Friday, 21 June 2013

Who's responsible for sexual assault and rape? Another rant

When I got up today I was intending to write some more about BDD, since yesterday's efforts felt messy to me. Instead, I found and watched this video. For those who don't have time to check it out, it's a debate about the victim blaming comments made by Serena Williams in regards to the Steubenville rape case.

There were some good points raised in the debate, including keeping the focus on asking why people rape, a discussion about parental and community responsibility and the difference between accountability and responsibility. There was also an attempt to defend Serena's position, which was less awesome in my opinion.

This raised a fair few issues for me, things like this can be incredibly triggering for me - and I have no doubt other victims/survivors/people who have experienced sexual violence. I hate that there is still a need to discuss this. The only person responsible for any specific incident of sexual violence is the person or people who perpetrated it. When it happens to a child or young person, then it is vital to also look at how and why they weren't protected by parents/caregivers/teachers/the wider community. What there should never be, in my opinion, is a need to tell people that they hold some of the blame for what happened to them because of where they were/how they were acting/how they were dressed and so forth.

The only times I was raped whilst intoxicated were the times my father forced me to drink, or spiked my drink with something. I have been drunk many times without being raped. I have been drunk many times without ever raping or otherwise assaulting someone. I have been around drunk people without ever taking advantage of them.  Drinking is not an excuse for sexual violence. True, drinking to excess can increase your vulnerability but so can many other things. Such as being a child, being unlucky enough to have be-friended a rapist or living within a rape culture.

If we keep teaching people that the only way to stay safe from rape is to never ever do anything that will leave them vulnerable to rape then we end up in a situation where people can't trust their own families, make friends with anyone. Where people can't wear clothes or not wear clothes. Where they can't be inside or outside. In short, we end up in a situation where it becomes impossible for people to live and function. Oh, and since none of these things will stop there being rapists then people who try to follow all these impossible rules will still be vulnerable to rape.

Now, I'm not saying never take precautions to keep yourself safe. Sadly, the reality of life is that there are risks out there and if we're aware of them we can try to reduce them. As a young adult we used to go to great lengths to make sure everyone got home safely after a night out and so on. It's great that I had the luxury of friends who were prepared to look out for each other. Not everybody does.

The truth still remains however that whatever we do to safeguard ourselves, we're still at risk. And there comes a point where trying to reduce that risk comes at too great a cost, when it has such an impact on your life that you no longer feel able to do anything.

And no amount of not drinking, not going to parties, not dressing how you want and not having a social life you enjoy will change the fact that most people who experience sexual violence are targeted by people they know and often trust. Which none of these rules will in any way help to defend us from.

So, I say it again and I will keep saying it: the way to reduce the risk of rape is to create a culture which actively discourages it, which makes it hard to achieve. A culture where those who experience it are listened to, believed and supported. Whilst those who perpetrate it are condemned for their actions.

It's not about whether someone was drunk or not, whether someone is a virgin or not. It's not about how they are dressed, where they were, what they were doing. It's about the presence of rapists and abusers in our society. We probably can't get rid of them completely, but we can make it harder for them to operate. We can make it easier for their targets to come forward and prosecute them. That's where the focus needs to be.

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