Thursday, 23 February 2012

Call for Action to Challenge Rape Culture

Below is a press release as issued by local Women's activists in Derry following yet another rape which took place in the city centre. 

Women’s groups and citizens across the north west are called to gather this Saturday 25th February at 1pm in Derry’s Guildhall square in response to recent rape attacks on women in Derry.  

The protest this Saturday is being organised by co-operation between a diverse range of women’s groups and activists.  We are angered by the silence and scant regard given to this crime within our society and to the dangerous culture of making rape prevention the responsibility of women. Rape and sexual violence are a violation of fundamental human rights and need to be widely challenged as a social and political issue, not as mere incidents expected to be resolved by the police and the courts. Rape victims require very specific types of support at individual, community and societal level.  A culture which accepts and permits rape by making women’s safety their own responsibility is a culture which also needs to be directly challenged and unfortunately too much media coverage of recent attacks has had this tone. 

We need to challenge those elements of our society’s culture which have led to the acceptance that rape is something that ‘just happens’.  We urge the local media to help us keep this issue alive by discussing it properly and also to join us at 1pm on Saturday 25th February.

We believe we need to question why such attacks are taking place, and acknowledge that we only hear about a very small percentage of acts of sexual violence, including rape.  

Local papers carry on a near daily basis column inches informing readers of sexual and violent attacks against women, but they rarely deal with the large amount of prejudice, inequality, suffering, lack of facilities, and emotional scarring sustained by women who are victims of such attacks. 

We are uniting as women across the city and wider north west to openly challenge our own society on the issue of rape, and to highlight that rape is not just a woman’s issue.  Rape is used in conflicts as a weapon of war precisely because it effectively undermines whole cultures and societies – we must be prepared to challenge it within our own communities if we want to be a truly stable and nurturing society. 

Saturday’s action is part of a longer term grassroots conversation in the north west to challenge the existing culture around rape and to ensure that rape victims ultimately get the supports they need, when and where they need them.  

  • This initiative is supported by Women Activists for Social Justice, Youth Action, and a wide range of feminist activists from diverse political backgrounds.  We unite in our belief that these acts of aggression are a reflection of a society built overall upon a culture of sexism. Gender stereotypes in society pressure us to live according to social values based on power and submission. Men are encouraged to maintain an attitude of supremacy and control whereas women are taught to be helpful and compliant. Boys are still encouraged into careers and trades that are traditionally male like plumbing, engineering etc while girls are still encouraged into the ‘caring’ professions like nursing, social work etc or services like catering or hairdressing.
  • The advent of the internet and wide access to online pornography has led to the chronic pornification of society. This sees women's bodies being seen as commodities to be bought and sold and it is obvious how sexually objectified images of women are impacting upon sexist attitudes and justifications for sexual violence.  This also sees sexual expectations of women, and young women in particular, which are utterly divorced from the notion of the individual’s right to control of their own bodies.   Consumerist ads, video games, reality shows, etc, in which we are all absorbed daily frequently tolerate and accept as normal, sexual violence and women as sexual objects.
  • These stereotyped roles also reinforce and aggravate the already existent inequality between men and women in society, often leading to unequal relationships especially amongst young people.
  • We also believe that this misogynistic culture is reflected within the legal system. Rape within a relationship has only been declared a crime within the last three decades, up until then women in front of the courts were seen as a private property of a man and therefore sexual consensus was not needed. Nowadays, too many times the few women who find the strength to report and prosecute their attackers face further distress when a judge upholds arguments such as provocative clothing, background of previous relationships, and alcohol intake as determinant factors which led to the rape, a ‘she was looking for it’ sentence, blaming her for her becoming a victim and denying women a right to their own bodies. We need to address the issue of re-traumatisation of victims in relation to criminal justice processes.
  • We must break the silence. We must talk about sexual violence not only as women’s issue but as a malign social growth, which needs to be tackled at the roots - the same as sectarianism, racism, and homophobia, for they all are consequences of a society based on social injustice.
  Saturday 25th February 2012 @ 1pm, Guildhall Square, Derry