Trigger warning for the discussion of rape and sexual violence
Violence is intricately woven into our histories and our cultures. Violence against women has been used as an excuse during times of war, as justification for their supposed infractions, as a tool to keep them “in check,” and as justification for the male vs female dichotomy, where invariably men are right and their wants come first.
For as long as can be remembered, women have always been treated like second-class citizens, they have been objectified; valued only for their looks and little else, they have been placed in tiny boxes under the umbrella of the domestics. And so they fought against that; they fought to be seen as equals, to be educated and to enter the work force. Over the years, whether or not the change was due to acceptance or not, there has been a metamorphosis of the roles women play. But even with that, the constant assassination of their bodies and spirits has continued. Women are part of a world that not only accepts this behavior, but a world that constantly practices rape justification.
Women are portrayed as asking for it, as being coy and shy but secretly wishing they would be ravaged. The media repeatedly bombards us with images of girls who are sexually victimized, then blamed and bullied into silence.
We find that women are hunted, taunted, coerced, forced, threatened, bullied, murdered, and we fail to see the problem with this. We fail to acknowledge how sexual violence affects women, children and every one of us. Women are blamed for all acts of violence perpetrated against them. Our cultures willingly accept what was done as a mere trivial act that is being blown out of proportion by the woman who is seeking revenge. It appears that standing with the offender, supporting his actions and decisions to violate another human being is where the common thought lies. It is puzzling as to how we can excuse a man who forces himself on a woman or child yet when a woman retaliates after being pushed beyond her limit, we form a mob to burn her at the stake.
We find it easier to chastise her for her clothing options, for her alcohol or drug intake, for her decision to go on a date, for her mode of transport, for her decision to begin a sexual act. Basically, she is judged on her decision to live her life. Yet we never question a man who thinks that a woman’s clothing attire, level of inebriation, dating life, decision to walk home, or decision to stop a sexual act after it has began, is an excuse to forcibly take what he wants or thinks he is entitled to. It seems that no matter what the circumstance, the woman should have or could have done something to prevent herself from being victimized. The sad truth is there is nothing that any of us can do that will exempt us from becoming a victim. The decision to violate isn’t one the victim is part of; she is unaware of what is about to happen.
Sexual violence doesn’t evoke the consistent and passionate actions it should. We have become desensitized to the stories that survivors share; at times find them to be boring. We keep searching for the more shocking and gory survivor stories. And even those don’t prompt immediate and consistent action. We view sexual violence as something that happens, but not to us or to those we know. And when those carefully constructed walls are shattered we decide to cope by ignoring or silencing the survivor.
Excuses and denial are our coping and defense mechanism where sexual violence is concerned. Sexual violence has become this thing that happens that one should get over as a survivor or try their damnedest not to fall victim to. We have justified incidents of rape by blaming the victim; if I don’t do what she did I will be safe. If that were only true….
While incidents of sexual violence are being given more airtime so are the incidents of female objectification and slut shaming. If we pay attention there are the blatant acts of rape culture that are woven into our everyday lives: the rape myths that we broadcast and teach our children, the interrogation and guilty verdict that is handed down to a survivor seeking justice, the constant insults on a woman’s decision to date freely and embrace her sexuality, the media’s use of women as objects of lust, making them appear as nothing more than an object to be consumed, discarded and replaced. Our everyday language disrespects and condones the violence and mistreatment of women. The world we live in perpetuates violence against women. It makes it hard for a woman to feel free to come forward after being victimized and find a supportive ear. Too often her first responder re-victimizes her, closing her off to seeking help in the future.
We will continue to write and speak about this until more is done to change the way women are treated and sexual violence is addressed. We will continue to educate and raise awareness because bit by bit we will break through, bit by bit sexual violence will be given the time and attention it needs and survivors will be given the support and validation they deserve. I will remind you that survivors of sexual violence are stronger than you will ever know; they have been through a horrible ordeal, they will fight to become whole again, they will fight to be heard but they are fighters, they are survivors and they are an inspiration to us all.
Written by Souyenne Dathorne