Change the Conversation

Holy internet, Batman!

A few days ago, I wrote a post. A post that in the days since, has had almost 30,000 views, has been shared tens of thousands of times, and spent some time in the WordPress list of Top Posts of the Day.

The feedback I’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive. Sure, there are those who don’t agree with my opinions. And then there have been those who decided to send me messages filled with threats and vitriol.

I didn’t expect any of it. What has happened in the last few days far exceeded anything I could have imagine, and has crushed my previously-glorious record of 61 views on a particular post.

To each and every single person that shared, tweeted, commented (both supportive and not-so-supportive), talked about, and critiqued my post, I want to say thank you.

Thank you for joining what I think is an important discussion.

Thank for encouraging and inspiring me.

For too long now we’ve been having the wrong conversation when it comes to rape and sexual assault.

We’ve been telling people to dress in a certain way, to avoid certain areas and to change their behaviour to avoid rape. We’ve been sharing what seem to be “reasonable” suggestions of how we can ensure our personal safety.

Yet rape still occurs.

We know that 1 in 5 Australian women will experience sexual assault at some point in their life.

We know that women are disproportionately affected by sexual violence, representing over 80% of victims in Australia.

We know that male perpetrators of sexual assault far outweigh female perpetrators.

And we know that almost 80% of female victims know their perpetrator and most sexual assaults take place in a private dwelling.

So, the warnings to that woman to cover up, stay sober, and drive home instead going out drinking in a mini-skirt and walking home via a dark alley? They’re meaningless. She’s more likely be raped by her male housemate/boyfriend/friend when she gets home.

Knowing the facts, would we still consider it “reasonable” to tell women to alter their behaviour to reduce the risk of rape? Are we supposed to avoid people’s homes and males that we know? Our friends, our brothers, our boyfriends, our fathers?

I think not.

Women are raped while drunk or sober. They’re raped wearing mini-skirts and tracksuits. They’re raped in public areas and private homes. The only common factor is that they came into contact with a rapist.

We need to change the conversation.

We need to stop referring to all rapes and sexual assaults as “sex crimes” or “sex attacks”. Rape isn’t about sex. It’s about violence and power. Using the term “sex” diminishes the violent nature of sexual assault and implies some level of consent. Let’s call a spade a spade.

Let’s take the focus off of the victim and place it squarely where it belongs – on the perpetrator. Let’s call out media reports that use a passive voice when reporting sexual violence, placing victims at the forefront of the story and pushing the actions of the perpetrator into the background.

Let’s demand greater attention be paid to sexual assault and rape. Where are the calls for greater penalties for perpetrators? Where is the media coverage? Where are the comments from Prime Minister Tony Abbott (who also appointed himself Minister for Women) labelling rapes as “insidious”, or “utterly cowardly” as he has just done in relation to street violence? Why isn’t the PM calling for rapists to be treated with “appropriate severity”?

Let’s make sure that rapes get the same media attention and public outrage as “king hits”.

We can do it. All of us. Together, we can make a difference.

Let’s change the conversation.


4 thoughts on “Change the Conversation

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  3. “And we know that almost 80% of female victims know their perpetrator and most sexual assaults take place in a private dwelling. So, the warnings to that woman to cover up, stay sober, and drive home instead going out drinking in a mini-skirt and walking home via a dark alley? They’re meaningless. She’s more likely be raped by her male housemate/boyfriend/friend when she gets home.”

    Sharna, I would like to address this point. Firstly, let me agree with you that I too think the rapist is at fault. I also agree with you regarding knowing ones attacker being most common, however I totally disagree with you regarding warnings. I guess it DOES always come down to the way it is written, but should we let ourselves be overly sensitive if the underlying sentiment is correct, even if the delivery is a bit questionable? What is the greater good?

    This week a tourist was brutally gang raped in India after becoming lost and isolated. It got me thinking in light of this post. Consider these scenarios, 1. The end result being a brutal Gand rape as was the reality, or 2. A brutal beating. Now the questions, what, if any advice would be given to the traveller about avoiding either situation. Would/should the advice be different for either case. Now what if the victim was male, would/should the advice be any different? Do we advise them not to travel, or do we say, hey, be aware of where you are. Certainly, this lady is not to blame, and she may have been very well aware of the dangers, a simple wrong turn her undoing, this is life, it is unpredictable and sometimes there is little we can do about the result. But do we not educate young ones (and I include both young men and women here as I agree with you, rape is not about sex, it is about violence and power) to be aware of such risks. It is your absolute right to dress how you like, walk where you want, but now given the information relevant to that situation, you can make a more informed choice on what you will do and therefor accept the risk associated with it. That is not saying told you so if a rape occurs!!!!

    By saying the rapist is known in most cases and warnings about dark alleys are meaningless puts at risk, the education and perhaps the informed choice that a young woman may make to walk in that dark alley. Put a young woman in the same attire and make it the same early hours of the morning. Now walk her home alone, one in a well lit public area familiar to her, the other across the dunes in the dark at schoolies on the Gold Coast. Now there is no guarantee that either is going to be an attack to avoid, just an awareness that there is risk involved. Both usually make it home as is their right, but we cannot anticipate the thoughts of a predator, so you must be aware of the risks. I understand more women are raped by men they know and often in their own homes. I wonder if this is a function of volume. That is the question of statistics. If you instead looked at the number of women who walked home alone in the early hours of the morning through sand dunes at schoolies for example you may find the incidence rate much higher in that situation. My point is that we don’t have that information, if we did, would our attitudes to warning change?

    My very grave concerns about the vocal group who advocate that teaching awarness and reduction of risk is somehow victim blaming and therefore not correct, will result in inexperienced young ones in situations they did not identify as a risk. Now we all agree, you cannot prevent everything, we also agree that in a lot of situations the rapist is known, and also possibly unavoidable. But does this mean we encourage our young ones to disregard their environment because “it is your right to do as you please”?

    I agree with so many of the sentiments expressed in this blog and the previous one as well as the responses, but I fear we have swung to far the opposite way in our attempts to help the victims that we are now leaving a generation of young girls and women vulnerable. The reality is no matter what your rights, there are just some places you cannot go without accepting the risk that accompanies them. Before you flame, think of a gap year backpacker, told it is her right to wear and go wherever. Now land her in South Africa for example (any different culture or indeed location can be inserted here). Applying the logic from some of the posts on here and it isn’t going to end well. How big a price are you willing our young girls to pay in order to prove a point? In medicine, we expect doctors to run all the tests even though it may be invasive expensive and in the majority of cases unnecessary. This is because it is our expectation as a society that now that we have the knowledge and ability it is our responsibility to do the best we can with what we have, even if that means subjecting 80% to tests that only the other 20% will need. Why isn’t that logic valid in rapes? Why should warnings of a particular scenario, although minor against the total number of total rapes, be meaningless? True, the brutal Gang rape of a lost tourist is statistically way lower than being raped by someone you know in you home, but do we not warn about putting yourself in the situation, or do we just accept that as collateral damage? So yes, let’s change the conversation, let’s make rapists more accountable, let’s increase sentencing, but DO NOT in the rush, stop educating about identifying risk, in the words of my grandmother, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!!!!

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