Sunday, March 08, 2009

IWD: Violence against Women and Girls

Today is International Women's Day. Because the United States didn't pick a national theme for the day, I'm going to go with the United Nation's:

Women and Men United to End Violence Against Women and Girls

While a little over a year old, I ran into this article recently, "The judge in a child sex assault case being heard in the Northern Territory Supreme Court has told reporters in the courtroom not to use the word 'rape' in relation to the case." While this particular case is about a boy, I've been thinking about how we use language especially in cases of sexual harassment, assault, and rape. When the offense isn't labeled, it is lessened.
Last year I ran into this article about how one student took a stand against sexual violence by labeling the act for what it is.

Tyler Jones was tipping back a couple of beers with friends at a Dinkytown bar when he suddenly had to take a stand.

"Hey, see that girl over there?" Jones recalled an acquaintance asking, nodding toward a woman he wanted to take home. "She's almost drunk. Not quite drunk enough. ... What shot should I buy her?"

There was a time, Jones says, when he might have laughed off the remark. Not anymore.

"You want to buy her something really strong to like, basically knock her out?" Jones, a University of Minnesota senior, recalled saying. "Man, that's not right. That's rape. That's sexual assault."

The acquaintance looked stunned. "Whatever," he mumbled, and walked away.

By labeling the act as rape and sexual assault, he was an instrument in preventing it.

I feel that this is probably one of, if not THE best ways to prevent sexual violence. I've thought about the times where I was the recipient sexual harassment- and while words aren't physically violent, they are emotionally. I've been harassed while jogging, in a job interview (didn't take the job), at a different job, just walking down the street. In most of these instances, I was a teenager and didn't know how to handle it so I just ignored it, but by ignoring it I feel that I was being permissive of it. What I should have done is stopped and said, "That's sexual harassment. I am going to_____(call the cops, the Better Business Bureau, etc)."

Labeling the violence removes the blame from the victim. It doesn't matter what you wore, where you were at, how intoxicated you were: rape is still rape and is not your fault. Date rape is rape. Incest is rape. Unwanted groping is assault. Cat calls and whistles are verbal assaults. And it's not about sexuality; it's about power.

I've thought about this more recently as a mother. I want my children to label sexual violence as such and not explain it away as something lesser.

Just a few months ago, I was with a couple of other parents. One of the families had a little boy, 2 years old, who was still in pajamas and needed to change into his play clothes. Another family had a little girl just under 2. While the parents of the boy were changing him, the parents of the girl edged her on to say, "Take it off, (name)!" The girl repeated what her parents told her to and both the boy's and girl's parents laughed thinking it was all in good fun. I didn't say it at the time because I was too stunned to put my feelings into words, but if I ever run into this again I will not hesitate to label this, "That's sexual harassment."

That incident still haunts me: why didn't I speak up? I really regret my silence, but I try to constantly ask myself, would the words I use encourage my children to see other people or themselve as sexual objects instead of human beings? Do they see and hear me treating others or myself as sexual objects?




Sites I browsed while looking this up and wanted to share:
Jackson Katz: Violence Against Women Is a Men's Issue
Ten Year Old's Aren't "Asking for It," Judge
This is Not an Invitation to Rape Me

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