Friday, 10 May 2013

A bit of a rant about where responsibility for sexual violence lies. Trigger warnings for rape, abuse and child abuse.

So, speaking of lying here are some lies that society keeps telling me. Apparently I live in a world where if I leave the house wearing clothes that someone else could consider provocative or attractive I am inviting sexual violence. If I drink alcohol ever - especially if I get drunk - then I am inviting sexual violence. If I dare to socialise with boys then I am inviting sexual violence. If I express my sexuality then I am inviting sexual violence. If I go anywhere alone I am inviting sexual violence, particularly if it's at night.

Wow, that's a lot of things to think about if I don't want someone to assault or rape me. It would also make my entire life impossible. If I can't go out on my own I can't do my job. If I can't mix with boys, I can't do my job and I've just halved my social circle. But hey, I don't drink any more so as least I'm safer than I used to be, right? Wrong. Because regardless of what I wear or how I act I'm not inviting sex or sexual violence. If I was inviting you to have sex with me, trust me you'd know. Mostly because I'd be using my words to tell you that.

Shall we look at the rest of what's wrong with this idea that it's how you act, what you wear and who you're with that puts you at risk of sexual violence? Let me tell you right now, staying at home is not a sure fire way of staying safe. Quite the opposite, when most acts of sexual violence are committed by someone you know and trust. As a child and teen being outside was the one thing I could do to keep myself safe, as my attacker happened to be my father. At some point I'll talk about how being safer outside the family home than in it affected me but that's a post for another time. So, staying at home is not a guarantee that you will be safe.

What about you dress then, surely modest, unattractive clothing will keep you safe, right? It seems doubtful. I mean, as a ten year old I certainly wasn't trying to dress sexy and in my early teens I basically lived in baggy jeans and jumpers in an active attempt to hide my body. Still didn't stop me experiencing sexual violence. Weird huh? And it's not like I'm alone. Don't believe me?  It's a problem all over the world. Besides, until I develop awesome psychic powers I have no way of knowing what every other person I'm likely to meet finds attractive so kind of impossible even if it was true.

So, if where you are and what you're wearing isn't what causes sexual violence maybe it's how you behave? No, it's really not. I've been drunk before and my friends (of various genders) haven't raped or assaulted me. I've been round drunk people before - including drunk people I found very attractive - and have managed not to assault or rape them.  Oddly enough, I wasn't a heavy drinker at the age of 10. In fact, the only alcohol I'd ever tasted was that forced upon me by my father. Oh a sip of wine out of my aunt's glass one Christmas when I was about 6. I'll admit that I had a bit of a drinking problem in my teens, but it doesn't seem likely that it caused the sexual violence I'd experienced before hand. You can apply this to almost any other behaviour than drinking too. I've gone on dates without either raping or being raped by my date. I've gone out at night, whilst dressed in a deliberately provocative fashion with some male friends and not been raped. I've spent intimate time with partners where one or the other of us didn't feel like sex and no sex happened. Because neither of us were rapists.

So then, what does that leave? It leaves the person/people you're with. And in this point there is some truth. If you weren't with someone who wanted to commit an act of sexual violence then no sexual violence would occur. However, since rapist and abusers don't wear convenient signs around their necks to let us know about them it's not easy to avoid them. And whilst I could choose to believe that all men - and everyone else for that matter - is a rapist I'd live a very lonely and miserable life.

Here's the thing, there aren't any magic rules which can keep you safe. Even if there were, breaking them still wouldn't make you responsible for someone else's actions. So I don't care how you were dressed, who you were with or what you were doing - if you experienced sexual violence the only person responsible for it was the person or people who inflicted it upon you.

If you know someone who's experienced sexual violence, please think about this. Because if part of you believes they had it coming or were asking for it then you aren't going to be a good source of support for them. If you think that sexual violence can ever be partly the victim's fault then you are part of the problem. Do you want to be part of the problem? No? Then accept right now that it's never the victims fault, at all.

Best of all, there's something we can all do to help shift the burden of responsibility from the shoulders of the victims. We can try and make the places where we are safe. We can confront sexist and abusive behaviour when we see it. We can listen when someone disclose their experiences of sexual violence, without judgement (at least on them). We can teach our friends to do the same. We can remove the stigma of being a victim or survivor of sexual violence and apply it to those who perpetrate it instead.

Will that stop sexual violence? Sadly not, but it will start to create an environment where it's safer for people to disclose or report it and it's harder for sexual predators to operate.

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