Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Rape and Alcohol

Over the last few weeks, I've been fortunate enough to speak to several fantastic bloggers and journalists, who have been writing about victim blaming and violence. Most of this has been related to a the posters at occupational health (which have now been taken down), though I was asked to comment on a different issue today.

Judge Mowat, who is thankfully retiring, publicly stated that rape convictions will not fall until women stop getting drunk. She effectively told women that if they are drinking, their cases will be dismissed and they might as well not prosecute.This attitude is worrying, coming from anyone. But when it comes from someone as highly regarded, it is dangerous. 

The statement I gave to the journalist is as follows:

"These statements, by a respected and trusted figure, are extremely worrying. Rape is the result of the perpetrators actions, and it is these that need to be examined, not the victim's. The archaic attitudes and stereotypes, combined with the taboo of sexual violence, mean that many women feel unable to seek the justice that they deserve or the support that they need. Rape happens to women of all ages, from all backgrounds, of all appearances and in all communities, and outdated, blinkered views of an 'acceptable victim'  need to be challenged."

There's far more that I could have said "officially", but people better qualified than me had already covered these issues, including Rape Crisis England and Wales, and Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre. 

Yet again, it shows how desperately we need to open a dialogue on the concept of consent. If respected judges and juries are telling women that women are at fault if they are so drunk they can't remember, and talk of whether they consented or not, it really brings into question their own knowledge of the law. After all, the perpetrator must reasonably believe that the woman had consented, and if the woman cannot remember because she had been so inebriated (which was claimed by Judge Mowat), then she evidently lacked capacity to consent.

Comments on the Mail Online's article include such gems as:

"Being so drunk you can't remember names makes you vulnerable, that's not blaming it's stating a fact", "Blame the ladette culture"
"Obviously people who are out drinking are easy targets"
"Women have to learn their limits"
"You wouldn't leave your front door open when you go on holiday"
"Women should fight like fury if they ever find themselves in such a situation"
"It wasn't your fault - well, it is if you get too drunk!"
"Men will learn not to rape when we all get into paradise."

But what do you expect from the average Daily Mail reader, eh?

Thing is, these comments show several of the key problems with the general public's perception of rape. Time and time again, people were writing about being out, being alone and vulnerable... but only one third of reported cases involve alcohol, not the vast majority as seems to be implied. And most callers to rape crisis helplines knew their attacker. That's not to negate the impact on those who are raped by strangers, but statistically speaking, the image put forward by these readers is the tiny minority.

As for fighting like fury and talking about injury and DNA samples as evidence, it again shows a lack of understanding. It is not as simple as fighting. There is fight or flight, but there is a third reflex as well - freeze. Both times that I was raped, I became incredibly still and passive. Maybe it was self-preservation, trying to stop any further physical harm, but it certainly didn't mean I consented in any way.

If women were to be responsible for reducing the risk to themselves and do this effectively, the actual list of advice would be rather different. It would include such gems as don't date, don't marry, don't make any friends (particularly male ones). Don't smile at anyone, don't leave your house, and live as a hermit in complete isolation.

Basically, it's completely and utterly impossible to protect oneself from rape, because it is the perpetrator's decision and fault. The victim cannot be expected to change her actions, her clothing or anything else, especially when that doesn't actually have any correlation to the incident (but even if it did...!)

People have preconceived ideas as to what a rape victim is. They don't see the reality of the situation, to the extent that I received a good and proper trolling on Twitter a few weeks ago, where I was told that no-one would ever want to rape a "land-whale" like me. Yet again, rape is reduced to a sexual act, rather than one of control and power.

What seems to be positive is that the dialogue is starting. Even publications like the Daily Mail, which have a historically poor reputation with regards to women's rights issues, are reporting positively about victim-blaming. Maybe the readers are still reluctant, but change takes time.

If you are interested in reading the Daily Mail article, it can be found here.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

New Uniform

Whenever something changes, there is always resistance. Watching the launch of the new Guide uniform has been fascinating, as it has been one of the first major changes in recent times where I have been on the outside looking in. I mean, I'm still a member, just not leading. So I don't have that same "on the ground" experience anymore.

It all kicked off last night when leaders were warned of today's press release. This is just how it should be. If we expect leaders to be professional and prepared, they need to be informed so that they can deal with queries. I remember a time when this was not the case and I was getting asked questions by parents and the public but had no idea what was happening! The fact that Girlguiding have taken this step forward is brilliant - I just wish that some of my sister Guides would honour the confidentiality!

Within an hour, over 500 complaints had been made regarding the new uniform. This is nothing unexpected. Whenever there is change in Guiding, there is contention. Actually, that's not unique to Guiding. Human beings crave stability. Even those who have wanderlust or enjoy new experiences have a secure base to work from. 

What did surprise me was my own reaction to the new uniform. Because I really, really didn't like it. At first. Then I took a second glance and thought, "what if it was that t-shirt with jeans?" Ok, that is sort of passable. I can't see any kids I know particularly liking it, but it wasn't too awful. And, in reality, girls will put their own spin on it. They won't trot into a meeting trussed up like the Guiding Essentials catalogue. Well, maybe for the first term.

Then I realised that all the detractors, including myself, had forgotten something in this. Ok, the kids we have spoken to might hate it at the moment. But it has novelty value. "I'd be the first to wear new uniform," a friend's daughter commented. That is a powerful force. It is new, it is different and certain aspects of it are on trend. It kind of looks like a Commonwealth Games outfit.

So... We'll have no problems getting this first generation into the uniform. But what about next year, when the novelty of the design has worn off? Realistically, 2015 will be the hardest year for this uniform. Novelty will have worn off, the blocky colours may have gone out of fashion and there is still the option of the old uniform. But if their friends in the year above have the new stuff, that might swing it.

Why does it get easier after that? Two reasons. Firstly, it will be the only option from 2016 onwards. Secondly, at least half the unit will be in the new uniform, so they will be the odd ones out by not wearing it. I say at least half, because the 2014 and 2015 intake will be wearing it, plus any older girls who have outgrown their previous stuff. But in addition to that, most of the girls won't know any different. That's the uniform, that's just what you wear to Guides.

A lot of the complaints are just resistance to change and projecting our own views onto the girls. The rest are because it is a genuinely confusing mix of clothing (which doesn't even match the new colour scheme of the Guide blanket!). For most of the girls, a t-shirt won't put them off at age 10. And as long as the core values and a healthy, balanced and girl-led programme is there, it probably won't drive off any more than usual at age 13.