97% of young women in the UK have been sexually assaulted, nearly ALL women. As a women I wasn’t shocked by this statistic and I don’t believe many women in the UK were. Almost every woman you know has been sexually assaulted. How can we live in a world that allows this to happen? Dare I say, facilitate it. As women we are tired. Living scared is something we are used to, something that has become socially accepted, even by us. It seems too big to tackle, particularly when men rule the world.
In the very powerful words of a close friend of mine, It’s not all men, but it IS all women.
I don’t feel qualified to talk on this topic. It’s such an important topic that I want to address in one way or another. I asked my friend Alex, someone much more knowledgeable than me on this topic, to write about this. A message to men and women. Awareness around this deep issue that is affecting us all. I want everyone to read this, I want MEN to read this.
You have a way with words Alex and you know exactly what to say. Please, read and consider this. If you are a woman, hear your stories, talk about them, listen to others and stand up for one another. If you are a man, check yourself, check your friends, step in when something doesn’t seem right and just do better, our lives depend on it.
Below is written by Alex Orr
Content warning: mentions of sexual harassment, assault, violence, rape
In the aftermath of the tragic murder of Sarah Everard and the release of the UN’s investigation finding that 97% of women have experienced sexual harassment, social media was filled with vital conversations about the current climate enabling sexual violence.
Before anything else, we must keep in mind that the majority of conversations are centred around the voices of cisgender white women. Sexual and gender-based violence happens to every single person affected by misogyny. As shared by Jamie Windust (with statistics from GALOPUK), trans and non-binary people are twice as likely to be victims of a crime, with one in five experiencing sexual violence, happening overwhelmingly to femmes and trans women, especially those of colour. 2020 was the deadliest year for Black trans women ever. Their stories and voices are swept to the side-lines and we must do our utmost to prevent this.
There is a culture of shame attached to sexual violence where victims are blamed for their presence in the place of the attack because of it being late or a ‘dodgy area’, what they wore, their behaviour in the past; anything can be weaponised against victims to discredit their stories. Sarah Everard’s case gained traction because she ‘did everything right’. She was covered head to toe in layers of clothing, she was on the phone to her boyfriend, she stayed near well-lit areas with CCTV. A trending hashtag said that ‘we are all Sarah’. This is not true.
Not every victim of sexual violence is a cis white woman. There are trans and non-binary victims whose voices are ignored. There are victims who are people of colour who will not be taken seriously by the justice system and are more at risk of penalisation themselves. There are male victims who will be told they should have enjoyed it. There are fat people told they were lucky it happened. There are victims who are sex workers who will be discredited because they’re ‘always asking for it anyway’.
Since the news of Sarah’s death at the hands of someone who is meant to ‘protect’ us, I have witnessed many friends and strangers online rehashing their traumatic experiences for the benefit of men to learn about it. Again, and again, I saw posts telling men they should care about what was happening because it could happen to their sisters, their mothers, their future daughters, their friends. I was reminded of a quote from Lola Olufemi’s brilliant book Feminism, Interrupted which goes “when women’s lives are only considered in relation to what they can do for others, they are not viewed as worth protecting in their own right.” Why is it that women have to be positioned by their value to men for men to care about their well-being?
In light of the discussions about the ways this culture of sexual violence could be changed, I asked on my Instagram what cis men would do to make people feel safer. From about 225 views, only twelve men interacted. I can’t do maths for shit but even I can see that is a pitiful percentage.
The responses I got were similar: keeping their distances from women or crossing the road when walking alone at night, talking on the phone or in a higher register to lessen the threat, whatever possible to reduce the fear felt at that moment. This is all necessary and will absolutely make a difference to anyone who feels at risk of sexual violence walking alone at night. But this only scratches the surface of the experience of misogyny-affected people. What about the fact that people are far more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone they know than a stranger? What about all the other types of harassment and sexual violence which take place in the daytime on the street, in parks, at bars or clubs, in the workplace, in school, in our own home?
Sexual violence does not happen in an instant. It happens when someone observes over time that they will be able to abuse another person and get away with it. The conditions allowing it to begin with misogynistic jokes, catcalls, feeling someone up in a club. The environment grows every time someone pesters their partner into having sex even though they don’t want to, every time a person is a bit too drunk but someone sleeps with them anyway, every time someone in a place of power like an age difference, size difference, or a job title uses this to get sex. These are known facts to anyone who is affected by misogyny and who has experienced harassment or assault. The only people to whom this information is new are cis men. So let me rephrase.
Rape happens when your mate sees over time that he will be able to enact violence on another person and get away with it – when your mate tells misogynistic jokes, catcalls, or feels someone up in a club and he isn’t called out on it. When your mate pesters his partner into having sex even though they don’t want to, when someone is shitfaced but he shags them anyway, when he’s older or bigger or in a position of power and he uses this power to get his hole. Rape happens when your mate realises you won’t stop him.
We do everything we can to avoid rape. We dress in a certain way, we only go places at certain times, we are friendly in case of violence but not too friendly that people will say we asked for it. No matter what we do it still happens to us. The only thing stopping rape is rapists and enablers. Not every man is a rapist but every time you turn a blind eye to the above, you enable rape.
And if you are an enabler, it doesn’t matter that you promise to cross the road at night so as not to scare someone. It doesn’t matter that you feel bad about hearing your friend’s sexual assault stories. It doesn’t matter that you tell yourself you would never do that to someone. If you are an enabler, you are complicit in this culture of sexual violence.
Check your mates.
Follow Alex on instagram, she posts on these issues and other incredibly important topics we all need to know more about – @orrwhat
Thank you for reading. Thank you Alex, for writing this very important post.
Let’s make a difference, Let’s do it NOW.