Written by Dalya Israel, Manager of Victim Services and Outreach Programs
For National Victims of Crime awareness week this year the theme is “Taking Action”. In the Victim Service program at WAVAW we take action in many different ways daily. Our program is responsible for answering the crisis line, accompanying women to the hospital, accompanying women to police, supporting women at court, supporting women to write victim impact statements, apply to the crime victim assistance program, the list could go on! Our main priorities are to support women to navigate systems and to provide emotional support after they have experienced sexual violence. Other incredibly important pieces of the work we do is prevention education and capacity building for others to be able to respond to sexual assault in their communities. Sexual Assault and Sexual Violence remain a topic that we don’t really like to talk about and many feel they don’t have “the expertise” to talk to their friends or family about. We think it’s incredible important for all of us to be able to take action when it comes to sexual assault and sexual violence and offer love and support to those around us that have been impacted.
The reality is women’s sexuality has been under scrutiny since biblical times. There is very particular scripts about how we are supposed to conduct ourselves sexually, who should have access to us and for what reason, and there are incredibly strong social control narratives about what happens to women if they do not follow this script. We must look back at the history of women’s sexuality from the bible, to slavery, to Freud, to residential schools, to hip-hop, etc. to understand where we are today and to really consider what is coming into our minds and our understandings about sexual assault.
We can become desensitized to trauma and sexual assault that is why thinking this through is incredibly important for those that we will support. Sexual assault is not something that just happens and you get on with life and you forget…it interrupts, it changes our world view, safety has to be redefined, and we carry the shame of the violence that was enacted upon us. The implications can be so significant that women end their lives.
It’s incredibly important that women are not pathologized or labeled as ‘sick’ for experiencing sexual violence. Sexual assault is the most pressing social issue of our time. Certainly we can agree that since 1 in 3 women in Canada will be impacted by sexual violence at some point in their lives, it’s not so much about women. It’s about how our society values women and teaches men about the way they walk in the world and what they deserve to have access to. Now, this is not to say an act of sexual assault will not shift someone’s world view and can/will have a significant impact on a woman’s life. Rather, it’s to say that there is nothing wrong with HER that needs to be fixed. Instead, we believe it is the world that needs fixing and in front of us sits a woman that needs support understanding that the world is not as safe as she once might have thought.
- Sexual Assault is NOT about sex it IS about power and the entitlement to women’s bodies
- Objectification and policing of women’s bodies plays a significant role in creating our “less than human status” and for those that do not fit the gender binary and are gender non-conforming there can be serious repercussions. This is where we see the horrors of “corrective rapes” and other violence
- Sexism fosters a type of masculinity that encourages men to feel entitled to women’s bodies and see them as objects
- If we don’t place sexual assault back in to the social context that we have just mentioned (the broken world we live in) we end up holding survivors responsible for their own sexual assaults. We literally erase those responsible for the act and when we do this, questions like this come out… Well what were you doing going home with him? Why did you let your room mate leave without making sure his friends left with him? Why did you drink so much? Why didn’t you run out into the hallway? Are you sure it wasn’t just rough sex?”
When we buy in to this way of thinking and we don’t check ourselves and how we’ve been socialized, we reinforce and prop up a rape culture.
As friends and family, blood or chosen, we can have a very harmful impact on the women in our lives. A rape culture means a culture that has a set of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. Rape culture allows men to be seen as less morally culpable for these types of transgressions against women…violence is seen as sexy, women experience a continuum of violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself, and are then blamed for these experiences. As a culture we become desensitized to the horrors of rape and sexual violence…this becomes the norm, we’ve accepted it as a fact of life. For women who have yet to experience this type of violence, rape culture socializes us to believe rape will happen to “those” women because they did ‘x’ but will never happen to me.
We have to remind ourselves that these thoughts and beliefs are not innate, they are changeable! So, IF we in fact don’t want to believe that a rape culture is inevitable or has a hold on us, it is imperative that we not obscure or erase who is responsible for acts of sexual assault. The only person responsible is the person that chose to go forward in actions and behaviors without getting clear on – or caring – whether the other person was game for their attention/intimacy/touch/etc.
So as friends and family, blood or chosen, when you are confronted by women in your life that have experienced this violence, please take a breath. Check-in with yourself and ask: what am I buying into right now, what’s the story that I’m telling myself about this woman and how is it going to impact the words that come out of my mouth and the type of support/love/compassion I will offer her. Ask compassionate, thoughtful questions about what she needs, you don’t have to be an investigator, you can just believe her and love her. Making women feel like they belong on this earth after sexualized violence impacts their life is the anti-crazy making project!!!
We can ALL take action and support the women in our lives. We all have a role to play in ending the isolation that sexual violence can cause.