She Did Everything Right

**Content warning – this post contains discussions of sexual assault**

“Why didn’t she report it to the police?”

It has to be one of the most commonly asked questions when incidents of violence against women are reported. And it’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask. When someone has been the victim of crime, we generally expect that they will report it to the police. And, in a perfect world, the police would investigate, make an arrest, the matter would go to court and justice would be served.

But we don’t live in a perfect world.

There were two incidents of sexual assault reported in Australian media last week – in both instances, a male university student had sexually assaulted a female acquaintance. In both instances, the woman had reported the matter to the police, and the matter was taken to court.

In Adelaide, a 21 year old male was sentenced to at least 12 months in prison for the digital rape of a female friend who was asleep. He admitted to the digital penetration of a drunk friend several times over the course of the evening. When she tried to stop him, he apologised, but continued to abuse her. In his sentencing remarks, District Court Judge Steven Millsteed said:

“The crime that you committed was very serious, you took advantage of a grossly intoxicated young woman… The fact that GW was significantly intoxicated at the time does not lessen the gravity of your behaviour. Women, intoxicated or otherwise, are subject to the full protection of the law”.

While it’s heartening to hear a judge note that the consumption of alcohol in no way excuses sexual assault, his further remarks were less encouraging:

“It is evident from all of the material before me that you are a person of previous good character. You strike me, from everything I know, as a decent young man who went off the rails for a short time. It is very sad to see someone with your background before me”.

In other words, “nice boys don’t rape, they just make mistakes”.

A week later, in Brisbane, a District Court jury heard the case of another male university student who had been charged with three counts of sexual assault. He had met a female acquaintance for a coffee and assaulted her in a car park. The woman told police that he had pinned her up against the side of the car, bit her, groped her, and put his hand in her pants. She told police:

“I was struggling violently, I said, ‘stop it’”

The man admitted to pinning the woman against the car, but told police:

“The reason why she wasn’t letting me kiss her on the lips was because she was doing the whole tease thing”.

He said he was just “testing the waters” and thought the two could be “friends with benefits”.

The incident was caught on CCTV.

The jury found him not guilty.

A sexual assault case takes, on average, twelve months to reach court in Australia. Reporting rapes are known to be low, and it’s estimated that just 4% of those who are found guilty of sexual assault will be imprisoned.

The women in these cases did everything “right”. They did what was “expected” of them as sexual assault victims.

They reported their assaults. They stuck out those long months, waiting for the matter to appear in court.

One of these men, at least, will spend some time in prison. He has received some form of punishment. But hey, he’s a “nice guy”, who just made a mistake, right?

The other man is free. He will be free to continue to attend university, get an education, to carry on with his life as if nothing happened.

The woman he assaulted doesn’t get that luxury.

Even though she did everything right.

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing domestic violence or sexual assault, you can get 24/7 help by contacting 1800Respect via their website or on 1800 737 732. 

To the whiny dude-bros of Twitter

There are a few gems of internet wisdom that present themselves on a fairly regular basis – especially if you’re posting anything related to men’s violence against women, street or online harassment, or pretty much anything that negatively impacts female-presenting people.

  1. Don’t feed the trolls
  2. Lewis’ Law – Comments on any article about feminism justify feminism.

As a women who regularly shares articles relating to violence against women, harassment and other similar topics on social media platforms, such as Twitter, I am all too familiar with both trolls, and the accuracy of Lewis’ Law.

The trolls I’ve encountered are all of the same, garden-variety misogynist, MRA-types. Their key tactic is to intimidate. They aim to silence women using harassment, threats and bombardment-style attacks. They’ll fill your ‘mentions’ without you even having mentioned them. They sit in wait, pouncing at any mention of The Things They Don’t Like. Like equality. And women pointing out inequality. Their tweets are the epitome of Lewis’ Law. And the idea of not feeding them is not one I necessarily agree with. Because their sole aim is to intimidate women into silence, and I will not be silenced by an anonymous keyboard warrior. Do I sometimes get a little shaken up? Sure. When you get rape or death threats, who wouldn’t? I block and I report, and I know that there are thousands of others out there who have each other’s backs and will stand together against the online trolls. And I won’t be silenced.

So here it is. An open address to the whiny dude-bros of Twitter.

I want to start by addressing a couple of issues that you all, so very predictably, bring up.

  • When I post an article about sexual assault, or street harassment, I am not targeting you, nor am I targeting the other “poor innocents”, you so valiantly claim to be standing up for. I didn’t tag you in the post. I didn’t mention you directly. So unless you have something to feel guilty about, I wasn’t talking to you.
  • Street harassment” and “finding a girlfriend” are two very different things. If you don’t know the difference, or you think following a woman you don’t know or shouting “show us yer tits” is the best method for finding a partner, I can’t help you. Nobody can.
  • If you’re getting mad at people who post about sexual assault, violence against women, or street harassment online, you’re getting mad at the wrong people. How about directing some of that anger at your fellow dude-bros who assault, beat or harass women?

That last point is particularly important. Research released recently shows that 87% of Australian women have experienced verbal or physical street harassment in their lives. Men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators, women are overwhelmingly their victims. And the consequences for women aren’t limited to a moment of fear – all though that moment of fear should be enough for society to stand up against street harassment. Women limit their movements, change their behaviour, and suffer the effects of street harassment long after some asshole decided to grope them or scream at them from a car.

So, whiny dude-bros of Twitter, here’s the thing. You can scream “NOT ALL MEN” at the top of your lungs to as many women online as you want. But it’s not going to change the fact that your fellow dude-bros are the ones causing the problem in the first place.

I’ve had several of you, whiny Twitter dude-bros, contact me in the last few days after I posted a couple of articles about street harassment. Some of you enacted that bombardment treatment that has become so damn predictable, despite the fact I didn’t tag any of you in any of my posts. Hell, I’ve never even heard of you before. Yet there you were, filling my mentions with your whining about me targeting innocent dude-bros, asking me how you could get a girlfriend without resorting to street harassment, and calling me a whore.

You got inexplicably mad at a women who posted something online about street harassment, that wasn’t directed at you, that didn’t mention you in any way, shape or form.

And you harassed her.

So, thanks, whiny dude-bros of Twitter, for always coming through with the goods and proving Lewis’ Law over and over and over again. You make us more determined than ever to keep posting about and fighting to end street harassment, online harassment, and men’s violence against women.

#YesAllMen wouldn’t have been a surprising hashtag.

The violent rampage of a man whose hatred of women was so deep that it drove him to kill was the catalyst for one of the most heartbreaking, powerful and disturbing trends I’ve seen on Twitter. #YesAllWomen saw women from around the globe share their stories of harassment, abuse and various types of misogyny that they had endured. The hashtag demonstrated the many ways our societies allow men to somehow feel entitled to women, usually at the expense of women’s health and wellbeing, safety, and even lives.

Of course, #YesAllWomen was met with the inevitable cries of #NotAllMen from those who felt slighted that so many women had spoken out about their feelings of pain and terror at the hands of men. Now, in the tens of dozens of tweets that I read, I didn’t see one that actually claimed that all men harass and abuse. Not one.

But, and I say this without trying to be provocative or sensationalist, I would not be surprised if I had seen a tweet that read #YesAllMen.

I’ve written before about those “safety” messages we as women get: don’t drink too much, don’t wear that short skirt or low-cut top, don’t walk alone. To me, those messages not only tell me to try to make sure he rapes someone else, they also tell me #YesAllMen. Those messages – given by friends, family, the police, security personnel, teachers and others – are given with the implication that any male stranger I encounter is a potential rapist, who will strike should I be too drunk, or showing a little too much skin. Those messages don’t come with a disclaimer noting that #NotAllMen are a bad. They are blanket warnings, covering any and all men and we have heard them our entire lives.

#YesAllWomen demonstrated the myriad of ways in which women are harassed, abused and assaulted on a regular basis. When women are consistently subjected to men who are total strangers hurling sexually explicit remarks at them as they walk to the train station, another who rubs up against her in a suggestive way on the bus, or decides, mid-conversation, that sticking his hand up her dress in bar (all things that have happened to me fairly recently), I wouldn’t blame them for thinking #YesAllMen. There is absolutely nothing in these actions that would suggest that these men aren’t capable of taking their verbal and physical assaults one step further. Coupled with those “safety” messages, I think #YesAllMen could be an entirely reasonable thought.

Logically, I know that it’s #NotAllMen. We all do. But logical thinking can be a funny thing. I know, for example, that I’m more likely to be raped by someone I know in a private house, than I am by a stranger on the street. But it’s what Tom Meagher so brilliantly described as the “Monster Myth” that so often rules the way we think. The “how not to get raped” messages we get from the media, from authorities, from those who are concerned about our safety, is to always be prepared and to protect ourselves from strangers, because #YesAllMen are potential rapists. And those messages have been so pervasive, in my life at least, that even though I know better, I will still employ every tactic I can if I find myself walking through a park with a man behind – keys between my knuckles, phone in the other hand, perfume ready to be sprayed into someone’s eyes.

Those “safety” messages lend themselves to the Monster Myth. They tell us that if we follow a certain set of rules, we’ll stay safe from the stranger lurking in the bushes. They tell us #YesAllMen. Likewise, the Monster Myth tells us that it is those men we don’t know who rape. Any man. #YesAllMen. It’s a vicious and useless cycle.

#YesAllWomen was a glimpse into the terror and suffering of countless women around the world. #NotAllMen missed the point completely. It was a reactionary hashtag that didn’t show that those who used it hate men’s violence against women. It showed nothing more than childish defensiveness that buys in to the Monster Myth, thus perpetuating the idea of #YesAllMen. If those who continually cry #NotAllMen were so concerned about being tarred with the violent brush, they would be better off speaking out against the things that enable men’s violence against women in all its forms, whether it be a rape joke, or their friend groping a girl in a bar.

We know that it’s #NotAllMen. We really do. But the ever-present Monster Myth and behaviour-policing “safety” messages tell us otherwise.

 

 

An apology and a thank you

To the man walking through the park this morning,

It was early, about 7.45am. We were the only two people around.

I was heading to the train station to go to work.

You were wearing workout clothes – blue tracksuit pants, Nike shoes, blue Adelaide Crows hoodie. I made sure I took note.

If I’d had to guess, I’d say you were in your 50’s. Slightly greying hair, not a full beard, but a little more than a 5 o’clock shadow.

I heard your footsteps behind me.

You must have seen me glance back.

You must have noticed my pace speed up.

I heard your footsteps quicken, in time with mine.

I’m sure you noticed my entire body tense as I fumbled around in my bag, trying hurriedly to get to my phone.

And then it happened. You called out to me.

“I’m going to speed up a little and overtake you on the right, so you can see me. I’ll be in front of you, not following you. You’ll be able to see me ahead of you.”

I didn’t say a word. I just kept furiously digging for my phone that was at the bottom of my bag.

You walked to my right, without saying anything else.

By the time I looked up, you’d turned in a different direction to the one I was going in.

To the man in the park this morning: I’m sorry.

 I’m sorry that I didn’t acknowledge what you’d done for me. I’m sorry that I ignored you.

Thank you for recognising my fear. Thank you for understanding why I was afraid. And most of all, thank you for not being an asshole.

What you didn’t know is that I walk that route almost every day. And every time I do, I walk past the factory. The factory where men honk a forklift horn at me. The factory where men whistle and catcall. The factory that the shouts of sexual harassment come from, almost every single time.  The factory I walk past with my arms crossed across my chest and my head down, as though I’m trying to make myself smaller somehow. There is no way you could know how much I hate walking past that factory. No way could you know that almost every day, for a brief moment, I’m terrified; that those shouts, honks and whistles are actually demeaning and scary because I don’t know what might follow them.

If someone is willing to shout such things at me, there’s nothing that tells me that they wouldn’t actually act on those things – force me to perform those sexual acts they so laughingly suggest. If someone is willing to shout things designed to humiliate a female, responding to them, telling them exactly what you think, doesn’t usually end well. In fact, it usually turns nasty and abusive in a split second.

But you didn’t need to know any of that. You read the situation. You realised how I was reading the situation. And you reacted in the best way possible.

To the man in the park this morning: thank you.