Tag Archives: sexual violence

Why International Day Against Victim-Blaming Matters

by Allegra Morgado

Today marks the fourth annual International Day Against Victim-Blaming. Since the topic of rape culture has become such a forefront issue in the media and on college campuses in recent years, the issue of victim blaming has been more widely discussed. Although the thought of blaming a victim for an action taken against them may sound ludicrous – the video “If we treat robbery like rape” shows you just how ridiculous it seems in other contexts – almost all sexual assault victims have to deal with it at some point in their lives. It is one of the reasons that the majority of victims never report an assault. So why do we victim blame? What is gained from this practice that is clearly harmful to all victims of sexual assault?

Although there is no concrete answer or reasoning behind victim blaming, there are a lot of different reasons why people do it. In order to figure out the answer we need to talk about three contributing factors – our assumptions of why women get sexually assaulted, how we talk about sexual assault to young people, and why people commit sexual assault. Although it is important to recognize that men are sexually assaulted, because over 80% of sexual assault victims are women, this post will mostly focus on women.

The view of women’s and men’s sexuality is the first thing that needs to change. In an interview about her book The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession With Virginity is Hurting Young Women on NBC’s “The Today Show”, Jessica Valenti explains that “the ‘purity myth’ is the lie that women’s sexuality has some bearing on who we are and how good we are.” This view is not unique to the United States – all over the world, including in Canada, women are harshly judged on their decisions about their own personal sexuality. This judgement is often ingrained, be it from religion, media, or just cultural norms, and affects how women who are open about their sexuality are viewed. While men are often praised for their “sexual conquests” women have historically been judged and shamed. The connotation behind the word “slut” is one clear example. These views are centuries old and mostly comes from the patriarchal societies that we live in, where women’s rights have only really been a topic of conversation for the past 125 or so years.

When women are constantly judged for their sexuality, people are scared and skeptical about anything that has to do with it. This judgment is where the “what was she wearing?” and “why was she out so late?” questions often stem from. As Dr. Juliana Breines says in her article “Why Do We Blame Victims?” on the University of California, Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center website says “victims threaten our sense that the world is a safe and moral place, where good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people”. This is why we try to find a reason to blame the victim; if it is their fault, then those of us who dress in certain ways or take all possible precautions to prevent rape must be safe.

Rape is preventable, but first we have to change the way talk about rape and sexual assault. Although it is beginning to change, for far too long the conversation has been focused around telling women not to get raped, rather than telling men not to rape. When a victim is blamed or we suggest she could have prevented it in some way, we are sending the message that an assailant’s behaviour is in part excusable. There also needs to be a change in the conversation about consent. By changing the statement to “Yes Means Yes” from “No Means No,” we change the requirement for consent to an explicit yes, rather than the absence of a no. Although it may not seem “sexy” to stop during an intimate moment to ask for consent, it is necessary to have open communication and dialogue to ensure that both parties are happily consenting to the activity at hand, and that consent is ongoing. The Ontario government’s new sex-education curriculum, which includes consent based lessons, is a very positive step in that direction.

In order to stop sexual assault, it is essential to continue the conversation about consent and the fight for women to be truly equal. Because as long as there are cases like those of Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd, there is a need for an International Day Against Victim-Blaming. For more information on the day and what you can do to help out, check out the Facebook event, hosted by SlutWalk, here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1390690721209922/

The Latest in Victim-Blaming

By: Kelsey Sunstrum

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This coming Thursday is the International Day Against Victim-Blaming (IDAVB). IDAVB marks the first SlutWalk in Toronto, on April 3, 2011, which was organized in response to a representative of the Toronto Police insisting “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”. The SlutWalk movement quickly spread to cities and communities around the world to fight against victim-blaming as a pervasive experience of sexual violence.

According to The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, victim-blaming is when the victim of a crime or unwanted action is held responsible for said crime or action either completely or partially. Individuals who blame the victim are likely to do so because they hold misconceptions about the situation, or do not completely understand what the victim is enduring. Victim-blaming is harmful because it perpetuates problematic attitudes that impede change and can also make it difficult for survivors to cope.

Victim-blaming is particularly pervasive in cases of sexual violence. Women and girls who experience sexual violence are commonly questioned about or criticized for what clothing they wore, how much they had to drink, their sexual histories, general demeanour (e.g. was she being a flirt or a “tease”?) and other behaviour. Harmful victim-blaming attitudes range from the extremes of “she deserved it” or “invited it”, to “she could have prevented it, if only she had or hadn’t done ‘x’”.

Daisy Coleman of Maryville, Missouri is one example of the detrimental effects of victim-blaming. Last January, the 14-year-old was raped by a high school football player and left in her front yard in the middle of the night. Though evidence such as a cell phone video of the assault apparently have not proven the boy’s guilt and charges against him have been dropped.

After her attack, Coleman reported her rape to her family and the authorities. From this point, she was socially ostracized by her peers. She was called a ‘skank’ and a liar. She was suspended from the cheerleading team because of her ‘involvement’ in the incident. Her classmates urged her to commit suicide, and on two occasions, she tried to follow their advice. Today, Daisy continues to bravely speak out to bring awareness to not only her own case, but to the fact that many other girls and women are in situations just like her.

Many messages and products are geared towards not so subtly telling women and girls they need to take responsibility for avoiding rape and other forms of sexual assault. Some examples include:

  • “Don’t walk alone at night”
  • “Don’t dress too sexy”
  • “Know how to defend yourself” (i.e. take a self defence course)
  • “Carry pepper-spray or a whistle”

One of the latest additions that contribute to this narrative, are the creation of anti-rape garments, by the company AR Wear and touted as one solution to protect women from rape and sexual assault. AR Wear has fashioned underwear, shorts, and yoga pants designed to be completely resistant to cutting and tearing. They even managed to raise $50,000 on the crowd-funding website, Indiegogo.

The products were developed by two women who believe that the pesky garments could cause delays for the attacker, which could hopefully offer more time for bystanders to notice and respond or for the woman to escape.

While the clothing may work in those ways, it is concerning that yet another product is shifting responsibility for preventing rape on to women. A more proactive approach may have been to use the money they raised through Indiegogo to fund research on rape and gender violence, or programs designed to address misguided societal attitudes towards women, gender roles, and sexual violence.

This comes amidst other questionable messages disseminated in the media as of late. This past June, Dr. Ken Flegel wrote an editorial for the Canadian Medical Association Journal expressing his belief that alcoholic beverages should bear a warning to young girls about the hazardous effects it could have on them. One of the hazards he cites is unwanted sex. This is in response to alcohol companies targeting younger and younger audiences, particularly girls, in their advertisements. Other, perhaps more effective alternatives could be stronger regulations for advertisers, and educating men and boys about consent and respectful treatment of women and girls, intoxicated or otherwise. A good example, of the latter is the “don’t be that guy” campaign.

Jezebel’s response to Dr. Flegel is right on point. They argue that warning labels would be yet another way of blaming victims, and what would they say? Probably not this:

“WARNING: drinking too much, as a young women, may result in someone sexually assaulting you because they feel entitled to your body. It may also cause authorities to not take your case seriously when you attempt to get help or take legal action. It may furthermore cause your peers to blame you for your own attack and then re-victimize you. Also, please be careful about your liver.”

Until society can face the facts that woman are not to blame for violence committed against them and take the steps to remedy why this is the case, rape and gender violence will continue to be a threat to women. Victim-blaming is harmful and counterproductive, so lets stand in support with women and girls today and every day and press for solutions that address the root causes of sexual violence, instead of slapping warning labels of alcoholic beverage and encouraging women to wear modern day chastity belts.

Discussion with Sally Armstrong and CFUW Oakville

Sally Armstrong, Journalist and Human Rights Activist

On September 28, Sally Armstrong spoke to the CFUW Oakville Bloomsbury 1 Interest Group about her recent journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo and her observations and hopes for the place of women and children in today’s world.  She believes that women’s issues are coming into a bright, new light, from the zones of conflicts to the United Nations to the corporate world; women are the way forward and change is on its way.

She began her talk by reflecting on her first experiences in Sarajevo during the conflict there in 1992.  At that time, the rape camps and the killing of children were not looked on as a casualty of war but as punishment for women, and the news of the atrocities were not covered by the media and therefore no one knew what was happening to the most vulnerable. Most of the world looked the other way, and at the end of the conflict, women were not invited to the peace table.  One of the negotiators stated that women would not be included because “We are discussing serious matters”.

Since the conflict in Afghanistan began in 1999, women have bravely continued to fight for their rights, and when President Karzai tried the pass the law regarding Sharia’h, Afghan women marched in Kabul and the law was withdrawn.  The situation now seems to be at “the tipping point” moving in favour of women and she is hopeful that the women will be brought to the peace table in efforts to end the conflict in their country.  Afghan women have learned that the way out for them to the freedom to which they are entitled is through empowerment, and the power brokers are beginning to realize that bringing women to the table is critical to the economic health of the country and all its citizens.

Sally travelled to Congo this past summer because she had learned of the horrific acts of depravity and barbarism there – the mass raping by seven rogue militia groups in North and South Kivu provinces that forces the women to take their children and hide in the forests, because the men have been driven away.  She met with some of these women in the forests to listen to their stories and bring back a message to our world.  Five million are dead in this conflict and most of the world again is looking the other way.  The women of Congo have formed a campaign called Silence is Violence because they know that what has happened to them and what is still happening must be acknowledged and stopped.

The International Women’s Commission (IWC) for a just and sustainable Palestinian-Israeli Peace has been established and is made up of 20 Palestinian women, 20 Israeli women, and 10 international women.  The IWC begins meeting in Jericho, Israel, in October 2010, and Sally Armstrong is the only Canadian appointed to the Commission. She is hopeful that this group of women will be able to come up with solutions for this long-standing problem that has not been solved by any previous meetings and representatives, no matter how well-intentioned.  The Honorary Chairs are Tarja Halonen, President of Finland, and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia, and Ines Alberdi of UNIFEM is the Chair of the meetings.

In conclusion, she reminded us of the changes that Canadian women have made in the laws of Canada which have changed our own culture with regard to women, reminding us of the days not-so-long ago when we had to promise to “obey” when we married, when we needed our husband’s signature to have a hospital procedure, when we could not open our own bank accounts, and when the laws on sexual assault looked the other way.  She reminded us that it requires at least 30% of women in government to change a culture and noted that even here at home, we have not quite reached that percentage in Parliament.

It was most encouraging to listen to Sally Armstrong who has a great deal of experience in war torn areas of the world and the extreme difficulties faced by women and children. Despite what she has witnessed she finds hope in the resistance and spirit of women across the world and believes that change is on the way.

Note:  CFUW and its sister national affiliates in IFUW continue to work vigorously for the ratification of UN Resolutions 1326 and 1820.

For more information on the International Women’s Commission, “goggle” IWC – its website is being developed as the meetings begin.

Roberta A. Brooks
CFUW Oakville
IFUW Assistant Treasurer/
Convener, IFUW Finance Committee

October 14, 2010

Women’s Rights at the Crossroads

Hosted by: Sudan Inter-Agency Reference Group and Inter Pares
Attended by: Robin Jackson, Executive Director and Sam Spady, Advocacy Coordinator, on behalf of CFUW

Two Sudanese Women’s Rights Activists spoke about the challenges of civil society in Sudan, and their commitment to continue working with Sudanese women from the North and South through the upcoming referendum.

Sudan, which has endured over fifty years of intermittent civil wars, will come to an important crossroads this January. As a part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005, Southern Sudan will vote in a January, 2011 referendum to decide if they should become an independent state.

The Sudanese activists, Fahima A. Hashim, Director of the Salmmah Women’s Resource Centre and Zaynab Elsawi, Program Coordinator for the Sudanese Women Empowerment for Peace (SuWEP) shared how their organizations have been working to build trust and consensus between Northern and Southern women’s groups and have been able to work together to address the repression they collectively face under the al-Bahsir regime.

Although Hashim and Elsawi were not cynical they were not hopeful for the situation in North Sudan following the referendum. While power imbalances and customary laws in the South work against women’s equality, Southern women’s rights are guaranteed in their constitution, and have been able to participate in negotiations. Women in the North do not have this legal tool to use in their efforts, which poses a more difficult situation.

Hashim and Elsawi work focuses on capacity building for women leaders and to advocate for changes to Sudanese laws. One legal area where they have made progress is rape law.  Confronted with the dire situation in Darfur, they worked to compile information on the sexual violence taking place in the Western region of Sudan, and bring clarity to the laws dealing with rape.

Their goal for the presentation was to raise awareness of both the situation for women created by the al-Bashir regime, and to show that there is a continuum of resistance from Sudanese women who are organizing and working to fight for their rights.

The discussion was both worrying and inspiring.  Northern and Southern Sudanese women, who have witnessed decades of civil war and conflict, have been able to build solidarity and a strong network to fight for equality and peace. In the face of a repressive government and violence they have continued their work bravely and patiently. There is a lot we can learn here in Canada from their commitment, strength and tenacity.