Domestic violence and slut-shaming

Everyone once in a while, I read a news story that makes me genuinely sad. Sunday was one of those days as I read on The Guardian site that

teenage girls between 16 and 19 are now the group most at risk of domestic violence, closely followed by girls aged 20-24 – all victims of a new generation of abusers who are themselves in their teens and early twenties.

It’s hard to believe that not only is intimate partner violence still happening in our society but that it’s actually getting worse. We tend to think of our society (ie Western society) as getting better, progressing and becoming more ‘equal’. It stuns me to think that it’s potentially regressing.

There’s so much food for thought in this piece (and I’ll be posting more on the topic) but one thing that springs to mind is the prevalence of ‘slut-shaming’ in these young people’s lives. The girls in the article speak about being called names like ‘slut’, ‘sket’ and ‘slag’ on a daily basis. For these girls how they are perceived in their peer group is closely tied in with their sexuality. The boys they socialise and have relationships with seem to view them as possessions until they no longer have a use for them. When the relationship ends ‘sket’ sites spring up with compromising photos of the girls and they are subsequently called names in school - not just by the boys but by other girls. This kind of slut-shaming is often talked about on feminist sites as a tool used to control girls and women. The idea that only a virginal girl has any worth is still pretty pervasive in our society.

While this example sounds extreme it’s not just something that happens to girls. It happens when women run for public office or put themselves in the public eye. It particularly happens when women accuse men of rape or assault. While legally a woman’s sexual past cannot be brought into the courtroom, it can be raised during initial questioning and can lead prosecutors to decide not to proceed with a case. It can also do an awful lot to discredit a victim publicly and in their community, as happened in the Listowel case, even though the man in question had been tried and convicted of her assault. Similarly, the Swedish women who accused Julian Assange found their personal profiles and online presence publicly trawled for evidence of sexual behaviour.

One of the most blatant examples of this I’ve seen lately has been in the case of an 11 year-old girl who was gang-raped in Texas. 18 young men and boys were arrested and the town was horrified but as the New York Times reported, not because it had happened but that the ‘boys would have to live with this the rest of their lives’. They also took pains to interview local people who pointed out that the girl often wore clothes and make-up appropriate for a woman in her 20s - she looked like a slut, so they treated her like one. In other words she was asking for it,. All of this was done to discredit her story and destroy her credibility.

It’s such a confusing message to be giving young girls. They’re constantly told that they need to be beautiful, be thin and be judged on their appearance. In other words, look sexually available. However, daring to act on this behaviour and express sexual desire or even have sexual experience marks them out as sluts and if they’re no longer required for a particular boy/man’s use, then they’re publicly shamed. It marks them as lesser, and worthless and leaves them increasingly vulnerable to controlling partners and self-esteem problems. No girl wants to be the one pointed out and shamed, so they join in themselves calling each other names and engaging in bullying behaviour.

It’s an attitude that I’m shocked and saddened to see is so pervasive in the minds and relationships of young people in the UK, but in some ways it’s no surprise  as the adults in their lives and the media they’re exposed to continue to reinforce it so consistently. It’s up to us to act better and pass on the good example.

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  1. swsl posted this

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