This evening I’m going to make you all feel uncomfortable, possibly very uncomfortable, and I’m not going to apologise for that. Tonight I want to persuade you to change the way you interpret what you see and hear in our society and I want you to go and share these changes.
This is a controversial topic. It’s not going to be easy for you to hear and it wasn’t easy to write. Many times last week I considered changing my topic or opting out of speaking. But I was listening to Jim Mora’s Panel and a panel guest raised this very issue, not only in horror that the comedian used a rape joke in his act, but that most of the audience roared in laughter.
Yes, rape isn’t supposed to be what nice people talk about... or do. But it’s conservatively estimated that one in four men commit rape in their lifetime. That seems a stretch until you consider rape as an absence of consent, because that’s what it is. My quest is to challenge your social norms and it is these social norms we all have to change to change the culture. So what is rape culture?
Rape culture is a collection of beliefs and mores that validate and perpetuate rape. It includes jokes, visual & print media, laws, words and actions that make violence and sexual coercion seem so normal that people believe rape is just the way that society is.
One of the fundamental concepts of rape culture is the idea that rape is inevitable, that men have a claim to women’s bodies, they can’t help themselves and women must therefore work to protect themselves. I can feel there are heckles rising out there! Because you don’t think like that, Right? But juries of your peers do.
In September last year (19/9/2013), A High Court judge believes a man was acquitted of indecently assaulting two tourists because jurors felt the young women were foolish for going out at night in Auckland "dressed as they were". This man was convicted of theft from the women by the same jury. Presumably the jury didn’t deem them foolish for carrying something the thief wanted...
Women grow up taught to pre-empt rape attempts, to second guess motivations, to protect themselves. And women are still raped. Women are raped drunk & sober, when they’re out and when at home. Women are raped wearing short skirts or burqua, wearing school uniform or pyjamas. Women are raped by men they know, and men they don’t. Women are raped if they follow the rules and if they don’t. But above all the message is clear. If a woman is raped, it’s her fault. After all, males are tricked into acting on their natural desires by females who should know better.
In Ohio in 2012 an unconscious woman at a party was raped & filmed, involving two stars of the Steubenville High School Football team. These men were described by the papers, as ‘young men with promising futures, very good students’ whose lives are falling apart’, and that the ramifications of being registered as sex offenders will haunt them for the rest of their lives.
That the men had been drinking was used as an excuse for their behaviour. That the woman had been drinking condemned hers, she should have known better. The victim’s family home was burnt down, reportedly for bringing disrepute to the town. Only two men were convicted of rape. But three public officials were convicted of perverting the course of justice in trying to cover it up.
That’s an extreme case, only brought to our attention, and to trial, because of its extremities. The act of rape is serious and condemnable, absolutely. However, to bring our attention back to my focus which is the culture normalising sexual violence and back to NZ, Rosemary McCloud, a television reviewer, in her column earlier this year wrote of ‘children unwitting enough to allow themselves in the company of accused Rolf Harris.’ I hope, after listening tonight you too can see why this culture of victim blaming has to change.
And let us not forget that rape is not just a women’s rights issue - it is a human rights issue that affects all identified genders and sexualities.
So, now I’ve convinced you we need change, what can you do? Read truth into headlines and email journalists to hold them to account. In NZ they’re statutorily obligated to be non-discriminatory, but the broadcasting standards require a complaint to act, so complain. Don’t tell jokes about sexual violence and if you hear them, ask why is that funny? Because it quickly becomes obvious it’s not. And if there’s one thing I want you to do for our future is instead of teaching your daughters how to not to be raped, teach your sons not to rape.
There’s some information in the hand out available tonight and if you need further convincing that you’re the change I’m always happy to chat further on this topic.