Monday, February 21, 2011

A few small voices

I used to operate on the assumption that rape is a fairly uncommon occurrence, particularly in the western culture in which I live. Rape is something that happens to other, faceless women. It happens late at night, in dark alleys in the dangerous parts of town, to girls who walk around alone wearing mini-skirts. This is the message my culture taught me. This is the message that girls, as far as I know are still being taught. Rape happens to other people, and it'll only happen to you if you're stupid.

Then I started my degree, and maybe more importantly Gary started his. Gary and I talk about our studies, it seems strange at first, I took psychology and he's doing a degree in Environmental Studies, but there is a large amount overlap. Particularly when Gary covers aspects of human environment. Issues such as displacement, as how resources are used, how communities can be encouraged to act in more sustainable ways. So, what's all this got to do with rape?

Firstly, I remember covering victim blame within my forensic modules, and then becoming interested in sexual violence. I remember reading the statistics on the prevalence of rape in the UK and wanting to be sick. Estimates using the number of rapes reported, and then the percentage of rapes that NEVER get reported, put the figure around 200,000 per year (that's not a typo). The majority of these are acquaintance rapes. The truth is you are more likely to be raped by someone you know. The dark alley, short skirt late at night story is a what is called a "rape myth", and in truth puts quite a lot of blame on the victim.

As a woman and a feminist I got worked up by this new knowledge, and as is often the case I talked to Gary. He smiled, nodded and said "you have no idea". He was right, I didn't. Gary introduced me to the plight of women in African nations, to those living in refugee camps and in war torn countries around the world. And I went from feeling angry, to passionately furious, to feeling powerless.

The BBC last week ran a programme, The worlds most Dangerous place to be a woman. (Do not watch this if you are feint of heart). This programme simultaneously made me cry and feel sick. But unfortunately it's something that I'm becoming all too familiar with. A few months ago I read about the problems in the camps in Haiti. I think for me the worst part of both of these stories is the reaction of the communities and the authorities. The women become stigmatised, ostracised, they have no where to turn. They are raped, brutalised and then thrown away, not just by their attackers but by their own families.

I did, however, still harbour the belief that in the west. In countries like the UK and the US women did not at least suffer this additional abuse. In these countries, women who were raped are treated with sympathy and respect. Then Lara Logan was attacked in Egypt, and well.............................................we are no better.

So this is me, speaking out. Doing the one small thing that I can do, right now. It might not be much, but at if I at least open one other persons eyes. If at least one other person is motivated to do something, to say something. Then at least I played a part.

Rape happens all too frequently. It happens to our friends, our mothers, our sisters. It happens in our back-yard. It happens in other places too, and we should care. We should be angry. We should scream and shout until someone, anyone takes notice. Rape is not an issue for other women, it is an issue for ALL women, the world over. Alone we are small voices, but maybe together, we could be loud enough to be heard.

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