Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Advice On Avoiding Rape

Have you ever had one of those emails with "Women: Please Read - These Ten Tips Might Save Your Life" drop into your inbox? You know, the ones which tell you to do things like run if someone threatens you with a gun, or kick out the tail lights of a car if you've been kidnapped and bundled into the boot/trunk...?

Various well-meaning female friends have sent these to me, presumably on the assumption that a survival guide will empower me if I'm ever overpowered. The implicit assumption in these emails is that the attacker is likely to be a male stranger with the intention to commit rape.

When it comes down to it, these helpful tips aren't that helpful at all when it comes to women protecting themselves against a rapist. Largely because the type of attack scenario outlined is highly improbable. I'm not saying impossible - but statistically, all women are at far greater risk of rape from someone they already know and trust than someone they don't. As for the business of being set upon while in a late-night car park or some other public place - that's another red herring. A rapist is far more likely to strike in a private or domestic setting.

So, is there anything a woman can do to protect herself against rape? Sadly, not much.  The best thing she could do is avoid associating with any rapists. But rapists don't wear helpful badges identifying themselves. To all intents and purposes they are ordinary men. Keeping clear of all men - just in case -  isn't very practical.

Statistically, alcohol is often a factor in rapes. And given that deliberately causing a woman to become intoxicated and therefore disorientated is a favourite MO of "date" rapists, avoiding inebriation would seem like a good idea on the face of it.

But having said that, alcohol is a factor in many rapes because many rapes occur during or after a social occasion - not because of the presence of booze per se, but because these situations can offer a rapist ideal opportunities to strike. It is very normal for men and women to enjoy a few drinks, flirt together and in some cases, go off and have sex. A rapist can take advantage of this type of harmless expectation and use it to his own ends.

But if avoiding men and foregoing booze actually worked as rape prevention, we could assume that generally speaking, nuns don't get raped. But in fact, they do. Any woman (and indeed, any man) could be a victim of rape. And the belief that they could have somehow done something to prevent it is dangerous nonsense. Only one person could have done something to prevent the rape from happening: the rapist himself.

Which is why my favourite "Ten Ways To Avoid Rape" advisory is the video below.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Wrong Message

I’m the first person to admit that I often find I love a catchy tune, and listen to it over and over, before I actually hear the lyrics. Sometimes I’m amused by them, sometimes I’m impressed by them, and sometimes I’m shocked or upset by them. With some songs, I don’t learn their significance until I am encouraged to watch the music video, either by friends or by a media storm that’s surrounding them, and then I worry about the message that these popular tunes are subliminally transmitting to our children and the population in general. I’m not alone, though - plenty of people like to publicly complain about songs, books and movies that send The Wrong Message.

Take Rihanna’s latest pop video, for instance. I noticed that there was a bit of negative hype about its content, so I decided to go and have a look. Released on 31 May 2011, the music video for Man Down shows Rihanna shooting a man dead in the street. As the video progresses, we learn that he raped her the night before.

The video has been in the news following heavy criticism for the violence portrayed in it. Unfortunately it’s not the fact that she was raped that’s making everyone hot under the collar, but the fact that she shoots her rapist. This made me wonder not about the message the video sends, but what message this sort of reaction sends: murder’s shocking and horrific, but rape? Well…it’s only a woman who gets hurt then, isn’t it? How dare she want to exact revenge! I soon found that I’m not the only person who has been confused by the media’s focus on the murder, rather than the rape, in this video. Lesley Morgan Steiner even goes so far as to suggest that, far from being banned, it should be required viewing!

Her critics say that Rihanna is sending The Wrong Message, and should be encouraging rape survivors to report their rapes, not kill their rapists. Fair enough, I suppose. I don’t think murder is the answer. But do these critics really understand the reality of what happens when a rape is reported by a woman? Of adults who are raped, the 40% who do report it risk a lot when they decide to do so. Only 6% of these reported rapes will actually result in a conviction for rape - from the statistics I can find online, that’s the lowest conviction rate of all reported crimes. Some say that’s because it’s not an easy thing to prove because it’s a he said/she said scenario. However, the rape conviction rate used to be over 35% 25 years ago, so that argument doesn’t make sense. I suggest that one of the reasons could be because juries are being influenced by the over-reporting of false rape allegations in the media, which suggests that it happens far more often than it actually does. The Fawcett Society report on rape facts (this is a download) suggests that only 3% of reported rapes turn out to be false - not a high number, yet false rape claims are reported in newspapers over and over again, making it appear that it’s a far more common occurrence than it really is.

Which brings me to Plan B and his alter-ego Strickland Banks. Plan B’s latest album is called a ‘concept album’, which basically means the songs and the videos for those songs tell a story, and The Defamation of Strickland Banks tells the story of a singer who is approached by an amorous fan. He rejects her and she tells the police that he raped her…well, that’s what’s implied. The most famous and arguably the most catchy song in the series is She Said, the video of which shows the court case where Banks is found guilty.

And I think that this sends a far more damaging message than Rihanna’s video does. It says that when women get pissed off with a man, they might accuse him of rape and he might get put in prison. So beware of women, men! And juries, bear this in mind when you’re sitting on a rape case - women who are alleged to have been scorned before the alleged rape took place are probably lying.

But has this damaging message been picked up by the media? No. Google ‘Rihanna criticism’ and you get at least a whole page of hits bemoaning the violence in the video of Man Down (although it’s not actually that violent or graphic - she shoots, he falls, people scream. I’d rather see that than a load of men in gold jewellery molesting a girl in a bikini, but that’s a subject for another post!). Google ‘Plan B criticism’ or ‘Strickland Banks criticism’ and all you get is a bit of moaning about the lack of depth in his ‘concept’. This is just one more example of how skewed things are in our culture: where it’s ok to perpetuate the myth that women falsely accusing men of rape is common leading to shockingly low conviction rates, but it’s not ok to suggest that rape survivors might be angry and hurt enough to find their own way of doing justice because they know the law is highly unlikely to do it for them.

by Clare Kirkpatrick

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The "Unstoppable" Force

What is is about the penis that makes it so powerful, mere men can't be expected to control it? According to the popular imagination, one glance at a woman wearing a short skirt; and/or inebriated after one-too-many rum and cokes; and/or walking on her own in a secluded area; and/or lying in a bed; and/or any number of other scenarios supposedly suggesting sexual availability....and the penis turns into an unstoppable penetrative missile. Its hapless owner can do nothing to prevent himself from being launched full-tilt into the woman who was unlucky enough to catch his eye.

Written like that, the idea seems absurd. Yet it's an idea that holds sway among hoards of the population when they believe something a rape victim did somehow made her complicit in her attack. She wore revealing clothes. She was drunk. She was unguarded. She was in a bed. My goodness, she was easy pickings for any passing penis. Men couldn't possibly be expected to resist the temptation of having sex with her in those circumstances, could they?

Er, yes they could. Countless numbers of men seem to manage it just fine. Penis and testosterone together may be a strong combination, but believe it or not, they can be efficiently overridden by that other redoubtable human organ, the brain. But what do I know, I'm only a woman? Luckily for me, a man called Martin Robbins has recently made the exact same point when examining the excuses given by philandering husbands for their adultery. Dear oh dear, those men's penises simply wouldn't let them have a say in the matter, poor things... Well, Martin Robbins doesn't buy that and neither do I.

And neither should you. Especially when it comes to rape. No man is so risibly weak he can't prevent himself from assaulting a woman because his sexual organs happened to be aroused at the time. It's an excuse that should be treated with the contempt it deserves. What terrible thing would happen if a man actually refused to allow himself to be penis-led? Would his nether regions spontaneously combust or something?

The hospitals would be overcrowded with poor males seeking attention for serious genital burns if that were the case. Seeing as they're not - and there doesn't seem to be any other medical evidence of harm to those who can exercise some command over their members, let's assume that all men - even rapists - actually make conscious decisions regarding the insertion of their penises into other human beings.

With this in mind, a public service announcement offering advice on how to avoid rape doesn't lecture women on what they should wear, where they should go or how they should behave, no. Instead, it appeals to the owners of both the penises and the brains. And the message is very simple:

"Don't rape her."

Monday, June 6, 2011

Confidence in Confidants

Given all the shame, doubt and blame that is meted out to victims of rape, is it any wonder so few of them want to talk about what happened to them? No one knows for sure how many rapes are never reported to the authorities, but expert opinion, such as that collated by Baroness Stern in her review, believes the figure to be around 90%.

The fear of being called a liar and of being re-victimised by the legal system is what puts off rape victims from going to the police about their ordeal. And the more victims don't feel they can take their experience to the authorities, the more rapists escape justice and the more the true extent of the crime is kept hidden.

So think about it: if a woman told you she had been raped, how would you respond? Perhaps a woman has told you she was raped, how did you respond?

When I was in my late teens a friend of mine told me a male "friend of the family" had "made her" have sex with him while supposedly acting as her chaperone. As I recall, my instinct was to believe her story, to say it was clear to me the man had raped her and that he was utter scum.

It wasn't a situation I had prepared for - how could you? - but reading the accounts of other victims of rape or sexual assault, I'm relieved to learn that my heartfelt response was probably the most appropriate one as well.

Believing the account of a victim is crucial. Remember, the most recent study found that of all the rapes reported to the police, less than 6% were false allegations. Statistically, a woman who says she was raped is most unlikely to be lying. Likewise, statistics also tell us that a man who denies a rape accusation probably is lying.

Don't tell a victim that she could have done something to prevent the attack. Again, statistically the only thing she could have possibly done to prevent the attack was to avoid contact with any and all men. Especially friends, colleagues and family. Is that feasible?

Try and be as sensitive as possible to what she needs from you. If you sense she needs space, don't overwhelm her with physical comfort; if you sense she needs to go over and over what happened and how she feels about it, just listen.

Whether she decides to go to the authorities about the attack or not, support her decision. In a more ideal world, all rape victims would alert the police to their ordeals - but in reality, most don't want to for the reasons mentioned above. Respect that.

If a friend does confide in you that she has been raped it says something very important about how she regards you: she trusts you. You won't let her down, will you?