In the past few weeks, we have seen an increase in media coverage of sexual violence cases. We can observe how our society is reacting to these cases of abuse and violence towards women in a not surprisingly misogynistic way. The reaction we have had proves we still live in a tremendously patriarchal society in which people continue to put pressure on the victims of sexual violence while trying to justify the perpetrators.
A few things have called my attention, including the media coverage digging in the past life of the victim trying to find reasons to justify the perpetrators and how people misunderstand consent. However, there are a few positives about these cases being of public domain. Firstly, the media coverage is only possible because more women everyday (and their parents if they are underage) are brave enough to press charges, even if they fear social stigmatisation. Lastly, we are opening up about the topic of rape, seen as a shameful taboo by many, discussing concepts such as consent. By doing this we could hopefully, stop blaming and stigmatising the victim, and to start changing the patriarchal rape culture we live in.
Bravery and social stigmatisation
It is quite shocking to see how the media is covering these stories calling the victim an “alleged victim” and the perpetrators “presumed perpetrators”. Clearly the media is only a reflection of what happens in our society. When a woman or a girl has the courage to step up and press charges for rape or other types of sexual violence, she has to suffer even further. Automatically after, the victim’s classmates, colleagues or neighbours find out she is a victim of sexual violence, they will start making their value judgements about her.
Many young girls that have been raped or have been victims of sexual violence do not know they are victims until they are brave enough to explain what has happened to their teachers, parents or friends. By that time, most of us have already obtained the glorious title of “slut”, because those brave men that abused, assaulted and raped women have already been spreading the word bragging about how much sex they had or the size of our tits. It is when a woman realises she is being a victim of sexual violence that the decision is made on whether to press charges or not.
This exercise of bravery can be even more challenging when it is set in a small town. In those sorts of places it is even easier to start digging in the past of the victim, looking out for reasons why she may have been raped trying to justify the perpetrator(s). It is not unusual to start hearing some precious comments such as “Well, if you knew her, she was famous for sleeping around, she is clearly no saint”, or “I don’t think she needed to be forced, she has slept with so many guys, I am sure she wanted to this time too”. The reality is, it does not matter how many men a woman chooses to sleep with, or how often, or what sexual practices a woman agrees to do, if someone says no, it is the end of the sexual encounter. It does not matter what type of life that woman carries, what type of job she has or what she has been doing with that exact man an hour before. No means no.
Consent: an open discussion
The discussion over consent wouldn’t be a discussion in a society in which gender equality was a reality. However, the media coverage of the latest cases of sexual violence indicate otherwise. The social stigmatisation that victims of sexual violence have had to go through while the perpetrators were being justified show there is a need to define and discuss “consent”.
Let’s imagine a woman meets a man one night. They are making out in a bar and decide to go back to her house. They may be having pleasant sex and at some point the man may decide that he would like to do a different sexual practice, she may say no I don’t feel like it. If at that point he tries, insists, coerces or threatens her, he is violating her consent. Let’s use a different example. A woman involved in prostitution agrees with a client on an amount of money in exchange for, for example, oral sex. He then decides to penetrate her. That is rape. It does not matter what relationship the woman has with that person, how many sexual partners she has previously had or what sexual activities she enjoys most. She has not agreed to a certain sexual practice with that specific person, in that specific moment. Let’s use a third and last example: a married couple are having sex at home. After a few minutes engaged in some sort of sexual activity, she may decide that she has had enough and asks him to stop. He doesn’t because he wants to reach an orgasm. That is rape. It doesn’t matter whether they are married, or whether she agreed to the first 10 minutes of interaction. Stop means stop.
There is hope.
Unfortunately, as a result of living in a misogynistic society which stigmatises the victim and justifies the perpetrator, many victims choose not to press charges. They know that if they do, they will be put on the spotlight having to listen to the judging words of their neighbours, family, or friends. They will have to be ready for people to dig into their pasts trying to justify why they were raped.
Women are slowly feeling more empowered to press charges, even if they are still scared since they fear the repercussions. We may use this momentum to talk about the rape culture we live in in which some men –and some women too- see sexual abuse, assault and rape as something acceptable. We shall discuss the topic of consent and reflect over why certain behaviours by men are widely tolerated while women continue to be subject to violence and afterwards social stigmatisation. Maybe by discussing it, we will achieve a world in which no means no, and stop means stop.