The following post involves discussion of rape culture, victim-blaming and quotes that are offensive. Some of this may be triggering.
For feminists and activists one of the most frustrating but important areas to address is rape culture. Frustrating, because it’s so pervasive but so intangible. It’s difficult to know where to start in terms of tackling it.
As if we needed further proof that it was the case, this week Alison Saunders of the Crown Prosecution Service confirmed that how jurors see women and victims of rape is often influenced by rape culture and the media’s portrayal of victims. While steps are being taken to address it Ms Saunders concedes that many jurors “still subscribe to the myths and stereoptypes that we have all had a go at busting”. In other words jurors look at the victim’s behaviour - was she drunk, what was she wearing, did she flirt with him, did she go home with him… the list goes on. As most rape victims know their attackers, jurors focus on ways she may have lead him or the warning signs she should have seen.
This culture is reinforced in many ways. We would all advocate people looking after their safety and wellbeing but the annual Christmas ads reminding women not to drink too much, or get in dodgy cabs endorse the view that if something then happens to her, it’s her fault for putting herself in that situation. Young men aren’t taught what rape is. Men are never reminded to not drink to the point where they don’t recognise consent.
In a recent case in Ireland a man admitted rape and said
"I’m sorry, I’m not a bastard. I have feelings". He said he drank 13 cans of beer, three pints, six shots, three double vodkas and smoked a cannabis joint before the incident.
In fact, his drunken behaviour was taken into account when being sentenced.
Mr Justice Paul Carney said it was the “experience of the court” that a young man taking the amount of drink that he had, along with a cannabis joint, could wake up the next morning unaware that he had committed homicide or rape.
However, the Irish Times website makes sure the reader is in no doubt that the woman, the woman who had been raped, had drunk ‘large amounts’. As always, a judgement is being cast on her character.
It was this kind of reporting that was raised recently at the Leveson Inquiry. If you weren’t lucky enough to be able to hear the evidence as it was given, I would strongly encourage anyone to read the full hearing transcripts online. As part of their evidence Marai Larasi from End Violence Against Women raised a Daily Mail report about six footballers who were jailed for gang raping 12-year-old girls. The rape was described by the Mail Online as an ‘orgy’ and the victims as ‘Lolitas’. The clear implication is that the girls - not women, girls - invited the rape. It was their behaviour that had allowed the rape to happen. This article was problematic in placing some blame on the girls, but also in sensationalising what happened to them. It’s no longer a rape, it’s an orgy, something exciting and sexy. This just feeds opinions already in the media about the sexiness of youth and girls and the abdication of responsibility on the part of men who rape. What does reading this teach young men? What does it teach women about their behaviour and value?
I like to try and be optimistic. I believe that things can change. Just today a friend reminded me that she’s hoping to change the world two people at a time by teaching her 2-year-old son and soon-to-be-born second child how to treat people with respect. It’s hard to know how to address rape culture in our society. You’d like to think that the media can change but tabloids love a sensational story. Today, my heart probably sank lower than it’s been in a while with the storm that erupted around University Lad’s site unilad.com. The site’s now gone down, with an attempt at an apology on the holding page but the rape ‘jokes’ and violence against women discussed on the site was appalling. The example which provoked the storm ended
And if the girl you’ve taken for a drink… won’t ‘spread for your head’, think about this mathematical statistic: 85% of rape cases go unreported.
That seems to be fairly good odds*
*Uni Lad does not condone rape without saying ‘surprise’.
Much of the site seemed to centre around ‘lads’ telling tales of their conquests, but the references to rape just being ‘surprise sex’ or a ‘struggle snuggle’ and the attitudes towards drunk or vulnerable women were a constant. This, if it needs saying, is the next generation of educated, young men. These are university students, a few years from entering our workplaces. These are the young men that the current generation of young women are meeting in bars, online, in class. It would be nice to dismiss the site as small but their Facebook page is ‘liked’ by over 69,000 people - a staggering number - and the apology statement quickly attracted over 280 comments, most in support of the site and dismissing rape jokes as ‘banter’ and ‘lads talk’.
This is rape culture in action. This is a showcase for attitudes towards women and rape amongst educated, young men in the UK.
Still, I have to believe it can change. The reaction to the vile nature of the stories on Unilad gave me hope that the people who were disgusted by it far outweighed the people who support it. Plus, in drawing attention to their site and forcing them to take it down for a while maybe, just maybe, some of these men will rethink their comments.
Rape culture is something that urgently needs addressing in our society, but maybe by continuing to talk about it and call it out, we can change it.