Archive for the 'Rape' Category

Doing nothing says everything

NS January 21st, 2010

Did you know that the Metropolitan Police sent a message to every woman in the UK yesterday?

What, you didn’t get yours? Well, it didn’t come on paper and through the letterbox, admittedly (that would contravene its environmental policy and administration budget, you see), but we can all understand —  loud and clear and in no uncertain terms — what that message was. It went something like this:

Dear Birds Women of the UK,

We are sorry we were caught regret the honest mistakes systemic failures and staggering inactions on our part which led to what seemed like a nice guy serial sexual predator John Worboys (aka the Black Cab Rapist) carrying out countless attacks over a period of years on drunk slappers numerous victims, none of whom we believed when they came forward.

While we take allegations of sexual assault not at all seriously, the investigations stemming from these female fairy tales allegations were completely inadequate not quite up to our usual piss-poor high standards. For this we are totally unrepentant sorry and have resolved to get the media off our backs make changes at no all levels of the department, including a new unit specialising in regret sex sexual offences committed against whiny feminist bitches women. At all times At this time, we do not feel that any further disciplinary action against the officers in charge of the utterly failed mismanaged investigations is deserved needed.

Fuck Thank you very much,

The Boys Met

I’ll just pause while you refocus your eyes after all that reading between the lines (ahem).

Obviously, that wasn’t the exact wording, but you get the drift. If you are of a more exacting nature and wish to read the nauseating excuses comments from deputy chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) Deborah Glass on why the body decided to only issue the officers with written warnings, see below.

“I think on the evidence available the written warnings outcome was right,” she said. “They are a serious sanction requiring officers to accept they have breached the police code of conduct and have failed in some way. People will say, if you cannot sack them what’s the point? But there is still a point, there are important points around learning here. It is not about slamming the Metropolitan police. This is their wake-up call.” She acknowledged that had the police officers at the centre of the inquiry not committed “serious errors of judgment” and “missed crucial investigative opportunities” when Worboys could have been stopped before he went on to assault more women. “There’s certainly a likelihood that if they had followed up lines of inquiry he would have been in custody much earlier,” she said.

Whew! And here I thought that written warnings were just a weak, one-digit tap on the wrist: not even akin to a slap! Thankfully we have Deborah to explain that, actually, writing the words ‘You were naughty…but carry on as you were” in an officer’s file (perhaps alongside a frowny-face doodled in the margins) is an adequate reprimand for “serious errors of judgment” and other perfectly understandable breaches of professional misconduct like laughing at the victims, failing to follow up crucial leads or interview any potential witnesses, failing to fully investigate Worboys or obtain a warrant to search his home and, most of all, failing to believe that anything could or even should be done about it.

For the Met and the IPCC to act like this was some kind of shocking revelation and that the individual officers in question conducted themselves (and the investigations) in an unusual, non-sanctioned manner is absolute and utter bullshit. For as long as they have been reporting sex crimes (a long time) and for as long as they have been police officers themselves (not such a long time), women have been belittledharassed, bullied and disbelieved by the boys in blue. Those meant to protect the people and uphold the law have often been accused of protecting one another from criticism and even from criminal charges, despite compelling evidence to the contrary. They have botched other serial rape cases. The rape conviction rate in this country is the lowest in Europe, a measly 6%.

This is not a recent phenomenon.

Why, just as recently as 2003, a Met rugby team put together a magazine for its players with sparkling sexist gems such as: “Why did God invent lesbians? So feminists wouldn’t breed,” and “Women: can’t live with them, can’t force them into slavery,” not to mention “How do you know when your wife may be dead? When the sex is the same but the washing starts to pile up in the sink.”

But hey, I need to lighten up, right? It’s all just a bit of harmless fun and in no way influences the way these men think, behave or do their jobs, yeah? Tell me it doesn’t contribute to rape culture or the belief that a woman who reports a sexual assault is to be shooed away, fobbed off or altogether discredited unless she has irrefutable proof, has been battered to within an inch of her life and/or is a ‘respectable’ white woman who hadn’t been drinking, wearing revealing clothing or flirting before she was violated.

If you believe that I’d also like to talk to you about tropical jungles in Siberia and ocean-view property in Nebraska. Call me.

Hell, even the Guardian reporter from whom this information comes in today’s paper (and who, on the surface, seems quite repulsed by it) subtitled his article, “Boys will be boys. But shouldn’t the boys in blue know better?” suggesting that men naturally feel and think these things about women (by the way, it’s called m-i-s-o-g-y-n-y) but that, as police officers, these guys should have hidden it better.

So thanks, Met police, for the fucking pathetic half-hearted attempt at making yourselves blameless accountable, but your words, I’m afraid, hold no value. Your actions speak louder and ring truer than any statement you could ever make.

Wanted: an end to rape

NS January 12th, 2010

Warning: may be triggering to sexual assault survivors

Imagine you broke up with your boyfriend, a US Marine, and some time later found an ad on Craigslist that he has posted, pretending to be you, in which he said that you wanted to be raped and were looking for a man to fulfill your ‘fantasy.’ Imagine you got the ad taken down and reported it to police and though undoubtedly disgusted and shaken, thought that was the end of it.

Now imagine that before the ad was removed, a man contacted the email address it had listed, offering his services in fulfilling your ‘rape fantasy. ‘ Your ex and this man then carried out lengthy instant messaging conversations in which the man posing as you, the one with whom you used to be in a relationship and you once cared about, gave explicit instructions on how you wanted to be assaulted (“humiliation, physical abuse, sexual abuse”) and told this stranger where you lived.

Then, imagine your worst nightmare comes true. A stranger breaks into your home:  binds, blindfolds and gags you; and then rapes you while holding a knife to your throat, as instructed by your former lover from where he lives, on a military base in California.

Sound like a plot from a soap opera or a bad porno movie? Oh, how I wish I could tell you it was.

This actually happened, just last month, to a 25-year-old woman in Wyoming. Her attacker faces charges of first-degree sexual assault, first-degree burglary and first-degree kidnapping. Her ex-boyfriend is being charged with first-degree conspiracy to commit sexual assault.

Not surprisingly, her ex, Jebidiah James Stipe, 27, was in the process of being dismissed from the military for an “undisclosed pattern of misconduct” at the time of his arrest, Marine Corp officials said. I would not be surprised at all if that “pattern of misconduct” included threats, intimidation, insubordination, physical violence, sexual assault and/or sexual harrassment; most likely towards females he worked with and for. The kind of hatred towards women that would allow a man to arrange the brutal rape of his ex-girlfriend would undoutedly be hard to keep hidden from other females who crossed his path.

But what I find so disturbing about this story is not only the incredibly heinous and illegal actions of Jebidiah Stipe, but those of the man who agreed to carry out the sexual assault on his behalf. I know that there will be some who say: “But he was just answering what he believed to be a legitimate ad! He thought he was just fulfilling this kinky lady’s fantasy! He only did what ‘she’ asked him to!” and I’m not sure if legally this guy will have a leg to stand on with that argument (though I wouldn’t be surprised if it held up, given some of the ridiculous defenses rapists and their attorneys have used in the past), but this much is clear:

This man, Ty McDowell, 26, was only able to believe that this woman ‘wanted’ to be raped because he believes that those two things are able to mutually exist. Only in a culture that excuses and diminishes all but the most overt, violent forms of sexual assault was McDowell able to convince himself that he was merely fulfilling a not-all-that-uncommon fantasy; one that many women are too embarrassed or scared to admit they harbor. ‘No’  doesn’t always mean no, apparently; it also sometimes means ‘Yes please, and do it harder!’ according to popular myth.

And who can blame him for making this mistake, really? McDowell has undoubtedly grown up watching violent, degrading pornography in which women’s bodies are ‘taken’ and men are the ones ‘giving’ it to them, as if female sexuality and autonomy were commodities as common and worthless as coffee mugs or scented candles in the office Secret Santa gift exchange. He’s undoubtedly heard his peers make jokes about sexual assault and seen rape trials unfold where the victim’s character and whether she really said No (and forcefully enough, to boot) were called into question and made her out to be a woman who, in the end, didn’t want to stop the unwanted sex badly enough or who wanted it all along but felt too ashamed to give in and say Yes outright.

Ty McDowell grew up in a culture that objectifies women to the point where we can’t even buy running shoes without making it all about tits and ass and how fuckable we are to men. He grew up in a society where a sizeable portion of the population think a woman is at least partially (if not totally) at fault for her rape if she had been drinking, had flirted with her assailant before the attack or was wearing ‘revealing’ clothing. He grew up in a place where a ‘sex robot’ can be invented, constructed, demonstrated and sold by ‘normal’ people and publicised in mainstream media markets without a disturbed eyelash being batted [I won't post a link to the video here but needless to say it is grotesque; not only is it misogynist but also plain creepy, with references to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and with one of the robot's 'personalities' describing her death].

Though it would be easy to dismiss this as just another bizarre, one-off creation, that this kind of thing is only a ‘joke’ or for ‘losers’, it shows just how inconsequential and disposable some men think women’s bodies are and what little importance they place on our thoughts, feelings and rights to ourselves. That some would rather have sex with a doll than bother to do the work in forming an authentic, consenting sexual bond with a real, live woman is exactly the kind of view that contributes to the dehumanization of women and, in turn, the proliferation of  rape culture. It leads to a world where a man can, with the mere placement of an ad, leave a woman’s body violated and her life in pieces. And that kind of world scares (and angers) the hell out of me.

Letter to self, age 11

NS December 7th, 2009

letter slot

Subsequent to the last post published here, which was from an anonymous guest blogger and was a continuation of a meme involving writing letters to our 16-year-old selves, I decided that I’d like to do one myself. But when I tried to think of what wisdom I should impart to my teenaged self, I realised that the one I’d like to give the most advice to is my 11-year-old self. So if you’ll excuse this bending of the rules, read on.

___________________________________________________________

Dear A****,

It’s been two years since your younger sister died. Your mother still cries at random intervals and at others closes herself off from everyone around her, retreating into a shell of grief, rage and sorrow, the blackness and depths of which you will hopefully never experience yourself. Though you grieve too, know that her grief is different from yours –  all-encompassing, far-reaching and infinte. You alternate between helplessness and uncertainty — wishing you could do or say something to soothe her burning heart — and self-righteousness and anger, feeling that your childhood is merely being gotten through and survived rather than treasured and observed. Be patient with her. She still loves you. This will make you stonger.

You struggle to know your place in the family now that  you are no longer the middle child but the youngest. Every time you argue with one of your parents you weep afterwards, either with regret that you upset them further or with a bitter indignation that you should be worrying about their feelings instead of your own and tiptoeing around the hole in your family where your sister used to be. Allow yourself to be selfish at times without beating yourself up with guilt; you’ve faced some harsh realities in life already and selflessness isn’t a prerequisite to being a good person, especially when you are a child.

You will think that your older sister is perfect and that everyone wants you to be more like her, with her straight As and ‘nice’ friends and involvement in school activities. You will not do as well in school as she does, mostly out of laziness and partly out of boredom, but a) don’t think you aren’t smart just because you don’t have perfect grades and b) don’t mistake good grades for a goody two-shoes — your older sister is one of the most fun, funniest and most generous people you will ever meet so don’t think you have nothing in common with her or that you’ll never be friends. She will eventually become so dear to your heart and such an invaluable confidante that you couldn’t imagine your life without her.

You are starting to realise, even though it’s not really discussed, that your parents are having money problems. Both of them are working, and will continue to work, part-time jobs on top of their full-time ones in order to give you and and your older sister the things you want and need. You will cry when, next year on your birthday, your dad gives you a card made from a brown paper bag with a picture of a stereo taped to the inside with a note from him promising that after just a few more payments, it will be yours. You will keep that card forever and look at it whenever you think of what it means to sacrifice for love. It will also quell the rampant consumerism that threatens to completely take over many teens and sow the seeds of minimalism and ‘making do’ that you try to live by later in life.

One night later this year, when you’re at a sleepover at one of your close friend’s house, she and two other close friends will confide a deep, dark secret to you. They will ask you for your help and you will know what to do. You will hold them as they cry and understand when they retreat emotionally, because the messenger often gets shot. You will talk to child psychologists and police officers as their abuser goes to trial. You will receive a threatening phone call from him before he begins his prison sentence, which will have you looking over your shoulder for the next ten years.

In your teenage years you will watch two of these friends struggle to understand their sexuality and confuse sex with love and acceptance; the other will go through severe anorexia and body dysmorphia and you will have to unplug her treadmill before she passes out in the midst of an exercise frenzy. This will be your first taste of what sexual violence does to girls and women, and of the severe consequences that last a lifetime. You will get angry. Don’t be afraid of that anger; hold onto it but learn to understand and control it — it will lead you to a passion for social justice and activism for women and, aside from writing, will be your life’s calling.

The writing, the writing, the writing. You have just started writing poetry in the journal your parents gave you for Christmas. It sparks something urgent and indescribable in the depths of your soul and you will spend countless hours in the years ahead with a pen gripped between your fingers and your back hunched over a sheaf of papers and, later, a keyboard. Your classmates, teachers and family will soon start to tell you that you’re good at it and encourage you to write more. This will result in speech awards, poetry and articles published in the school paper and, eventually, eulogies for two of your friends at their funerals. You will dream of writing a book that touches and inspires people, of having such a way with words that people get lost inside them, moved to tears or action or both. You will discover that you want to see the world and change it and will begin planning your global travels and humanitarian work. As it stands now, you won’t have quite made it there on either count but don’t let that deter you. Both are great goals.

Pretty soon you will begin going to parties and drinking and, when you are about 17, experimenting with drugs. You will have an absolute whale of a time and make some great memories, but when someone at a party offers you a powdered white substance on a mirror, turn them down. Walk away and never look back, because you come so close to losing yourself to it. You’ll know it’s time to stop when you do it in the morning before class, pawn your jewellery and cry when you run out. Learn how to have a good time but don’t ever let yourself creep out on that ledge again. Many people aren’t so lucky as to talk themselves down.

If you think life is all doom and gloom — don’t. In 10 years’ time you will be married to a wonderful Englishman and living in London. Yes, THAT London, and it will be as fabulous as you could possibly imagine. Five years after that you will become a mother for the first time and begin a new phase in your life. Two and a half years after your daughter arrives, you will give birth to your son, unmedicated, in your dining room (yes, it will be planned that way!) and it will be the most intense, primal and spiritual thing you have ever experienced. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed of this — it will change you and give you physical and mental strength you didn’t know you had. After you’ve done that you will feel you can do anything.

You will find mothering challenging, exasperating, depressing, thrilling, fulfilling and about five thousand different kinds of wonderful. You will beat yourself up when you err or lose your temper or fail to live up to expectations you have been conditioned to believe must be met, but don’t waste the energy. You will love your children and do the best you can with what you’ve got and, really, that’s all that matters.

Be well. Look after yourself. Have fun. Be a child. Never stop caring about others and never stop using your voice, in your life and in your writing, to try to affect change. You may not think they matter, but they do. Oh, how they do.

Love,

Me (30 years and five-and-a-half months)

Photo credit

Call to action: this shit has got to stop

NS November 24th, 2009

The response to my last post has been overwhelming. The F-Word picked it up and posted about it on their site, which then made the rounds through the feminist blogosphere and brought hundreds of visitors to my blog overnight. The supportive comments and messages I received — here, by email and on Twitter — made me realise that what happened at the march hadn’t just angered me, but many people. When something like this happens to one of us, we all feel it because we know it could’ve been any one of us. To be attacked while on a peaceful demonstration just makes it all the clearer how deeply ingrained violence is in our society, and how much of a threat those who question the Order Of Things are to those who think they hold the deeds to us.

Wednesday November 25th is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, as designated by the United Nations since 1999. It is also White Ribbon Day, a complementary campaign run by and for men that encourages them to be part of the solution. In honour of this day, Million Women Rise had planned a candlelight vigil. When they read about what happened to me at Reclaim The Night, they asked for my permission to turn the vigil into a wider protest and to use my story to help highlight just how unsafe we still are. Together with other women’s organisations, like Object, the Women and Girls’ Network and Roshni, they are asking for as many people  (all self-identified women and male allies) who are able to come to this event to attend or help spread the word. I will be speaking of my experience at the event and there will likely be a media presence there as well.

Please, if you are as pissed off about violence against women as we are and want to demand that it stop, come join us in Trafalgar Square at 7pm tomorrow (Wednesday 25th November). Bring a candle, bring a friend and bring your voice. If you’re not able to attend, please spread the word to as many as you can, particularly if you are in or near London. A good turnout will help us raise some much-needed awareness.

My own personal request to those of you who can’t attend (and even if you can!) is to focus on speaking to the men in your lives about domestic violence, sexual violence and other forms of abuse and harrassment towards women. If you have a male partner*, ask him not to sit in silence when he hears a joke demeaning or belittling women. Talk to your male friends about how consent means getting an active ‘Yes’, not just the absence of ‘No.’  Ask them to complain about sexist ads (including ones that degrade men) and boycott misogynistic publications like the Daily Mail. If you have a son, talk to him from an early age about respecting girls and the conflicting messages he will receive from his peers and the media. Ask all of them to get active in becoming part of the solution because we can’t eradicate this problem on our own. Passive agreement is not getting us anywhere. Keeping quiet is not an option anymore; it is silent complicity.

It’s time for this shit to stop.

*edited for more inclusive language; h/t to Ruth for pointing out my mistake — I have poor editing skills when hastily typing before the school run!

Unsafe but undeterred

NS November 22nd, 2009

Last night, I marched through the streets of central London with 2,000 other women and dozens of police escorts, holding a sign that said “End violence against women.”

Last night, I used my voice to chant and shout about sexual violence, unsafe streets and women’s rights.

Last night, when I should have felt at my most powerful, most inspired and safest, I was sexually assaulted.

I had to stop typing there for a minute and make sure I’d written that right and that it wasn’t just a strange dream. But yes, I was sexually assaulted at a march protesting sexual assault. How’s that for irony?

As we came through Leicester Square, a man pushed his way abruptly past the barrier and with one swift movement of his outstretched arm, managed to push me backwards and roughly grab my breasts at the same time. I swung at him with my right hand but he’s already stormed past so I only made contact with the back of his shoulder before he disappeared out the other side and down a side street. My friend Jen and I looked at each other in disbelief and shock. I hadn’t seen him coming until he was centimetres away and before I noticed the arm coming at me, what I undeniably saw was a face riddled with disgust and anger.

He, along with the man who had spit towards us earlier, and the one who had stood on the side shouting “Boo! Boo!” with his thumbs and his mouth turned downwards, and the significant number of men I saw mocking us — laughing, rolling their eyes and grabbing their crotches — were obviously disturbed by our presence. Perhaps we were reminders of violence they had perpetrated themselves, or a catalyst for the potential violence bubbling within them, just beneath the surface, like a nearly-boiled kettle. Maybe they felt threatened by our numbers and our voices and our demands. Maybe they were scared.

But whatever the reasons for their animosity, they will never know what it’s like to be scared of being humiliated and violated, in public, by people who feel they have a right to our bodies, our smiles, our time and our compliance. They will never know what it’s like to trade stories, with friends of the harrassment, abuse, assault and violence nearly each and every one of us has experienced, some of us in many different ways. They will never understand that we call these ‘war stories’ because every day is a battle and we are tired of feeling like soldiers, fighting off an enemy that has the better, more powerful weapons. They will never experience life and humanity the way we experience life and humanity because their view is unobstructed. They stand on the shoulders and backs of so many people, so many women, to survey their kingdom and claim rights to us, its spoils, with indifference and greed.

They will never know how powerless and unsafe I felt, despite my outward calm, even there amongst thousands and with police all around me, simply because of my gender and for daring to speak out. They will never understand why my heart leapt into my mouth when I approached the bus stop later that night on my way home only to see five loud, drunken men and why I stood 20 feet away with one hand clutching my keys (pointy sides out) and the other holding my phone in my pocket.

But what I know is that I will never stop chanting, or shouting or marching. I will never stop hitting back when I am hit, or stop demanding when I am commanded. Because too many women are not able to. Too many women never get up again when they are knocked down. Too many are beaten and raped and intimidated into silence. For them, and for myself, I will march.

And if I am ever assaulted in the street, yet again, I won’t hesitate to chase that motherfucker down and have him arrested.

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