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Dear Mary

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The author of this piece wishes to remain anonymous

Daily newspaper problem pages and agony aunt columns are usually the stuff of tea-breaks – a few subbed-down lines is all the reader gets to explain the situation that needs sorting. This week, though, the Irish Independent’s “Dear Mary” feature printed an extraordinary letter from a man who claimed to hate his wife but who said he would continue in the relationship if she had sex with him once a week. It caught my attention, not because of the misogyny – though that is astounding in its intensity – but because the writer admits to forcing his wife to have sex….and Mary welcomes this “other perspective”.

It prompted me to imagine what the writer’s wife might say to Mary, if she’d read her husband’s letter and recognised him. Perhaps other women might like to imagine too?

“Dear Mary,

It’s been 14 – no 16 – years. Of hell. If you must know.

Fourteen years with his ring on my finger.

God he begged and begged me to marry him when I was at university. We met at a gig in the students’ union. He caught me unawares after a few drinks. It wasn’t until sometime later that he admitted he wasn’t a student too.

He was a salesman.

Who liked hanging around the university in the evenings.

And it wasn’t until sometime after that again that he admitted he still lived with his mother, not in a house on the edge of the city with two friends from college.

These untruths annoyed me and we split up several times. So why did I marry the liar?

Well, I met his mother on the final get-back-together weekend.

“Ah sure you’re great together.

“Ah he worships the ground you walk on.

“And when I think about it, he’s very good to me really.”

As I listened to her gush in her sparkling kitchen, I thought this was strange because he was always complaining about her. But I let it slide and accepted the ring.

And it was grand for a while. We honeymooned hornily in Benidorm for a week and our first child was born 40 weeks later.

When I found out I was pregnant he was delighted.

His own personal taxi service to and from the pub.

When the child arrived, he celebrated over the whole weekend with his friends. I saw him at the delivery and then 36 hours later, dishevelled and so drink-sodden I thought the nurses would turf me out of the bed and put him in it.

I’d just started a good job before I got married. The child put paid to that. They didn’t have to keep the post open and so I scraped by on the notes he put on the kitchen counter each week.

He was always promising more – there’s a big deal coming off, he’d say, loads of commission. But it never happened. It was on one of those Friday nights that I fell pregnant again. A couple of cans of cider in my three-month-post-baby-body and that was it. In spite of his assurances that he’d seen on television that a woman who’d had a baby couldn’t get caught again for a year.

Yes. I was that in love, that gullible.

So three years into the marriage and two youngsters under two. His money stayed the same so I had to do something. But who would look after two kids that age for nothing?

Well actually,his mother did – for a few mornings each week – and I started cleaning other people’s houses. Cash in hand. No sick pay. No holiday pay.

So, Mary.

I could buy bits and bobs at Christmas….new shoes for the kids…the usual.

And it was hard Mary, do you know that?

Getting him off to work with a clean, pressed shirt each day. Getting the kids organised for their gran’s, getting to work – I’d no car – and back. Then housework, the dinner, the kids.

I was shattered.

He came home from work, threw off his shoes and ate his dinner with the six-pack he’d brought home. Or phoned me to say his workmates were having a few drinks and he’d see me later.

Either way, I couldn’t win. Either way, when I had put the kids to bed, he’d start pawing from the sofa, or arrive home with just one thing on his mind.

And I was shattered Mary.

A lot of the time I got away with it. I’d say one of the kids wasn’t well and sleep in their room. Or say I had my period. For a man who was supposedly so well up on female reproduction he had no idea most periods don’t last two weeks.

But sometimes there was nothing I could do.

Now don’t get me wrong. At that stage I did kind of still love him. If he’d lifted the toys or said he would iron his own shirts, I’d have been all over him like a mare in heat.

But he never did.

And he was no stallion Mary. He was a little mongrel dog. One, two, three. Done.

A good lover?

I climaxed three times in our marriage – twice on honeymoon. As the Americans would say, go figure.

Anyway, after a few years he stayed out more and more.

It sounds like a 1950s record, but when I washed his shirts I knew he was with other women. They can’t help themselves with the perfume – even their deodorant smells different. And it was all over his shirts.

Then one night he came home earlier than usual. The children were watching television and I was making their school lunches in the kitchen. In he comes through the back door, swaying, demanding.

I suggested later. He wanted it there and then. I protested the kids were in the next room, could walk in any minute. He tipped the back of a chair against the door handle and raped me over the kitchen sink.

Do you know what that’s like Mary? To be violated in your own home, your children in earshot so you can’t scream?

One, two, three. Done.

Be thankful for small mercies.

He said nothing the next day and neither did I.

I thought about leaving him then. But this was before the internet was big and I’d no mobile phone anyway. It wasn’t until weeks later that I saw a poster for Women’s Aid in the library – but when and where would I get the time to ring them? What would they be like? Would they give off that I had stayed there that night – and since? I did not know these things. Besides which, on the night it happened I’d four euro fifty in my purse and no idea of where to go.

Now, it’s different.

Now I’m still cleaning because the kids are still at school but I’ve saved a bit for what I call my sunshine day.

Now I know the Women’s Aid number. I’ve got someone to speak to.

He’s forced me since. And I’ve told her. She’s written it down.He’s never hit me, but she says that doesn’t matter – rape in marriage is still rape. I always thought the hitting mattered most, the black eyes and the bruises . That that was domestic abuse. I think lots of people – men and women – do. Maybe you do too. Maybe you should talk to Women’s Aid too. Ask them about rape in marriages and partnerships.

I didn’t know that controlling the money in the house was abuse. Both our names are on the mortgage, but he keeps telling me that I’ve let him down and it really should be his because I don’t have the job that my university education lead him to believe I’d get.

I’d didn’t realise that his never-ending put-downs were abuse too. After the second child and thinking I was stuck with him forever, I didn’t care about anything. I ate when I wanted – crisps and toast. No, actually, I ate what we could afford and when I wasn’t cleaning, or looking after the kids or him. So my jeans and T-shirts got bigger, but I’m always clean and fresh, even if my hair is constantly tied back in a ponytail and I cut my own fringe.

And I make my children smile. And the people I work for and anyone I talk to. Though I haven’t been able to keep up with my uni friends – or make many news ones. Well, you can’t when you’re never out, Mary, can you?

He has lots of “friends”.

But the Women’s Aid woman is a friend now. She persuaded me to tell her how my life is lived. And she helped me see that it is no life at all. She knows because it used to be her life too.She understands that a time will come. And she says they’ll be waiting.

I have a phone now but he doesn’t know about it. I hide it under those shirts he never irons in the basket. So, when that time comes and I’m ready, I can call them and tell them I’m coming.

He still comes home expecting his dinner and all the rest – and sometimes, like before, I can’t escape, but I will….soon.

When he’s sitting, furious at the lack of sex, on the sofa, he texts a lot. I know it’s other women but I ignore the pings. He smiles sometimes and puts on his coat and leaves me in the kitchen. I know he’s meeting them for sex – he keeps condoms in his jacket pocket. He doesn’t know I’m studying the books I’ve hidden behind the cereal boxes.

So yes, Mary.

Tell him to leave.

Tell him to get out of this house and move away, far, far away. He never cared about the kids up until now – ask him the dates of their birthdays and see what he says. He won’t miss them.

We won’t miss him either.”

Feminist Ire Podcast – A Conversation on Consent: It’s ok to say no.

Feminist Ire Podcast – A Conversation on Consent: It’s ok to say no.

For the first Feminist Ire podcast, myself, Sinéad Redmond, Sue Jordan, Yaz O’Connor, Lisa Keogh Finnegan, Helen Guinane sat down and talked about the issues of consent issues in sex, tea, alcohol and everyday life in general – and how it’s ok to say no.

Eilís Ní Fhlannagáin performs her spoken word piece “Ruth.” (This starts at 90:00 if you want to skip straight to that). 

If you’ve been affected by any of these issues regarding consent or rape or sexual assault you can contact Dublin Rape Crisis Phone Line on: 1800 77 8888

If you need information on accessing information on abortion services you can contact the Abortion Support Network.

Massive, massive thanks to Oireachtas Retort for editing assistance. We are grateful!

If you would like to share any views with us on this, please email feministire@gmail.com or get in touch with us on twitter @feministire

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Pregnant Child Detained in Mental Institution For Asking For An Abortion

To access a life saving abortion in Ireland requires 3 medical professionals (two psychiatrists and one obstetrician) to agree that the woman is at risk of taking her own life. As the recent case of a young girl  shows it only takes one psychiatrist however to get sectioned for wanting an abortion in Ireland.

The girl was legally classed as a child and her identity has understandably been withheld so we know nothing more about her other than that she had an unwanted pregnancy and that when she sought an abortion from her healthcare professionals she was of the understanding that she was being taken to Dublin for the procedure. However unbeknownst to her the consultant psychiatrist had given evidence at a hearing to detain her under the Mental Health Act.

“The consultant psychiatrist was of the opinion that while the child was at risk of self harm and suicide as a result of the pregnancy, this could be managed by treatment and that termination of the pregnancy was not the solution for all of the child’s problems at that stage.”

How frightening it must have been for her to find herself in a mental hospital after travelling to Dublin expecting an abortion. We are told it was “days” later that another hearing was held that resulted in her discharge from the mental hospital. During this time her court-appointed guardian ad litem (GAL) had employed another consultant psychiatrist to access her and on the basis of their evidence the girl was released from the institution. She spent unnecessary “days” in a mental institution for the “crime” of nothing more than wanting an abortion.

I’ve heard numerous reports of suicidal people trying to access mental health units in Irish hospitals who have been sent away. In future I’ll suggest to those of them who are capable of getting pregnant to say they’re pregnant and want an abortion, as that seems to be a sure way to get sectioned.

This case raises a number of questions. How is it that it only took one psychiatrist to have the girl sectioned? Why was the PLDP act not enacted for this pregnant, suicidal child? How can the public be assured that the personal beliefs of medical professionals won’t interfere with them being able to access the healthcare they need? Did Government Ministers know of the case at the time?

Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) spokesperson Linda Kavanagh said:

“Looking at the report, it’s hard not to think that the psychiatrist in this case essentially used the Mental Health Act as a tool to force a child into continuing an unwanted pregnancy because of their own personal beliefs. It is clear we need some process which ensures medical professionals with such conscientious objections cannot block timely health care in critical cases.”

This is the latest case in a long line of women and girls who have been failed by the state. Ms X was another suicidal child prevented from accessing an abortion in 1992 and Ms Y a teenage rape victim likewise led to believe she would be given an abortion and instead detained against her will. Ireland has a disgraceful history stretching back to the Magdalene Laundries of locking up pregnant women.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act is supposed to “protect” women who are at risk of taking their own lives, not used as a tool to lock women who want abortions up.

The Irish Government are allowing this human rights abuse to happen on their watch, leaving a trail of abused and sometimes dead women, girls and children behind them.

Rally to Repeal is on Saturday 17th in Dublin. If you can’t go please contact your local T.Ds and ask them to urgently implement the findings of the Citizens Assembly.

You can sign an UPLIFT petition here:https://action.uplift.ie/campaigns/187

*I’d like to acknowledge the work of the Child Law Project. We would know nothing of this case if it wasn’t for their work. Since 2012 they have been able to report to the public on child care proceedings in the courts, they aim to report on 10% of cases.

Ireland: Domestic Abusers Paradise

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Ireland: Domestic Abusers Paradise

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The following is a not-at-all comprehensive list of things that are not considered a crime in Ireland (if the person doing them to you is your partner or ex partner):

  • Refusing to get you medical attention when you need it
  • Deliberately embarking on a campaign of brainwashing to break you down and erode your self worth
  • Leaving you sick without food or water for more than 24 hours
  • Belittling and mocking you for your health issues
  • Stopping you from seeing your friends and/or family
  • Hacking into your accounts and spying on you
  • Trying to turn your children against you
  • Extorting money from you by coercion
  • Coming into your house without your permission
  • Going through your belongings
  • Leaving photographs of themselves in your bed
  • Sending abusive texts or emails
  • Using children to hurt/control you (by not attending to their needs when in their care, refusing to sign permission slips/passport applications/H.S.E forms etc)
  • Spreading malicious lies about you
  • Reading your texts and emails
  • Lurking round your property and looking through your back windows in the morning
  • Using jointly owned assets (property etc) as a means to control you
  • Not allowing you any money or taking all the money without your knowledge or permission
  • Sabotaging your contraception
  • Not allowing you to have an abortion if you want one
  • Neglecting the children when they are in his care
  • Not allowing you any time to yourself
  • Not allowing you to work
  • Making you keep a diary of what you do every minute of the day
  • Using their financial means and your lack of to control you
  • Deliberatley stripping you of your sense of identity
  • Threatening to take your children off you
  • Threatening to harm your children and or pets
  • Threatening to kill themselves in an effort to control you

All of the above examples I’ve taken from my own experience and those of the many women* I’ve supported after leaving abusive relationships. Many of these examples were cited in dealings with domestic abuse services and Gardai and the victim was told they had no case against the abuser. They are just some of the techniques used by abusive people to emotionally abuse others. I call it psychological torture, a brainwashing that happens over time that slowly but surely erodes the sense of self. This connection to the man’s needs creates a binding dynamic that makes it extra difficult for women to leave. Their victim’s sense of self is so eroded and they are so brainwashed into putting him first that even after leaving the most awful of relationships they are still thinking of and worried about the ‘poor’ man they’ve left. A lot of the work I do is helping women to reclaim their sense of self and to learn to put themselves and their needs first.

If you are a victim who has suffered emotional abuse constituting any of the above list (or other emotionally abusive actions), there are a few countries in the world that consider that treatment of you a crime. The U.K, France and Canada all consider emotional abuse to be a crime, as does the the U.N and domestic abuse service providers who work with abused women. Given the long term affects on the victim are the same regardless of the type of abuse perpetrated, why is it that most countries (including Ireland) only recognise the physical body as capable of being ‘abused’?

According to a U.N report on violence against women,

“Forty-three per cent of women in the 28 European Union Member States have experienced some form of psychological violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.”

43%. That is nearly half the female population of Europe that has been a victim of a type of abuse that is considered a criminal act in several first world countries and that is every bit as harmful to the victim as physical violence.

In Ireland, domestic abuse is not even seen as a crime, as Jane Ruffino points out in her excellent piece on the subject. A woman in Ireland whose partner or ex partner is doing any of the things on the list above has no legal recourse to get him to stop. Yet the list above contains actions that are considered warning signs if you are an expert in domestic abuse. And as we know, domestic abuse often ends only when the woman is dead.

Data on domestic abuse is not even collected in Ireland. Perhaps the Irish government thinks it can put it’s head in the sand as to the scale of the problem. That Gardai were grossly under reporting domestic abuse figures came to light when the Northern Irish Police released their report detailing more than 29,000 domestic abuse incidents. When this figure was compared with 3678 incidents reported by Gardai the same year people started to question the validity of the Irish figures. Since Ireland has nearly 3 times the population of Northern Ireland our figures should’ve looked more like 87,000. But then I suppose figures like that might require some kind of action on behalf of the Irish government.

According to the U.N less than 10% of women report physical, emotional or sexual crimes against them to the Police. If we are to assume that the Irish figures should be more like 87,000 and that that is representative of the 10% who report, we would be looking at 783,000 women in Ireland currently or previously being a victim of abuse (excluding child abuse). That roughly equals one sixth of the Irish population. Add that to the one in four who have been abused as a child and you have a country with a massive abuse problem. A country that doesn’t record domestic abuse figures and has a horrific history of covering up (and enabling even) child abuse.

As the government in Ireland seems disinterested in knowing how many of it’s citizens have been abused, perhaps some monetary figures would incentivise them to care. The link between metal health and trauma has been widely reported on, and the cost of mental health problems to the Irish economy is 3 billion a year. While some mental health problems are physiological, research shows that a lot of mental health problems stem from trauma. There are potentially 783,000 women in Ireland who have or are currently a victim of domestic abuse (excluding child abuse statistics). Some of these women have children who have also been exposed to if not abuse itself then the aftermath of experiencing abuse. These women have friends, family and work colleagues who will similarly be exposed and perhaps affected. That is a lot of potential mental health issues.

If we cared about abuse (if we cared about women) we might know what the actual figure of the economic cost of domestic abuse is. I’m not an economist, so I can only talk about the human cost. The human cost of living in a country that doesn’t view someone psychologically torturing you, denying you healthcare, tricking you into getting pregnant, threatening you, stalking you, lying about you or using your children against you as a crime worth prosecuting. A country that doesn’t even bother to collect data about the abuse you are receiving. And I have to ask, what kind of country accepts this behaviour as socially and legally justifiable?

NOTE ON ACTIONS: You can write to, phone or email your TD about the Domestic Violence Bill and ask for:

  • Domestic abuse to be made a criminal act.
  • Data to be collected by the Gardai on domestic abuse.
  • Emotional abuse to be included as a crime.
  • The name to be changed to ‘Domestic Abuse’ to encompass all types of abuse, including those that aren’t physical.

*I’m speaking of women in this piece as they are the most affected by domestic abuse and I have only worked with women survivors, however men can of course be victims of abuse as well.

Won’t Someone Think Of The Rapists?

Won’t Someone Think Of The Rapists?

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Being interviewed for The Evening Standard self-confessed rapist Tom Stranger, who shot to fame when sharing a stage with the woman he raped for a T.E.D talk said, “In South of Forgiveness we speak about the ‘monster myth’ and how rape is seen as an inhuman act. I see it as part of a specific problem. It’s almost like escapism.”

I find myself constantly returning to Tom Stranger and Elva Thordis’s talk and interviews (I have not yet been able to bring myself to read the book). I find so much of it problematic as I have explored in various pieces here, hereand here. I suppose as someone who has been raped twice, both times by men I thought were my friends and both times after I had been drinking — Elva’s story strikes a cord with me. Also like Elva I’ve spent much of my adult life working to end sexual and (in my case) domestic abuse. Each time I read something new about Stranger and Elva I feel the urge to dissect it, to explore what they are really saying. And I think that is of value, given how many millions of people have been exposed to their story and the effect it is having on how we collectively think about and approach rape and rapists.

I would argue that while most people abstractly think of rape as an inhuman act — these values aren’t backed up in action. In values that play out in actuality most people actively attempt to nullify the existence of rape, by victim shaming and blaming and allowing perpetrators off the hook so readily. The essence and goal of rape culture is to normalise sexual assault against women, so in acted — upon values rape is not seen as an inhuman act and therein lies the problem. In fact rape is so normalised that it took Stranger himself 9 years and a confrontational email from his victim for him to realise he had raped someone. Rape has become so distressingly common that worldwide 1 in 3 women will be victims of male perpetrated sexual violence. Which leads us to ask the question how many men in 3 are rapists? Or men in 5? Or men in 10? We don’t know those figures, because no one is researching how many men are rapists. Rape is framed statistically through how many women will be victims — not how many men will rape.

It is hard to know exactly what Stranger means by “It’s almost like escapism.”, is he referring to rape? the term ‘rapist’? When asked by the interviewer Stefanie Marsh what did he mean by that he continued,“I think the term ‘rapist’ disallows any further analysis because it is a branding of someone as opposed to a behaviour.”

Yet ‘rapist’ does not require further analysis — it is the term we use for someone who has raped someone. That a rapist is arguing to not be branded a rapist is a bit rich. Stranger then says, “If you Google ‘Tom Stranger’ a lot of the headlines include the word ‘rapist’. I don’t know if it’s my place to question that term — it is factually correct and I’m not looking to refute it. But it’s a weaponised term. The semantics of it — it’s the grandest of sins. No one in their right mind would ever want to call themselves a rapist. I understand that. The discourse around that word almost isolates it. It is reductive to the point where it doesn’t get past the labelling. Being a rapist is unforgiveable — something beyond any kind of redemption or understanding.”

Stranger seems confused about what a weapon is, one thing a weapon is is using your strength, privilege or status to insert parts of your body into someone without their consent. Rape is a weapon, not the term rapist. Rapist in this case is simply a statement of fact. The truth cannot be weaponised when it is freely and openly admitted by the man himself. Furthermore rape is not in actuality seen as the ‘grandest of sins’ in terms how we treat men accused of or convicted of this crime. Far from it. Men routinely get away with raping women, with even those that are found out often forgiven and welcomed back into their jobs, sports clubs and communities with open arms. Some of them even receive standing ovations and awards or have dozens of people lining up to shake their hand. Even legally, rape is not seen as the ‘grandest of sins’ with only 5.7% of rapes reported to the U.K police resulting in a conviction,(and with only 15% of rapes reported that is a lot of rapists in our communities). And like Stranger himself, in some cases even self confessed rapists will serve no time in prison .

This brings us to the last of stranger’s quotes from the Standard interview, “Being a rapist is unforgiveable — something beyond any kind of redemption or understanding.”

The idea that families, friends and communities do not regularly forgive rapists couldn’t be further from the truth. In the T.E.D Q&A Stranger tells us how his own family responded to the news that he was a rapist.

“I am blessed with a loving, understanding and supportive network of friends and family, who have, for the most part, seen me as more than my actions. Primarily, the reactions I’ve received have been receptive, quiet and thoughtful.”

Stranger’s family and friends were “loving, understanding and supportive.” And that is the real problem we should all be talking about. That rapists are so readily forgiven, without having to be accountable or make reparations of any kind, rapists are accepted and shown love and support. I have worked with dozens of women who were victims of sexual and or domestic violence and I cannot think of one case where the perpetrators family and friends did not rally around them and attempt to discredit the victim. The most common societal response to men who perpetrate violence against women is to victim blame and keep on supporting the abusive man.

Imagine if the response from the family and friends of a perpetrator was to be disgusted and appalled? What if they wholeheartedly supported the victim instead of the rapist? What about the if the rapist was not allowed back into the lives of his friends and family until he had shown that he fully understood and realised the severity of what he had done and had dedicated his life to repairing the damage he had done to the woman? That would be a TRUE consequence for men to feel, that there would actually be serious repercussions from their friends and family if they hurt women. How many men do you think would rape women if they knew everyone, even their family and friends would rally around their victim?

We all have a part to play in rape culture. My bold idea is to start holding men to a higher standard. I have to wonder would Tom Stranger have raped Thordis Elva if his family and friends had done the same.

Patriarchy’s Wet Dream

View story at Medium.com

After the controversial TED talk ‘Rape and Reconciliation’ was programmed to be part of London women’s festival WOW 2017 there was outcry from survivors and individuals who felt that having a rapist at a woman’s festival was inappropriate, offensive and upsetting. In response the WOW organisers moved the event to one day outside of the festival and made it open to both WOW pass holders and the general public. Where the talk had been originally scheduled they instead held a panel discussion with the very loaded title of “Deciding Whose Story Gets Told”, where some of the people who were opposed to the talk going ahead at WOW joined those who wanted it as part of the festival. I thought the idea of ‘Deciding Whose Story Gets Told’ would be an interesting jumping off point for further exploration of this talk.

A quick breakdown of’Rape and Reconciliation’ for those who are unaware: 16 year old Elva was raped by her boyfriend Stranger who was 18 at the time, many years later she emailed him and they begin to correspond, resulting in Stranger admitting he did indeed rape Elva. They meeting in South Africa where they ‘reconcile’. They co-write a book together and rehearse for their TED talk. They are now touring the world to promote their book “South of Forgiveness”. A shorter version of this analysis is “Rapists admits to raping a minor. World Applauds”.

In the UK only 15% of rapes are reported to the police and only 5.7% of reported cases will end in a conviction. There are women who struggle to get their friends and family to believe they were raped, women who will never tell a soul, women who tell the police but aren’t taken seriously or who are told there isn’t enough evidence to prosecute, women who are silenced, women who are threatened, women who are raped as a tool of war, women who make up the 31% of UK women who have experienced sexual abuse in childhood and many more women who experience sexual violence in a range of different circumstances- and all of these women have stories that deserve to be told. However the story that the media, the book publisher Scribe, TED and Southbank have decided to tell is Elva and Stranger’s, a story of rape, forgiveness and reconciliation.

I am not suggesting that Elva not be able to tell her story, nor am I suggesting Stranger not be able to tell his either. I would however like to propose a few questions, like would they have been gifted so much publicity and so many stages if say, one or both of them had been a person of colour? We only need to look to Hollywood to see how white men accused of sexual abuse are treated very differently to black men accused of same. What if they were Muslims? What about if they were both physically unattractive? If they were in their 70’s? If they were both obese? It is hard for me to not think that the fact that they are both white, slim and attractive allows them access to stages and places that many other people would be denied. It feels likely that their white, middle class, attractive privilege gave their story a leg up when it came to  “Deciding Whose Story Gets Told”.

Elva states that by putting her story out there she hopes it will create a change of conversation around rape. She says we need to start talking to men about rape and include them in these types of conversations. I agree. It is a shame that the majority of media and festival opportunities Elva and Stranger have been given have all had primarily women audiences. As most survivors of sexual assault are women who do not need to be taught that it is men we know who are raping us. 90% of us are raped by men we know, this is not news to rape victims (1 in 3 women) nor is it (for the most part) news to the men who rape us (we don’t know how many in 3 that is, as we only ever talk about how many women get raped, not how many men will rape). We also do not need to be taught about why men rape us. We know why men rape. They rape because they feel a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, and this sense of entitlement has been socialised into them by a culture that pictures women through a lens of largely unattainable and restrictive gender stereotypes. We know they feel that they are of a higher status than women, they do not see women as their equal – and again this is where gender stereotypes play into these ideas men have that lead them to harm women.

Given Elva and Stranger’s stated desires for the talk and the fact that this knowledge (of why men rape) is so widely available I had hoped that Stranger’s part of the TED talk would be quite different from what he offers. I’d like to see him dissecting his toxic socialisation. I’d like to see him admitting to where society failed him by teaching him to have so much entitlement and so little regard for women that he would chose to rape a woman and manage to fool himself for years into pretending it wasn’t rape. I’d like to see him placing his actions in the context of it being considered ‘normal’ male behaviour and showing it up as the awful, degrading, harmful and abnormal behaviour it is. I’d like to see him explore rape culture from the point of view of someone who drank from it’s waters. I’d like to see him challenging other men to consider what they perceive as  a ‘normal’ way to treat women, and giving men tools on how to get help for themselves or the other men in their lives.

I completely agree with Elva when she says we need to change the discourse around rape. I believe we need to be talking mostly to those who rape (as in men and boys) and we also need to be focusing on parents. They are the people who are socialising the coming generation and if they aren’t talking about consent and role modelling it for their kids then we are going to have another generation of sexual and domestic abuse ahead of us.  Parents are, I believe the way forward and the way out of the abuse against women epidemic. We need a parenting revolution, one that teaches our sons to be respectful of girls and women, to understand the many ways in which someone says ‘No’ or ‘I’m not happy/comfortable’, we need sons who are critical thinkers, who can see through the patriarchal dream the media is selling them.

How amazing would it be if Tom Stranger fully owned all his previous toxic masculinity and combined his youth work with this knowledge to prepare and deliver talks for teenage boys? And for parents so they could learn how to raise sons who will NOT rape women? There is a great opportunity in the seed of Elva and Stranger’s collaboration. I just feel disappointed that have not grabbed it and instead the primary angle we are getting is on the ‘reconciliation’ and ‘forgiveness’ aspects of their story. The idea of a cosy reconciliation with your rapist is a largely unattainable dream which will be and is denied to the majority of rape victims. I should add that for many, myself included it is also an unwanted outcome.

A dream is what is being sold here, and when you think about it it’s a patriarchal wet dream. A lovely, attractive, quiet, forgiving woman who does not rail and spit and claw at her rapist, or even try and have him arrested. Instead she meets him, forgives him and they co-write a book together. Then they go on to tour the world together as business associates promoting their book. On their website it stated initially that Stranger would be donating a portion of his profits to charity. That has changed in the last week to now read that he will be donating all profits to charity. However he will (and already has) profited in many other ways – status and celebrity, platforms and contacts. I do not know if he is financing his own way around the world on the book tour (it seems unlikely as I’d imagine they would be keen to tell us that if he was) but he will undoubtedly be offered other opportunities off the back of having raped a woman. And that is a bitter pill for many of us who are victims of rape to swallow. A white privileged man who has never had any legal consequences, profiting from raping a woman –  it’s hard to see how the real winner in this story isn’t patriarchy (served with a side order of capitalism).

 

My previous writing on the ‘Rape and Reconciliation’ talk can be found at these links:

Deconstructing the TED Talk: Here

View story at Medium.com

On the Privilege and Patriarchy in the talk: Here

On Southbank’s decision to move the event and their statement: Here

View story at Medium.com

 

Intersectional Patriarchy

Intersectional Patriarchy

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In my previous piece on the TED talk ‘Rape and Reconciliation’ I touched on the privilege aspect of Elva and Stranger’s talk. I would like to further elaborate on why this part of the talk is so problematic.

Privilege is briefly mentioned by Elva during her talk but she does not acknowledge the privilege of already being a celebrity in her home country, being white, wealthy, healthy and having the connections that come with celebrity status.

Elva describes her path to healing from the rape she experienced aged 16. This path involves contacting Stranger to start a conversation with him about what he did to her and leads to the two of them flying to South Africa to reconcile. They say in the talk that South Africa felt like the perfect place to do this work due to its history of truth and reconciliation. So we have two white people travelling to a country where white people slaughtered, raped, abused and oppressed black people (and where the healing of that is still an ongoing process)  using the suffering of people of colour as a canvas to paint their story on. This is the height of white privilege. For any white person to draw comparisons of their problems with the systemic murder and abuse of an entire race of people is despicable.

Where would people of colour have to travel to to be able to soak up the energy of a place where people of colour oppressed white people and then reconciled?

Elva knowingly takes the stage at an event that is specifically designed to spread  and amplify new ideas and then disingenuously tells us she is aware that her path to healing (via forgiveness of her rapist, co-writing a book together and going on a book tour together) isn’t for everyone.

There are a tiny amount of people who have the privileges Elva has. And I wonder how many of those who do would even want to meet the person who raped them, write a book together and go on tour?

I am not trying to silence or deny Elva as a victim her agency. And at this stage even if people wanted to silence her they could not as she has already delivered a TED talk, has a book tour scheduled and been given a huge amount of publicity.  Her story is already out there. This is not a person who has had her voice silenced.

Nor do I seek to silence the voices of those who feel that they have gained something from watching the video or reading their story. I think for many women there is a sense of relief that finally, here is a man willing to be publically accountable for his crime against a woman. And there is a sense among some women that this is a step in the right direction, the crucial involvement of men in the discourse of sexual crimes against women is finally here. And in order to hold onto that glimmer they are willing to overlook the many great problems with this particular talk, and potential harm it could (and I believe will) cause women long term.

I have come to realise that this talk is something of a Rorshach Test, where viewers can see and experience very different things. Those who defend it cannot see how it could be harmful and those who see it as harmful cannot see how others are unable to see that.

Despite Elva’s insistence that they are not holding their story up as a template they believe others should follow, it seems clear to me that a dream is essentially what is being sold here. A dream of confronting your abuser and being acknowledged and affirmed in your experience. Receiving an apology. A dream of male abusers with an openness to self-reflection and contrition. Even perhaps a dream of many men learning from and embodying Stranger’s example. A dream of men seeing themselves and their actions reflected back at them by Stranger and mending their ways. A dream of a shift in the dialogue around rape away from the victim and onto the perpetrator.

We cannot however divorce the dream presented in this telling from the patriarchy and privilege of which it is infused. For it is it’s resonance as a document and exemplification of the intersection of Privilege & Patriarchy with Rape & Reconciliation that has in my view played a large part in its success.

This is rape and reconciliation through the lens of patriarchy and desirable outcomes for the abuser:

The victim forgives her abuser

They become friends, even collaborators, business associates

The abuser suffers no legal consequences for his actions

The abuser profits from admission and remorse with a book deal, Ted talk, Speaking Tour, Brand building celebrity/Cultural capital/Prestigious platforms etc.

Viewing the story through this lens I feel it is hard to argue that beyond the possibility of his victim never contacting him at all there could be a more desirable outcome for the rapist.

As well as this the talk introduces the harmful idea of forgiveness being upheld as an ideal for victims of sexual violence. Elva has become a powerful symbol of ‘the woman who forgave her rapist’. How long before that message seeps into popular culture becoming the benchmark other victims will be held up to?

The value of this idea to a patriarchal culture should not be underestimated. The idea of the woman who forgives her rapist and not only that goes on tour with him is an almost impossibly high expectation to make of most rape victims. It is wonderful for Elva that she found such a deep level of peace with what Stranger did to her and that she was able to move on in a healthy way with her life. But for us to set this up as an ideal, or even as a possibility for other rape victims is to set most of us to fail.

The reconciliation utopia Elva and Stranger are selling us can only be accessed by those with   enough intersecting privileges; white privilege, class privilege, economic privilege, health privilege, celebrity privilege.

The requirement of so many  intersecting privileges demonstrates the remoteness of the dream being sold here from the overwhelming majority of women and rape victims/survivors who do not share them.

The essential message of the talk is a man who claims he didn’t really realise he had raped a woman finally admitting; in public that he raped a woman. This is a man who will never experience any legal consequences for his crime as it is now outside the timeframe of the statute of limitations in Iceland. Added to this, this man has and will continue to profit (financially and in status and celebrity) from his admission of rape.

Wilfully or not, Stranger has found a way to capitalise from raping a woman.

And all those who grant him a stage aid him in doing this.