his hands, and eventually he came and sat right beside me. He slid his hand down my back and into the back of my pants. I wanted to go home, I did not feel well, I was uncomfortable.

He tried to be calm, said he’d take me back to his place and I could lay down. When I didn’t want to, he became upset, told me he was disappointed and that he thought I would be a lot more fun. I felt awful and eventually I went with him. By luck I didn’t go up to his apartment. We ran into one of his neighbours outside, and when they stopped to talk I backed away and ran for the train station. I puked in the garbage at the station. He never came back to my work.

As a teenager I was sexually assaulted by a total of six different men. At a concert, at a bar, twice on public transit, at a friend’s house after a movie.

Most of my assailants were between the ages of 30-40 years old. All clean-smelling, safe-looking and smiling.

Even though I remember the incidents and the men so vividly, I have never really described any of them to the people I confide in. No one ever asked. I have been asked: “Are you sure you didn’t want it?” I have been asked: “Are you sure it happened like that?” I have been asked: “Where were your parents?” I have been told I gave consent when I got in his car.

Anyone I ever told knew my home life wasn’t great and then made a judgement based on my class and statistics of kids who come from broken homes, and personal assumptions of what girls like me are like. They didn’t realize or care that all of that was irrelevant. My parents could have been happily married, sober and involved; I still would have gone to concerts, movies, and rode on public transit. I still would have had a part-time job.

No one ever asked: “Why would a grown man think it’s ok to stick his hand down the back of a teenager’s pants?” No one ever asked: “Why did an adult man think it was ok to feed a teenager drinks and assault her?”

The answer, I think, to those questions is very simple. While society knows and largely accepts that the behaviours displayed by my assailant as not ok, no one is really enforcing that idea. According to RAINN, 54% of sexual assaults are never reported. Many that do come forward are faced with the same questions I was faced with.

Instead of being upset or sympathetic towards my situation, the people closest to me were suspicious and even hostile. If keeping girls and women safe is a priority, family and friends need to stop blaming the victims and start looking at the assailants. The pressure needs to be on them. As a society we need to realize that it is not possible to protect women and children from sexual assault unless men are held accountable for assaulting them.

(photo by Pablo Pecora, CC-licensed via Flickr)

Posted on by Leanore Gough in My Reality 1 Comment

Chris Brown and the Culture of Misinformation about Sexual Assault of Men and Boys

Chris Brown performing on stageby Arwen McKechnie

Trigger Warning: discussion of sexual assault, child abuse, victim-blaming.

I’m going to start this with a disclaimer – I don’t like Chris Brown. I don’t like his music and, more importantly, I think he’s a typical example of the kind of man who batters his partner.

He’s never really taken any responsibility for his brutal assault on Rihanna, and seems to feel that rather than getting a slap on the wrist by virtue of his money and success, he has been poorly treated by the media and world at large. He’s sick of talking about, he wants to move on, so why won’t the world just let him be great? It makes me sad for humanity that many people can so easily disconnect his abhorrent personality from his musical and commercial success.

So it’s a new feeling for me to have some sympathy for him, but that’s exactly what I’m feeling right now. Chris Brown effectively told a reporter for The Guardian that he was sexually abused as a child. And based on the content of his interview, he doesn’t even realize it. Sadly, it would appear that his interviewer didn’t realize it either, and that’s where my heart really does break for him.

There’s a moment when rape survivors, especially those that have been assaulted by an acquaintance or potential romantic partner, come to terms with the fact that what happened to them was sexual assault. Some people know it right from the start, but it’s more common than you might think for people to rationalize what happened to them: it was a bad date or it was a mistake, drunken or otherwise, but surely it wasn’t rape. Something went bad, something didn’t feel right, but surely it wasn’t rape. Because if it was, if it really was rape, what does that mean for them now?

This line of thought is sadly common in survivors of sexual assault. Sexual violence is more commonly experienced by women than by men, and women are taught from a very young age that their physical safety, especially their sexual safety, is their own responsibility.

So in the aftermath of a sexual assault, the litany of self-blame begins: if only I hadn’t done this, if only I hadn’t said that, why didn’t I just…, etc, etc. It’s a normal reaction to the years of social conditioning that women receive supposedly teaching them how to prevent themselves from being raped.

At the same time, while some boys and young men are actively taught to be respectful of their partners and themselves and wait for the enthusiastic “yes” rather than just the absence of a “no”, the broader narrative around male sexuality dictates that men must be patient. Men, apparently, always want sex, but must restrain their natural impulses and wait for their partners to be ready.

This myth of the super-charged male sex drive eclipses any possibility that men and young boys may not be ready for sex, may not want to have casual sex, may actually experience sexual assault. Read more

Posted on by Arwen McKechnie in Feminism, Pop Culture Leave a comment

FFFF: It’s Your Fault!

Funny Feminist Friday Film square logo

Bollywood actor Kalki Koechlin and video jockey/model Juhi Pande star in this movie by Indian comedy collective All-India Backchod (backtalk), using satire to critique victim-blaming, rape culture and the suggestions and comments made to women in the wake of the Delhi gang rape trial. The YouTube page states:

Every sexual assault case in India inspires a string of stupid and hateful remarks against women. This is our response to those remarks.

Trigger Warning: discussion of and depictions of violence against women and sexual assault.

Transcript (after the jump):

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Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in FFFF Leave a comment

RIP Rehtaeh Parsons: Victim of Victim-Blaming

Source: Facebook

Source: Facebook

by Jarrah Hodge

Trigger Warning for rape, cyberbullying, suicide.

On Sunday Rehtaeh Parsons’ parents made the decision to take their daughter off life support. Three days earlier, the 17-year-old had tried to hang herself in the bathroom after being raped and then relentlessly cyberbullied.

According to the Halifax Chronicle-Herald:

Rehtaeh Parsons had a goofy sense of humour and loved playing with her little sisters. She wore glasses, had long, dark hair and was a straight-A student whose favourite subject was science.

But that didn’t seem to matter to the four boys who her mother, Leah Parsons, says raped Rehtaeh at a party when she was drunk to the point of being clearly unable to consent. According to the Facebook page Leah Parsons has set up in Rehtaeh’s memory:

The Person Rehtaeh once was all changed one dreaded night in November 2011. She went with a friend to another’s home. In that home she was raped by four young boys…one of those boys took a photo of her being raped and decided it would be fun to distribute the photo to everyone in Rehtaeh’s school and community where it quickly went viral. Because the boys already had a “slut” story, the victim of the rape Rehtaeh was considered a SLUT. This day changed the lives of our family forever. I stopped working that very day and we have all been on this journey of emotional turmoil ever since.

Police told the CBC they investigated the assault but didn’t have enough investigation to lay charges, but Leah Parsons says the police waited too long to interview the boys and refused to act on the distributed pictures because they “couldn’t prove who had pressed the photo button on the phone”.

Reading this story I was simultaneously heartbroken and overcome with rage. It makes me so sad that we have yet another case of misogynist cyberbullying that has led to yet another senseless, tragic death, another family in mourning. Another young woman, a complex human being who had so much to offer the world, is gone because of the rape culture we live in and the cyberbullying that perpetuates it faster and more furiously than ever.

Toula Foscolos writes in the Huffington Post: “We, as a society, recoil in horror at such tragedies, but fail to see the triggers that normalize violence against women. We shrug them off as unrelated. But they’re not.” Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism 3 Comments

Asking for It

Christopher Columbus Park (Boston) at night

Christopher Columbus Park (Boston) at night

by Jessica Critcher

Last summer my husband was out of town for work. Though I missed him, it was exciting to be alone in Boston. I liked the idea of being mysterious and anonymous, minding my own business about town. With my tiny grocery cart, I felt like a woman with a secret. For two dollars I could take a train anywhere in the city– to an art museum or a brewery or a noodle shop or a bronze statue. If I wanted, I could go downtown and ride an elevator to the top of the tallest building in the city and scan the horizon for miles around. Wanting was all it would take to make it happen. The feeling is so pleasant that I like to carry two dollars in my pocket, even when I don’t plan on going anywhere.

We didn’t have air conditioning then. I would write early in the morning with the windows open, feeling breezes on my skin as I ate tomatoes from our roof garden. In the afternoon, when the sun climbed over the buildings and smothered my desk in hard light, I wrote in coffee shops and restaurants and all over the Coast Guard base where I could pilfer WiFi and air conditioning and a quiet place to sit. But when the sun went home, so did I.

One night that summer I got a real hum-dinger of a migraine. I get those quite a bit. The combination of hormonal birth control and staring at computer screens probably exacerbates this problem that I’ve had since I was about ten. Over the years I’ve been poked and prodded and scanned and medicated, and the doctors concluded that some people just get headaches.

That night, my eyes felt hard and heavy like little stones. The pain branched out from a tight knot deep inside my head, forming lightning patterns that stretched out to my scalp. It was too early to go to bed. I was restless. I took medication and massaged the tight pressure points in my face, trying to dissolve the pain like sugar cubes in tea, but nothing budged. I wanted to be cool and quiet in the dark. I wanted to feel a breeze from the harbor on my skin. I wanted to feel cold grass under my bare feet. I wanted to escape my stuffy apartment, to be outside. Wanting it was not enough.

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Posted on by Jessica Critcher in Feminism 1 Comment