Tuesday, 27 January 2015

When It’s Not Always Clear That It Was Rape

Before you lynch me and burn me at the stake, let me explain first, please.
Let’s make something clear: I don’t want to argue about definition of rape or perform victim blaming or excuse perpetrators. It’s not about claiming that “well, if she kissed him than she really wanted to have sex with him” or “she shouldn’t have wear that” or “she brought it on herself” bunch of crap. I really applaud the modern day definitions of rape and sexual violence and the more inclusive of some sexual acts (not necessarily penile – vaginal), the better.
If it includes rape on men, than it’s really great. I’m all for clear definition and swift and punitive actions when the rape gets reported. I would really love to see more prosecution for the rapes when victims speaks up and more of society’s support when rape survivors are at their lowest.
I really dream of a day when I wake up and see in the news that some rape victim reported a crime and EVERYBODY is like: “what a brave woman” or “I really feel for her” or simple “I believe her”.
But if we look at the statistics, it’s hard not to be pessimistic. What, around 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men experienced sexualviolence in their life? The numbers vary from country to country, depending on definition of rape and who asks the question. But one thing is usually clear: false reports are scarce and yet few percentage of rapists get prosecuted. And that EVERY rape statistics is an underestimation of the total number of rapes. Because majority of sexual violence goes unreported.
Humanity is slowly learning about dynamics of violent and abusive relationships, the circle of fear and violence. That sometimes it’s more dangerous to leave abusive partner than to stay and try to endure. That there is so many ways that an abusive partner can tie the victim to himself – by economic means, fear, children, desperation, addiction, etc.
Also in terms of prosecuting of rape we came a loooong way. It’s acknowledged that rape can be committed by a partner, on a date, by a stranger or a member of a family. It doesn’t necessarily involve the use of force, because as it’s known, one of the fear response is to freeze. Simple “no” is enough as a proof that sex is unwanted or, as California went a step forward, a “yes” is required for sex to be considered consensual.
And again, I’m cheering and I am happy with every improvement on this ground, every small step towards seeing rape as it is – a grave violation of somebody’s integrity; and every step back from victim blaming and slut shaming is an incredible achievement.
And that brings us to the key point: some victims do not speak up. They do not report their victimisation. Heck, they don’t even mention it to their friends or families.
Sometimes it takes time to report rape. Sometimes victim needs to handle her own emotional issues connected to trauma, before she exposes herself to another danger. Mostly, the biggest deterrent is that “nobody will believe me” or “everyone will blame me”. Which is actually a real threat, considering that rape victims are treated awfully in criminal proceedings.
However, the point I’m trying to make (but haven’t even started yet) is that we have a problem with narrative that we create around rape. There is this damaging tendency to view sex and sexual violence (and therefore rape) as an extreme, as either black or white: either it did happen and therefore it is the crime that have to be reported and prosecuted; or it didn’t happen and victim is simply lying.
When we speak about rape, we highlight it’s disconnection from sexual pleasure and it’s actual roots in power and will to dominate. Many feminists portray it as a crime that requires harsh punishment. Some of us try really really hard to persuade the misogynist world that victim is never to blame (hail to that). And I believe that if the victim reports this crime, all of this facts are really important. And if we can get the work done soon, that would be just great.
So come on, let’s get to work.


What if the victim does NOT want to report the crime?
That’s when narrative radically changes. If rape is a crime and therefore rapist is a criminal, why wouldn’t anyone want to report rape? Unless he is threatening her or controlling her. Well, that’s an excuse. But if he isn’t? What if there is nothing standing in a way of reporting a crime except victims willingness to do so?
The extreme narrative somehow vilified the perpetrators of rape to the point that if someone we know (and like) is accused of committing rape, we automatically turn against victim and towards victim blaming, because it’s impossible that such a great guy can do such a bad thing.
So here is a brain-picker: what if some men who commit rape are actually a good guys who just did a bad thing? What if some men who commit rape actually love the women they raped?
And one more thing: What if victim did not report a rape, because she doesn’t want him to get into trouble? Because, well, she actually loves him?
If the victim has a feelings towards the perpetrator or is a relationship with him, there might be another thing happening: she will not admit to herself that it was rape. Because if rape is so bad and we are together and he loves me, than he couldn’t have raped me, could he?
And somehow we all aren’t allowing for this narrative to happen. We hardly see stories when rape happened in the scenario of consensual relationship. Because rape is bad and need to be reported or if the victim doesn’t report it, then it didn’t happen. And that’s it.
What we don’t realise is that through this extreme narrative, not only we prevent victims from speaking up and getting support, but automatically we are committing another violence on them: determining what happened to them based on their actions. We are deciding what it is that they should do, regardless of what they would like to do.
By this extreme narrative, we are stripping victim of choice, because in order to be considered raped, she needs to report it and name the rapist. By this extreme narrative, we are silencing their mixed emotions of having some warm feelings towards rapist and at the same time feeling totally betrayed and violated.
Now the big what if: What if we start to concentrate on what victim wants and needs instead of categorising her response to the act as an indicator of crime occurring? What if we suddenly decide that the well-being of the victim is an upmost priority and therefore whatever she is comfortable with, we just accept it? And if she said that she was raped and doesn’t want to report it, then we will offer her simple: “I believe you. Is there anything I can do for you?”.
There is an actual story behind the point I’m making. I have a personal story to share.
My boyfriend, whom I love dearly and we are together couple of years now, did rape me and did sexually harass me at some point in our relationship. I never told anybody, because a) I refused to call it sexual violence; b) the acts where in such a grey area that by many it would be deemed nothing; c) if someone would believe me, I was shielding myself from listening to insults towards him. Because by the end of the day, he is still my boyfriend and I love him.
Two of the situations happened when we were both drunk. In a fervour of emotions and alcohol, he decided that he would love to pleasure me. And he continued to do so, regardless of the fact that I really didn’t want him to. He hold me down, until I really struggled myself out of his embrace. His response both time was that he would never hurt me and he only wanted to please me. So you see, not really the terrible rape/sexual violence nightmare scenario.
The third situation happened when we had sex after amazing foreplay, in my favourite position, in a way that I always liked it. But this time I wasn’t liking it. I was hurting and asked him to be more gentle and slow down, but he didn’t stop until he was finished. So again, very ambivalent situation and not really a great prosecution material.  
There was no bruises, there was no violence, there was no screams or threats. It just sort of happened that way.
Regardless of their triviality, those events did leave a mark. I still sometimes cry at the memory of those events. It paralyses me, when I smell alcohol from him, even if I know that he just had two sips of beer. Once he came back home drunk and all he could manage was crawl into bed and fall asleep. But I still lost it. I couldn’t sleep entire night, I was crying half terrified, half furious that he could be in such a state when I’m most afraid of him. 
Sometimes, when I have too much to drink I’m flushed with negative feelings towards him and all I want is to hurt him, as if somehow it would alleviate the pain I’m feeling.
So why I stayed with him? Well, because I love him. And since that time he changed a lot. It took me loads of time and effort, to explain to him why the things that he did were bad and how did it make me feel. He worked long time for his understanding that sometimes I will just have a flashback and get from “I’m horny, just f*** me” to “don’t touch me and get away from me” in a second, but he allows me for some space and comforts me when it happens. He is more perceptive towards my responses during sex, and flinches at every sign of discomfort. Sometimes it’s a downer on a passion part, but at least I feel safe with him that now he won’t do anything to hurt me.
I am the total contradiction to the prevalent rape narrative. I was sexually violated by my boyfriend and no, I didn’t report a crime and yes, it was still a sexual violence. Yes, he is a good person and yes, he still committed the act.
But even if the rape survivor is a person like me, with feelings towards rapist and absolute unwillingness to call it rape and report it as a crime, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t leave a mark. It doesn’t mean that the victim is not having flashbacks, trauma, nightmares or avoids situations that serves as a reminder of that time.
Sexual violence, ANY act of sexual violence, be it rape, harassment or some minor acts like street harassment always affect victims one way or another. Most of the times there will be no tears, no screaming, no shock and no severe mental illnesses and traumas. But there will be this sinking feeling that something has been stolen from you, something that impacts on your sense of security, ability to trust and willingness to “be normal”.
And I think it’s another step that we need to take – be more understanding towards victims. Be better listeners. Be more perceptive of how the situation did affect the person. Be more understanding that it takes time to deal with the situation. And most importantly, we need to stop measuring situation by our own perception of how the rape victim should act like and what she/he should do and just simply accept that rape is one of this crimes that it’s never black and white, but it’s in every shade in the colour pallet. That the dynamics of relationship that the victim is in, her state of mind, age, social background and familial ties all impact on the sexual violence scenario, on the ability to handle the situation and on the victim’s behaviour after the act.
And that sometimes for the victims it is not always clear that it was rape.
Written by Khutulun
P.S. If you experienced sexual violence and you don't know how you feel and what to do with this feelings, have a look at Nina Burrowes book. It's amazing. It helps.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Please, Don’t Use #JeNeSuisPasCharlie. Not Now.

Few days ago a satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo has been attacked by two gunmen and one driver, who killed 12 people and then took hostages in another place until they were eventually killed.

Many people went to the streets showing their support for dead journalists. A hashtags #CharlieHebdo and #JeSuisCharlie were created and used vastly among social media.

As it could be suspected, there was an opposition to this sentiment. Shortly, #JeNeSuisPasCharlie has been created and vast amount of posts and articles has been posted, criticizing Charlie Hebdo for being racist. So basically, people said that “they are not Charlie”, because they didn’t like their satire.
Freedom of speech and all, but people, your opinion isn’t always the most important to share.
Okay, it came out wrong.
What I’m intended to write, there is a big difference between disagreeing with somebody and going of the flow of the tragedy to make yourself visible. And it seems to me that most who use #JeNeSuisPasCharlie immediately after the attack is just that.
You don’t have to agree with Charlie Hebdo satire. You might think that they are racist. But nobody deserved being gunned down like that. And definitely not because of their work, regardless of how tasteless it was.
They deserved to be criticized. They deserved to have their office trolled by covering it entirely with anti-racists posters. They deserved to be blocked with rallies and protests. They deserved to be called every name in the book that comes to your mind of what kind of racist-xenophobic assholes they were. Anything, but not the fate they met.

There is a very interesting article from The Telegraph “We think the Paris terrorists were offended by Charlie Hebdo's satire. What if we're wrong?”. It’s not revelation, but a small brain-picker:

“Terrorists aren't offended by cartoons. Not even cartoons that satirise prophet Muhammad. They don't care about satire. For all I know they may not even care about the Prophet Muhammad… Instead, they merely pretend to be offended by cartoons, in order to give themselves a pretext to commit murder.”
Showing support, and maybe sharing few drawing that other cartoonist did, isn’t necessary saying “oh my God, they were so amazing”, but it’s simple “it’s a tragedy. I’m so terrified that it happened”. And by showing support or refraining from criticizing the victims, it’s simultaneously an act of condemnation for perpetration. Because criticizing victims for their work that is believed to inspire killers to commit mass murder feels like very ill-conceived case of victim blaming.
Because regardless of their work, it is a tragedy. It is terrifying and it is disgusting.
I’ve read few articles before writing this post and all of them could’ve wait. Some criticized them for racist; some were the quotations of resentful politicians who are not #CharlieHebdo, because “they offended us, so we don’t like them”; some used the attack on Charlie Hebdo to bring attention to other journalist who are killed.
Like I said, you don’t have to agree with them, you don’t have to go and show your support, you might think that some journalists death are neglected and don’t receive proper attention, but I don’t what your parents taught you, but I was raised up that you just don’t criticize the person who just died. Maybe it’s just pointless social norm for you, but in my opinion is a courtesy everybody deserves.
And yes, freedom of speech allows everybody to speak their mind. But there is always time and place for that. And writing the long articles about how you are not #CharlieHebdo, when their bodies aren’t cold yet, is plainly insensitive.
Where I stand it looks like all of this articles are about using this tragedy to make themselves stand out in the crowd and be more easily search in Google engine. Without this tragedy your opinion about Charlie Hebdo could never be heard. I get that, we are all writing blogs and articles and want to increase traffic in our websites. But people, you could’ve contain your flowing mind and fight against racism at least for a week. Until the pain for some is no longer fresh. Until the shock passed. Simply out of respect for people who were killed.
I was going to write some things about how criticizing religion, even if it’s the faith of the minority, is not racist and hate crime, but I’ll refrain from that. I will take my own advice and just don’t make my name stand out and show to the world how witty I am when a tragedy strikes.
So, have your opinion, criticize people, criticize popular media, advocate against racism. Do it anytime you want. But when somebody dies in a terrible circumstances, just hold your tong, please. Try to mourn the death of your opponents and enemies. Because in time of death, everybody deserves the moment of peace.
Because nobody deserves to be blamed for their death at the hands of people who want to violate others sense of security.
Written by Vespertilio

Sunday, 4 January 2015


We are very happy to have Mawada joining our team! She's super busy at the moment, but here a small teaser of what she will be writing about...

Mawada, stage is yours!

I have always had a problem with sexual harassment in Cairo, Egypt. Where a woman could get harassed anywhere anytime in the presence of witnessing public who normally choose to keep silent. Sexual harassment in Cairo happened to me in public transportation, streets, university and unfortunately even once in a mosque. Normally I take action speak out and shout, though shouting never made me feel satisfied or in peace. I have always felt as if I was ripped off.

Public witnesses never intervened to help; on the contrary they intervened to keep me “the victim” silent. I remember once I was on a public bus in Cairo I got harassed, started shouting, looked right into the harasser eyes and scolded him. He kept his eyes shut and pretended to be sleeping. I kept shouting… people looked at me as a source of disturbance & turned their faces away. I even kept asking women not to sit close to the guy because he is a harasser. The only response I got was from a girl who was sitting next to me... She asked me to keep silent because it happens every day & because my complaints annoyed her….

Written by Mawada