She Speaks We Hear

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The Brett Kavanaugh case shows why women must be believed and not blamed

Today (27 September 2018), around the world, women will be calling for action in support of survivors like Dr Christine Blasey Ford, who have been silenced. Women’s March movements across the globe will hold a minutes silence in solidarity with Dr Ford, wear black and white, and write “I BELIEVE” on their hands to highlight the routine silencing of female victim survivors of sexual violence.

Dr Ford’s allegations against Brett Kavanaugh have garnered global attention with President Trump himself tweeting about the allegations. As to be expected, Trump’s controversial intervention was at best biased towards Kavanaugh, whom he tweeted was a “fine man” however in reality it constituted the worst form of victim blaming, casting doubt over Dr Ford’s allegations. Trump went onto write further tweets stating that “if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says,” charges would have been filed. In a later tweet, Trump said, “Why didn’t someone call the FBI 36 years ago?”

With these tweets Trump did not only attack Dr Ford, he also cast doubt on the credibility of the thousands of women who report historical sexual violence and abuse, each year.

There are many varied and complex reasons why a victim survivor may not report the sexual harassment, violence, abuse or rape that they suffered, till years or decades later. At the heart of these reasons are twofold central themes, the first being that women are often too traumatised from their experiences and are in a process (if they’re fortunate enough to receive help and support) of dealing with the aftermath on a continuous journey of recovery. Women who have been sexually assaulted report suffering from PTSD, suicidal ideation, severe mental health illnesses such as clinical depression or bipolar disorder, weight loss or gain, and in some cases it severely impacts on their life expectancy. The aftermath also includes the incredibly challenging impact the sexual violence will have on the relationships of the women with those around them such as partners, parents and families. A revelation of historic sexual abuse or rape, can destroy families.

The other central reason is fear of being disbelieved and vilified. The appalling victim blaming, reaction to the allegations against Kavanaugh, whereby the lives of his accusers have been scrutinised, shamed and the women themselves smeared, has shown exactly why women are reluctant to come forward and report their perpetrators of sexual assault. Dr Ford has said that since going public with her testimony, she has received death threats, her email has been hacked and she was told to leave her home.

Harassment and targeting of women and girls who speak up about their experiences of sexual assault is very common. A member of the She Speaks We Hear team who wrote about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child by someone close to her family, has recently been subjected to a targeted campaign of harassment. Messages on social media platforms have circulated questioning her narrative, shaming her and her mother, as well blaming them for the abuse she endured.

Under no circumstances is it ok for a woman to be targeted in this way. It is an attempt to silence her. Shut her down and stop her from speaking up and standing up to the person who abused her. More often than not this form of silencing is conducted by people close to the perpetrators or in high profile cases by their supporters. Often women will withdraw their complaints against perpetrators, as a result of the harassment which, let’s be clear on this, is another form of violence they have had to endure.

Women I have worked with very rarely report their experiences to authorities or even to their families, they stay silence because ultimately speaking up can be just as traumatic as experiencing the sexual violence in the first instance. There are cases of young girls and women who have taken their own lives after disclosing sexual abuse or assault, as a result of being disbelieved.

We live in a society in which women are less likely to be believed, rape prosecutions and then convictions are disproportionately low compared to the number of women reporting rape. Myths about the number of fake reports of sexual violence are regularly circulated to perpetuate a culture of rape denial, when in reality statistics show these are very few and far between.

Questioning victim survivors narratives, poking holes in their stories, pointing out inconsistencies, and labelling them as women who desire attention or having some ulterior political agenda, is potentially fatal.

Victim blaming is still very much the default position when a woman reports sexual assault or historic abuse. That is why women across the globe today are coming together to say “I BELIEVE” and stand in solidarity with the hundreds and thousands of women and girls that suffer sexual violence year on year.

To all women victim survivors, I believe you, stand by you and will not tolerate those who wish to silence you. To those who perpetuate a culture of rape denial and victim blaming, your targeting and harassment will not be tolerated, you will be called out on it.

By Akeela Ahmed MBE

Akeela Ahmed has been an equalities activist and campaigner for nearly nearly 20 years. On Muslim Women’s Day, she was listed in Nylon magazine as an activist that is ‘making a difference’. In 2014 she founded ‘She Speaks We Hear’ which gives unfiltered women’s voice a platform. Akeela advises and works with government in tackling anti-Muslim hatred, sitting on the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group. She is also a social entrepreneur within the social housing sector. Akeela is co-organiser of the Women’s March on London and in January 2017, she spoke to over one hundred thousand people at the Women’s March on London. For her work with WML she was listed as one of Stylist’s Women of the Year 2017.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Where do we stand with Rape on Our Screens?

by Sabrina Mahmood

(Trigger warning: this article contains references to rape, which may be distressing for some)

 

Have you ever seen ‘The Last House on The Left’? It’s classified as a horror film, and being a well-known name in the horror world, I decided to watch it. When I read the info on the back of my dvd case, it mentioned something about an isolated house and a family, so I assumed it would fit the bill of many similar films where people go to an isolated house and get haunted or killed by the strange locals.

The_Last_House_On_The_Left_Promotional_Poster
Theatrical release poster

The film started off like any other, but halfway through there was an unimaginably traumatic rape scene. It was completely unexpected, and although the film is rated 18, I did not ever imagine witnessing such horror. The scene continues for over 3 minutes, showing in gruesome detail a minor watching his father rape another minor with the help of his girlfriend.

That sounds horrific doesn’t it? It was. Absolutely and brain numbingly horrific. I thought about why anyone would want a visualisation or to depict an image like this in such detail. Was it to get viewings and ratings? Was it to make the film more credible, more ‘extreme’ than any other horror film. Horror as a category is not always about ghosts, but in the main there is supernatural influence or senseless killing by deranged humans. Even if there is a rape scene it is insinuated or referred to verbally but I had never seen anything like this. It left me with so many questions.

Is this what we accept in society? That to make something more exciting or watchable or to have higher ratings, we incorporate graphic rape scenes and sexual violence. It’s massively important to talk about these issues in our society, and to make sure that our children know about rape, but in an appropriate fashion. By showing it in such detail, do the moviemakers desensitise us to it? So that the next time we watch a tv show or film that shows a rape scene, do we say ‘it was just a rape scene’. Because it’s not ‘just’ anything.

Rape ruins lives and I guess it’s the same argument that parents use when they don’t want their children to watch violence on tv, because unknowingly they start to mimic it. I’m not saying that we will all become rapists by watching rape scenes, but merely that when societies’ impressionable and often vulnerable people see these acts of sexual violence as an ‘exciting aspect’ of a film or tv show, will it make them look for similar ‘exciting’ experiences in real life?

Does the graphic depictions of rape on our screens stem from a wider rape culture that exists in society? If we look out our music charts as an example, the song ‘Blurred Lines’ in 2014 peaked at number one in 14 different countries. The uncut (explicit) version of the video features fully nude women and the censored version has ‘censored nudity’. When did it become okay to show a naked women on any other platform but porn? And even then it was acknowledged that this was reducing women to mere sexual objects! The song’s key theme is pushing boundaries with women and there is an undertone of coercion.

Robin Thicke, TI and Pharrell performed 'Blurred Lines'. Image credit: http://thompsonhall.com/copyright-lawsuit-blurred-lines/

Robin Thicke, TI and Pharrell performed ‘Blurred Lines’. Image credit: http://thompsonhall.com/copyright-lawsuit-blurred-lines/

 

Robin Thicke sings;

‘What do they make dreams for

When you got them jeans on’

 

He insinuates that the womens’ choice of jeans are merely as a tool to be provocative in seducing men. The lyrics and video itself completely objectify women, making them sound as though they are purposefully seductive for men to ‘blur lines’ with. Yes it’s catchy, but when you consider the real message of the song, it becomes sinister. That song stayed in the top of the charts for months, and it’s not just in music, even on our TVs and basic advertising that we are exposed to on a daily basis. We’re constantly shown images of women which turns them into objects and this contributes to the the way in which women and girls are viewed less equally to men, in wider society. Isn’t it time that we took back our bodies?

Below is a short spoken word poetry piece, that I wrote which considers the embodiment of rape culture and how widespread and normalised it is in todays’ society.

Isn’t it okay to be real?

Isn’t it time we stopped
pretending that it’s okay
to judge a woman on her beauty
and not the strength of what she says
only cup size that matters
her intellect dismissed
if she wants to succeed
seal the deal with a kiss
it’s a time old concept
take a woman as a book
before you’re quick to judge
at least give it a proper look
read between the lines
get to know the real story
before you assume
that the cover is its glory
every single place we go
models and adverts
selling woman after woman
in an industry of perverts
because they say that sex sells
but don’t they have daughters
born from a womb
it’s the mother that taught us
shatter the ceilings
and don’t ever stop trying
when your told that you can’t
show them strength without crying
but most important thing of all
never take off your clothes
selling your dignity
while they show no remorse
because every woman is honour
but they want to create ‘whores’
feed into pornographic ideals
making us forget what’s real
just imagine
one of the most successful females
emerged from a sex tape
and while hers was a choice
so many come from rape
as a society we accept
that it’s a claim to fame
but shouldn’t we be showing our women
that they don’t have to perform acts
of submission and shame
isn’t it about time
we drop the patriarchy
show everybody that education
is the only real hierarchy
and that your looks or your hair
it doesn’t matter what’s there
or not
or whose hot
I mean who are we to decide
when we don’t even know what’s inside
it’s about time
we create a new ideal
I mean
Isn’t it okay to be real?

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

Image credits: Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines image taken from http://thompsonhall.com/copyright-lawsuit-blurred-lines/  and ‘The Last House on the Left’ image taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_House_on_the_Left_(2009_film)