In the wake of what I now refer to as “my blog post that took on a life of its own”, I have received a number messages, tweets, and comments suggesting that I am being naïve, idealistic, stupid, and even irresponsible for my views on rape and the public discourse that surrounds it.
I have been told that views such as mine are diminishing the importance of safety messages.
I’ve been accused of trying to “sensationalise” an issue just to get “attention or internet fame”.
It has been suggested that I was “cherry-picking” quotes and articles to make my point.
Those comments have been but a few among a flood of support and thanks. And I think most of them have missed the point.
Do I believe that the way we talk about rape in public and private needs changing? Absolutely.
Does that mean that I think that we should stop giving risk-management advice? Not necessarily.
We don’t live in a perfect world.
I don’t often walk alone, through a dodgy area, or a place that is dimly lit, and neither do a lot of women I know.
But, you know what? Life happens.
Sometimes it’s unavoidable and I have to do it. Am I supposed to somehow ensure that I have an escort at all times, day and night? Should I be forced to stay at home when I don’t have someone to walk with me as a deterrent to a rapist?
My issue isn’t with the risk-management advice – even though the statistics tell us we’re giving the wrong warnings.
My issue is the way we do and do not talk about rape.
My issue is that 1 in 5 Australian women will be forced to experience sexual violence in her lifetime.
My issue is that of those women, just 1 in 7 will report it to the police.
My issue is that the most common reason given for not reporting it is feelings of shame or embarrassment – let that sink in. SHAME OR EMBARRASSMENT.
My issue is that it seems that sexual violence is so common in this country that it’s not as worthy of political commentary or media coverage as alcohol-fuelled violence.
My issue is that in the few instances that the media does report sexual violence, they do so by telling us that the woman was walking alone/intoxicated/in a dark alley/on a deserted beach.
When you’re reporting on what a victim was doing prior to being raped, you are suggesting that she was somehow at fault, for simply being there. You ARE victim blaming.
I’m not saying that people shouldn’t teach their teenagers about personal safety.
I’m not saying that alcohol-fueled violence isn’t a problem.
What I am saying is that I want public outrage. I want the blame put solely on the rapist, where it belongs. I want politicians to speak out about the horrors of sexual violence in the same way that they have about alcohol-fueled violence. I want the media to pledge to not only to report on sexual violence, but to do so in a way that does not erase the perpetrator from the story and does not blame the victim.
Mid last year the World Health Organisation noted that violence against women is a “global health problem of epidemic proportions”.
Australia, we are part of that epidemic. And we need to talk about.
I’ve written previously about my PhD research, behaviour change communication, and the power of language and whether we like it or not, mass media has power. They have power over the news we receive, the language we use, and the way we view things.
What you see on the television, hear on the radio, or read online has power. It has a way of normalising the way we think about things.
When the media reports on sexual violence in a way that places the victim and their actions at the forefront of the story, they are minimising the role of the perpetrator.
When the media report solely on “stranger” rape, they are ignoring the fact that most incidents of sexual violence are perpetrated by someone who is known to the victim.
When the media report on a victims actions prior to the violence, they are perpetuating the myth that behaviours that a person does or does not engage in can prevent or cause rape.
And it affects the way we as a society views these crimes.
I’m just a person that wrote a blog post and tweeted about it. A post that has been republished on several other sites, has been shared tens of thousands of times on social media and has gotten more positive responses than negative.
So, please, before you send me a message or a comment that accuses me of being stupid, irresponsible, or idealistic (or one of the much, much nastier violent comments I’ve also gotten) and questions why I’m so angry about the downplaying of sexual violence in our society, ask yourself why one simple blog has had such an impact, and why you’re not as outraged as other people are.