Calm down dear it’s only banter – really?

Jane KenyonI can stay quiet no longer, I have to talk about rape and the growing sexual violence towards women and young girls. It is making me sick and angry to live in a so called ‘developed, civilised and equal society’ where rape has become a word used as an insult and a compliment on campus and in the classroom; where girls are ashamed when they are raped and have so little confidence in our social justice they fail to report it; where young people think it is OK to hit a women if she nags or teases; where convicted rapists can return to their life unscathed, whilst the victims are shunned and left to pick up the pieces, alone and where in 2014 1 in 5 women will experience sexual abuse. Do I need to go on?

How have we allowed this to happen? What is going on and why are we not speaking up? And as for Ched Evans the Sheffield United footballer and convicted rapist. Whether his girlfriend supports him or not, he is a sexual predator and the messages we send to every young boy if he walks back into his high profile, high paid job are unthinkable. In fact a quick glance at his twitter feed says it all ‘Ched Evans rapes who he wants – result.’

Do I sound angry? I am!

The rape convictions in this country have been the same for decades, hovering around 6%. I wonder if it was men suffering this level of sexual violence – would the conviction rate still be so low? The criminal justice system is clearly failing women yet we are doing very little to correct it? And what about the thousands of women and girls who do not even bother to report sexual violence? It is not rocket science to work out why this is happening, with convictions so low and victims getting harassed and trolled when the rapists walk away or attract minimum sentences, why would anyone bother? But bother we must, we must find a way to support women victims, to make the system more effective, how can we sleep at night bringing our daughters up in a society that has so little regard for their personal safety and mental well being?

And here’s a few more stats to wake you up!
1 in 2 boys and 1 in 3 girls think it is sometimes OK to hit a woman or force her to have sex. Zero Tolerance 1998
Of all the young women seriously sexually assaulted at University only 4% reported it to their higher education institution and only 10% to the police. Over half of those that did not report it said it was because they felt ashamed or embarrassed. NUS, Hidden Marks Survey 2010

1 in 8 women have left a job due to sexual harassment. Slater & Gordon 2013
The pattern we are seeing over and over again is more violence and less reporting and this is becoming the norm. Clearly the criminal process is overwhelming for the victims but the answer is not to simply lie down, look the other way, give up or pretend it is not happening. We need to support women who speak up ; we need to protect women who speak up; we need to believe women who speak up and most of all we need to stand alongside them, hold their hand and not let go until justice is done. It is too risky to ignore this, stand on the side-lines and simply pray it won’t happen to us, or our friends, work colleagues or daughters.

And finally I find it utterly depressing that time and time again in my work with teenage girls I need to explain the definition of consent.
‘Is it my fault if I was drunk Miss?’
‘Is it my fault if I have led him on Miss?’
‘Is it my fault if I fall asleep Miss?’
‘Is it my fault if I was wearing sexy clothes Miss?’
‘Is it my fault if I got him all excited Miss?’
‘Is it my fault if I changed my mind Miss?’
No, No, No, No, No and NO!

The growth in online campaigns around this subject gives me hope that women are starting to speak up and share their real stories with a view to making the people in power listen up and make the changes necessary to create frame-breaking change. Anything less is simply shifting deckchairs on the titanic.

2 worth having a look at are ….
#beenrapedneverreported. A safe place for rape victims to speak up and support each other and call for action on reporting etc. And the brilliant work of Laura Bates @everydaysexismproject a project documenting experiences of sexism, harassment, assault and rape. A place for solidarity and campaigning.

And if you are as horrified as I was to learn that young people, in particular, girls have no clear idea what constitutes consent please sign the petition to ensure all schools teach all pupils about sexual consent and healthy relationships here www.change.org/SREnow or sign up on twitter @SRENow

We need to step away from ignorance and denial and unite in our right for justice and until women feel safe enough to report rape and sexual harassment we must be each other’s advocates and make sure it is the rapist put on trial, not the victim.

Breath Jane, breath.

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