Tag Archives: rape

Who hears you, when you speak about rape?

**Trigger warning for discussion of rape and rape apologism. Please note also that the comments may be triggering.

Here’s the thing.

Julian Assange. Rape charges. Rape apologism. Rape jokes. Rape myths.

A lot of people have written many interesting things about this so I’ll direct you to some of those. (edit: here is another particularly good piece). I’m not going to be so coherent.

I only want to say this: whatever you say about a rape, any rape (or alleged rape, let’s be clear, because I am well aware that Assange may be innocent — or fictional rape, for argument’s sake, because whether the rape actually occurred or not is not relevant to this point) can be heard by others. It can be heard by others who have been raped, or who will one day be raped, or who may have raped someone, or may rape someone one day. And you, when you are speaking or writing or tweeting or commenting on Facebook or blogging or muttering under your damn breath on the train, need to take responsibility for that.

Here’s why.

  • Say you’re watching the news, and the story of Assange’s arrest comes on, and you say to your spouse, or the cat, I don’t care who, pffft, what a CIA conspiracy, there’s no way he’d ever rape anyone and your thirteen year old daughter hears you. What does she learn?
  • Say you’re at the pub, and you say to your colleague, those women just felt pissy when they found out he’d slept with both of them. That’s not called rape, it’s called regret and the woman serving you your beer was raped two weeks ago but has been too afraid to report it because her friend reported a rape once and wasn’t believed by the police. How does she feel?
  • Say you’re at the same pub, and one of your colleagues says yeah, and one of them was asleep apparently. Who hasn’t done that after a drunk night out hahahaha and you laugh, because it seems funny after the beer, and you like that guy. That guy, the one that you like, has actually raped an unconscious woman and now thinks you’re all a-okay with that, because it’s just what blokes do, and you laughed. What does he learn?
  • Say you’re at a family barbecue and someone mentions that one of Assange’s accusers was a feminist who wrote about taking revenge on men, and you say yeah, rape is terrible but so is being wrongly accused. So many women just cry rape to get the attention, it’s disgusting and your mother-in-law leaves the room because she was raped many years ago by a trusted family friend and nobody believed her, but you don’t know that story, because you never asked. How does your mother-in-law feel, how does she feel about you being the parent of her grandchildren?
  • Say you’re on Facebook and someone posts a joke about the blonde, tight-clothes wearing Swedish women Assange is alleged to have assaulted and you hit Like on it because it’s funny, you know?, and then one of your male friends unfriends you the same day and you never notice the coincidence, because you don’t know that he was sexually abused as a child, and now he will never tell you because you think rape is funny and you can’t possibly conceive of his pain, you can’t even touch it, you don’t even know it exists because to you it’s a punchline or it happens to women, only women or maybe in prison, and only when it’s deserved. How does that feel?
  • Say you’re on Twitter, and you are enraged, and you retweet some posts that muck-rake about Assange’s accusers and their sexual histories or their clothing or their feminist leanings. You’re probably being unfair to those women but you don’t care, you don’t have to care, this is Assange, this is WikiLeaks, this is important. You don’t know that many of your Twitter followers have been raped and have been through various traumatic experiences from dealing with police and legal process and maybe even the media and how do they feel that this is being dragged up again in their Twitter feed? How do they feel, that you don’t even care about them (and you don’t care, because the only way you could possibly fail to know that a shockingly high percentage of women have been sexually assaulted, even women you know, would be if you didn’t care).

It doesn’t matter (not here — quite obviously it matters in other ways) whether or not Assange is guilty of rape or molestation or anything else. It doesn’t matter a jot, because your daughter your colleague your friend your relatives your social media buddies and the woman who works at the pub and every person you open your mouth in the prescence of has already learned something about rape and rape myths and about you.

What you say about rape — any rape, alleged or fictional or otherwise — matters. What you say, what I say, what journalists say, what your hairdresser says, what teachers say, what doctors say, what police say, what Julian Assange says, what your kid repeats at school: all of these utterances contribute to our cultural understanding of rape. And when what we hear time and time again is some version of apologism or some perpetuation of a rape myth like sluts can’t be raped or women always cry rape or nice men aren’t rapists then all we do is make the noise of rape culture louder and the voices of victims and survivors ever more silent.

You have a choice, when you speak about rape, any rape.

You can make victims and survivors hurt more. You can take justice further out of reach. You can encourage the disrespect and objectification of women. You can further silence marginalised victims, like children (and sex-workers and prisoners and trans* people for that matter) and make it ever harder for those who can face the greatest resistance to telling their stories, like male victims, or those raped by celebrities and ‘heroes’.

Or, you can not.

Think about it.


*Here is a list of crisis support lines for people within Australia who may need to talk to someone about rape or sexual assault.

* Here is a list of international resources for those outside of Australia.


Filed under Feminism

What is the world coming to?

There’s been a shocking amount of alcohol-and-pack-mentality-fueled violence reported in my local media of late. It seems that every day there is a battered man (usually young) showing off stitches and bruises in the newspaper after being set-upon by a ‘gang of youths’ whilst walking home or catching a train or buying some food at a convenience store or trying to enjoy himself on a night out. And with disturbing regularity, there are the stories of young men suffering permanently disabling brain or spinal injuries or of the families left behind when one of these men dies.

Going out for a night on the town, it seems, is becoming a risky proposition for young men.

Now in some ways this is nothing new. Young men have always faced a greater risk of violent death than young women – bar brawls being only one contributer to these. But much has been written about the confluence of factors (generational change, liquor licensing and planning failures, ineffective policing, ‘disaffected youth’) which are contributing to a rise in these random violent attacks. And of course the media want us to know all about it because it’s scary.

Tonight on the news I saw a police officer decrying the spate of violence after an unprovoked attack on a man walking home at 1:30am.  He said (and I’m paraphrasing) ‘if it’s not safe to walk home at night, what is the world coming to?’

Of course, what he really meant was, ‘if it’s not safe for an able bodied, straight, cis-gendered, white man to walk home at night, what is the world coming to?’

Because if you’re not part of that privileged group of people (of which the police officer appeared to be a member, incidentally) then feeling unsafe whilst out alone at night is pretty much situation normal. This ‘new’ spate of attacks and the resulting fear is nothing new to many of us. Certainly not to women.

I don’t walk around at 1:30 am on my own. I never have. In the past when I needed to catch public transport at night, I got off at well-lit staffed stations with a taxi rank rather than brave the walk home (and then kept my fingers crossed that the taxi driver wouldn’t assault me). At the very least I made sure a housemate was expecting me and would leave the light on. I never go out for a ‘night on the town’ without at least one friend along. I don’t like to stop to buy petrol late at night. Riding public transport or using public toilets when not many people are around are uncomfortable situations for me. If I’m near a close-knit group of young men – pretty much anywhere – I feel my alertness rise.

And it isn’t just me who feels this way.

Now of course there is nothing positive about this current spate of street violence. The images of these bruised and damaged young victims move me and concern me.

But let’s get some perspective. There are plenty – more than can be counted – of bruised and damaged victims of rape and assault, of harrassment and cruel jibes, of racism and bigotry – whose faces never get on the TV news and whose stories go untold.

If you’re an able-bodied, cis gendered, straight white man and you don’t like feeling afraid when you walk home at night – do us a favour and think about that a little. Think about how lucky you are to have the privilege to know anything different but fear when out alone. Think about what you can do to make it so that not only people like you, but all people, can take public transport or walk or roll or stroll more safely in the public domain. Think about what it feels like to be afraid of harrassment, violence or rape your whole life. Think about when you or people you know might contribute to the fear that others feel.

And change that behaviour. Now.


Filed under Feminism

On classroom scrums and rugby scum

Trigger warning – this post is about sexual assault and rape.

Around this time, roughly five years ago, I was standing in a class room at a prestigious private school, attempting to be an English teacher. I had to work pretty hard that day to keep my ‘teacher hat’ on instead of flying into screaming banshee mode. For once, not because I was stuck with the dreaded Year Eights but because my Year Twelve boys were sending me into a feminist rage.

It was an Issues class – where sudents learn about the way the media uses language to persuade audiences. (One of the most valuable parts of the final year English syllabus in Victoria, Australia, if you ask me. But you’re not asking me, you’re just waiting for me to get on with this post, so I shall…) To keep it relevant I usually plucked something from that day’s  newspaper before each Issues class. And so on that day, I found myself with a group of eight 17-18 year old boys and two 17 year old girls, talking about rape and consent.

The news story was that a number of rugby players had had sex with a young woman in a hotel spa and that the woman was accusing them of rape. The players, very sportily, banded together and claimed she had consented. And besides, there were witnesses to confirm that the woman had been so drunk at the time that she wouldn’t know what the hell she was talking about anyway. Yeah, because we all want to be fucked by a bunch of inebriated louts when we’re too drunk to say no. Or yes.

This class that I was teaching was one I was actually pretty fond of. It was gender imbalanced because most classes at this once-was-boy-school were, and because apparently it was blocked with physics. And inexplicably, physics classes still seem to be all about teh boyz.  They were a sporty bunch and liked to bring the banter and playfulness into the room, which was fine with me, since they worked hard and were generally nice kids to be around. But on this occasion I apparently trod on some sporty toes by bringing in an editorial about the misogyny ingrained in certain games. And my god did I hear about it.

What I learned from ‘my’ privileged, wealthy, well-educated for their age, friendly and charming and deceptively ‘decent’ 17-18 year old boys is that

  • a lot of women and girls are ‘asking for it’
  • some women cry rape to get their face on TV
  • if you go topless into a spa with a group of men you’ve consented to have sex with at least one of them
  • if you step in when a mate is hitting on a girl or woman so drunk she can’t walk, you’re probably gay
  • females are responsible for themselves so if they get drunk at a party and something happens it’s their problem
  • if a girl or woman can’t remember being raped she probably wasn’t raped
  • sporting teams are all about sticking together above all else
  • sports people deserve to blow off steam and party even if other people don’t approve and they shouldn’t be forced to be ‘role models’
  • a female teacher talking about rape, consent and the rights of women to be safe is threatening and needs to be fought off with closed ranks
  • the girls and women who are drunk and taken advantage of at parties are ‘sluts’ and ‘dress like sluts’
  • ‘sluts’ are never the sister, mother, friend or girlfriend of any of the boys in the room.  Women we love deserve our respect. And anyway they wouldn’t do that stuff.

You might ask what I learned from the two girls in the room that day? Not much, since they were both too frightened to talk. Having two of the most vocal contributors to discussions silenced in that way was one of the most upsetting aspects of the whole mess, to me. They looked small, cowed. By boys who had until that time always seemed to be their friends.

Of course, as was my perogative, I followed up with a long talk about exactly what consent means and exactly what boys and men could do to help prevent rape.  And then we did some grammar work until the merciful bell.

When the others rushed off to recess, one of the girls hung behind. She wanted to talk. She wanted reassurance. She was sorry for not making a comment when I had asked her for one. She had been scared to. She said to me ‘I’m not a feminist, but that made me really angry. I thought those were nice guys.’  I told her that I hoped one day she’d find out a bit more about feminism because she might eventually decide that a feminist is a good thing to be. And that I was sorry she’d had to be there for something so ugly.

I don’t know if that young woman has come to call herself a feminist or not. And I don’t know whether those boys, with all their promise, have found ways to move on from the need to use misogyny to assert their masculinity but I am hopeful. Hopeful is all I can be.

It is difficult to maintain hope when responses to more headlines about rugby players and ‘group sex’ (such a charming euphemism for gang rape) are just as upsetting. The recently uncovered story of a then-19 year old woman allegedly having ‘group sex’ with a group of Australian rugby players in a hotel room has brought out the worst in some. People are asking why she would go into a room with a bunch of drunk men. What was she thinking would happen?

Well I don’t know what she was thinking. But I sure as hell know what she wasn’t thinking. She wasn’t thinking if I go into this room I’m going to be gang raped. I’m going to spend the next seven years reliving a horrific experience from which I may never fully recover, but I’m going in the room anyway.

I don’t know what the men were thinking either. (Interesting how the victim-blamers are never as interested in asking that…) But I’d hazard a guess that they weren’t thinking I’m really enjoying treating this woman with the respect she deserves. I know she’s 100 percent enjoying herself too, because I made sure to ask her, and I know she’s sober enough and feeling safe enough to give her consent freely. But just to make sure, I might ask her again, respectfully, and let her know that her needs, comfort and safety are uppermost in my mind. Because men who think like that rarely find themselves on TV having to apologise for their disgusting actions.

Boys, take note.


*tonight the ABC’s Four Corners programme presented an excellent investigation into Rugby League and the ‘group sex’ culture. You might be able to see it here from tomorrow, and, for Australians, it’ll be repeated late tomorrow night on the ABC.


Filed under Feminism