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Rape culture: a conversation we need to have

More than half of the population don't believe women's claim of sexual assault. It's time we reflect. ...

Trigger Warning: This article contains themes regarding self-harm, sexual abuse, rape and suicide. Please note there are resources for support listed below.

 

Around 60% of men don’t believe women’s claims of sexual assault and 69% of women know they’re true. Photo from Canva.

It was an ordinary day and I opened Facebook. Former NRL star Jarryd Hayne had been accused of sexual assault and found guilty. Thousands of comments flooded, mostly by men, some of whom I know:
“What was she doing there with him alone?”
“She should have kept her legs closed, the slut”
“Attention seeker”

I could go on. Even my friends, who identify as women, groan when women accuse football stars of sexual assault. How do we shame victims for speaking up, but act surprised and shocked when they self-harm or end their lives? How have we failed so terribly as a society?

 

Victim-blaming is one of the biggest obstacles for survivors of sexual assault. Supplied from White Ribbon.

I thought, how would you differentiate between an ‘actual victim’ and an ‘attention seeker?’. While there have previously been false accusations, according to the ABC’s Australia Talks national survey, 60% of men don’t believe women’s claims of sexual assault and 69% of women knowthey’re true.

The truth is, to discuss why I was so triggered – we have to go back. This is my story.

I was a quiet high-school student. Awkward, like most adolescents. However, I had a history of experiencing sexual assault in childhood, so I was especially insecure.

However, when he took me to the woods and forced himself on me until I bled everywhere, my world changed. I remember crying and shaking. I remember time standing still.
Rumours circulated around the school.

“By the way” a male friend said to me once, “it happens to a lot of girls their first time”
“When what happens?” I wondered.
“Getting your period” he responds.
I didn’t have a reaction for a few moments. Then I started to sob uncontrollably. This whole time, there was an army of boys laughing at me that I had bled on a boy. He loved every minute of this torment. Despite telling my story, I am sure this guy didn’t believe me. I’m also sure if any people I went to high school with are reading this now, they wouldn’t believe it either. Attention-seeker. It’s your fault. Where were your parents?

I’ve heard all of these things. I repeated them in my head when I tried to cut myself. When I imagined myself drowning in a bath tub. When I was driving 140km/h hoping to crash. Despite all these bad memories, I have healed and feel comfortable sharing my story in hopes that someone reading this will feel some strength too.

Our rape culture

According to the 2017 National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS), one in eight Australians believe if a woman is raped while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs – she is at least partly responsible. Victim-blaming, in essence, is why women do not come forward until many years later. Yet, when they do, they are challengedwith questions like ‘…why did you take so long to come forward?’. Either way, we cannot win. Especially in court cases where the survivor must be a ‘model victim’ – otherwise, she is ripped to shreds, like in Brittany Higgins’case.

Brittany Higgins & Grace Tame giving speeches at a March4Justice rally in March. Supplied from Junkee.

Because rape is an event highly unimaginable to the average person, feelings of empathy can be projected towards the accused. Especially if they are in the public eye. How could they rape? I know them. We think twice about the accused, but do not do the same for the victims. In 2018, 52,396 sexual assault cases were reported to the police in Australia. Of these cases, only 12,894 charges were laid, 2308 charges of which were dropped and 1494 ruled as not guilty, based on an investigation by The Age.

Approaching survivors of sexual assault

So, what can we do?

We need to build our society on acceptance. Even when I went to the Deputy Principal about my situation, she said to leave her office and claimed it wasn’t her responsibility, considering it happened off school grounds. Our system is designed to inherently benefit men.

For service providers, it is important to have female employees or officers on duty and have them interact with the survivor, as recommended in a 2018 Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma. These providers should also be able to break down legal implications and jargon to the survivor, especially to those coming from a minority.

For us, the responsibility is less. We just need to listen. Believing and not blaming our survivors is first and foremost. Approach trauma sensitively with caution and care. This is something I learnt in class, and I’ll never forget: regardless of your beliefs or religion, it is our human duty to help one another.

How can we educate ourselves?

Rape culture is an issue on a widespread level. It requires a deep un-learning of social behaviours. A book I highly recommend is See What You Made Me Do by Jess Hill.It focuses on the need for educating our men, not women. It also opens up a new world of understanding patriarchy and how the system in our current society is designed to supress women. As American sociologist Michael Kimmel states, “I explain patriarchy as a dual system of power: men’s power over women, and some men’s power over other men.”

“As a group, men are dominant and privileged in relation to women. But as individuals, men pay a price for this privilege: to be considered ‘real men’, they have to live up to patriarchy’s standards and abide by its rules. These standards and rules are regulated – through fear, control and violence – by other men,” says Dr. Michael Kimmel.


This kind of culture is where women are seen as men’s property. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, at least 1 in 10 women will experience marital rape. However, this is extremely difficult to contest in court and nearly impossible to even comprehend as rape from the victim’s perspective. How can a man that she (or he) has been married to for years, and loved, do this to them?

It’s this kind of culture where men need to take a step back and reflect on their actions. Call out your mates. Reflect on your past and your actions. Shame is a massive aspect in the misogynistic behaviour of young men, dwelling from the pressures and standards society puts on them. We shouldn’t blame our men, but heal them.

I’m going to leave you with a quote from Steve Jobs, that my dear friend Tasha reminds me of: “The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones that do.”


Support services

Western Sydney University free and confidential counselling service support:
1300 668 370(option 4 then option 1)

Lifeline
13 11 14

National sexual assault, domestic family violence support
1800 737 732 – 1800RESPECT

NSW Health Sexual Assault Services  

Provides free and confidential medical and counselling support to anyone in NSW who has experienced sexual support, and their non-offending supporters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Domino’s ‘Karen’ stunt sparks discussion about misogyny and white privilege

Pizza chain Domino’s has sparked discussion about white privilege and misogyny...
Fight Sexism graffiti. Source: Pexels

Pizza chain Domino’s has sparked discussion about white privilege and misogyny after promoting an offer that gave “the good Karens” of Australia and NZ the chance to win a free pizza.

Their intention was to take the name Karen back, after it has become a negative stereotype – the white, middle aged woman who uses her privilege to demand her own way at the expense of others.

“It’s a tough time to be a Karen,” Domino’s New Zealand’s Twitter post read. “What used to be a lighthearted meme has become quite the insult to anyone named Karen.”

Many social media users found the offer “tone deaf” and “insensitive”, claiming that it trivialises the experience of those who actually face the harmful impact of racial or homophobic stereotyping and slurs.

One Twitter user, @aramreyess, felt the post was ironic. “Most of the time ‘Karens’ are entitled, privileged white women. If a few people actually called Karen can’t handle the meme, they should try handling 400 years of oppression.”

Another user, @alanahparkin, suggests that the free pizzas could have been directed to worthier causes. “There are so many GENUINELY marginalised people doing it tough right now/always, & you wanna give free pizza to … Karen? This misses the mark completely. Give pizza to people in poverty, people who can’t get a wage subsidy, people who are ACTUALLY struggling,” she commented.

Karen began as a Twitter meme, calling out the demanding, white, middle-aged women who “want to speak to the manager”. But more recently, the word has been used to label women who are outrightly obnoxious, entitled and even racist.

A recent example is Australia’s own “Bunnings Karen”, a Melbourne “mask-refuser” who made the news after a video of her verbally abusing a Bunnings staff member went viral.

Now, writers and other public figures are challenging the use of the word, arguing that “Karen” is misogynistic and oppressive toward women.

Feminist writer Julie Bindel took to Twitter to ask her followers their thoughts on the new controversial buzzword. “Does anyone else think the ‘Karen’ slur is woman-hating and based on class prejudice?” she wrote.

Another writer, journalist Hadley Freeman, agreed with Bindel’s tweet, tweeting back “It’s sexist, classist and ageist – in that order.” Freeman even went on to write an article for The Guardian, stating that the word “Karen” had become “mired in sexism”.

“The Karen meme has become a way of not just describing women’s behaviour but controlling it,” she writes. “I’d love to know how many men out there have been called ‘a Karen’.”

It’s no coincidence that much of the controversy surrounding the word has been expressed by Caucasian female writers. Many writers of colour refute the notion that Karen is sexist or racist because the word didn’t originate from white men, and it has been used by men and women from all different ethnicities.

“Just because white men co-opt the language of ‘Karen’ doesn’t make it theirs; and it isn’t sexist or ageist for an underpaid, black service worker to tweet about what a Karen most of her white, wealthy customers are. It’s a way of dealing in the face of limited power,” writes senior editor of Bitch Media, Rachel Charlene Lewis.

Ghanian American writer Karen Attiah supports this stance also, expressing in an article for the Washington Post how jokes like “Karen” are part of “a long tradition to use humour to try to cope with the realities of white privilege and anti-blackness.”

Attiah also suggests that condemning the word Karen as a slur is more harmful than saying it.

“Calling the Karen meme, the new n-word or asserting that it is a sexist slur only trivialises actual violence and discrimination that destroy lives and communities,” she writes.

Another notch in the belt of viral internet slang, the discussion around “Karen” has been productive, acting as a reminder of how stereotyping and pigeonholing can be harmful and destructive – especially for black and Indigenous communities.

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#BOSS women killing it in their fields

Anecdotes from women who choose to take up space, be outspoken and command attention for impact and change....

In light of International Women’s Day, Western Sydney Community forum hosts their ‘Voices of the West’ event to showcase inspiring and #BOSS women various industries, walks of life, ethnicities and experiences.

Through their ‘living library’ sessions, guests conversate with influential women and speakers including United Nations Association of Australia President, Dr Patricia Jenkings; and 2016 Woman of the year for NSW, Jen Armstrong. Through their own individual journeys, they have created a positive and impactful life for themselves and others through their work.
Let’s meet them!

‘Living library’ sessions at the event. Credit: Western Sydney Communoty Forum

Meet Rosemary Kariuki-Fyfe, a multicultural community liaison officer for the NSW Police

Credit: Western Sydney Community Forum

Coming to Australia as an asylum seeker in 1999, Kariuki was forced to flee her native Kenya after tribal clashes. She was filled with despair at having to leave her children behind, but used this as a driving force to work harder for herself and her family.

Despite the difficulties she faced in finding a job with no certifications in Australia, she never resolved for the ‘easy’ roles or generic jobs. She knew she had more to offer and refused to settle for less.

“I knew how to fight for myself from the beginning” Kariuki says.
Despite her personal and social battles and barriers, she now supports the NSW police force and links them to minorities and people who speak English as a second language.

Based on her own life experiences, she emphasises the importance of women in power and believing in your own inner voice despite external pressures and struggles.

“When a woman is in power, they pass their voice and message to other women”, she says. She exemplifies this in her work ethic, now helping hundreds of African women settle into Australia from their home countries through her work.

Just as she once battled isolation and despair upon arrival in Australia, she now helps other women work through this and places them under her wing through her career.

Meet Billie Sankovic, Chief Executive of Western Sydney Community Forum (WSCF)

Credit: Western Sydney Community Forum

Prior to her work at the WSCF, Sankovic previously worked in industries such as working with local and state governments, that placed her a lone woman in a room full of high-profile men. Attending meetings, she felt that she was dismissed and belittled as the ‘personal assistant’, or simply ignored.

She admits that it sometimes took her male colleagues to defend and stand up for her in these instances.

“It took their voice to legitimise my credibility” Sankovic says.

Sankovic enabled situations like this to fuel her passion for women’s rights, as well as her own voice. Particularly, she has spent 30 years working across Greater Western Sydney and now leads WSCF to shape policy and services in Western Sydney.

As a voice for representing the people and services in the Western Sydney region, she reminds us that today is our opportunity to bring our collective voices “from the west to the fore”.

Meet Jen Armstrong – founder of her charity + woman of the year

Credit: Western Sydney Community Forum

Jen Armstrong is a living testimony of how small, kind gestures can have great impacts.

It started off when she received a $20 body wash after leaving a place of domestic violence, that sparked incredible change in her life.

Through this seemingly minor gesture by a community network, she started a charity called Beauty Bank, which provides victims of domestic violence with essential toiletries and small gift items. She started off in 2013 by asking her friends for toiletries on Facebook, which grew into distributing over 8,000 bags around Sydney through generous community donations.

This is why Armstrong discourages the “shrug” mentality when it comes to making individual impacts and changes to things happening within your community, the nation and worldwide. Every single tiny thing helps, she adds, emphasising how small gestures can make big changes.

These are just a handful of anecdotes from women who choose to take up space, be outspoken and command attention for impact and change- despite being told or persuaded otherwise. Whilst the day for celebrating women is only held once a year (unfortunately), these women are few of the many examples of females making an incredible impact every other day of the year.