These 25 case files are perforated with gaping holes. Many are still open homicides and thus law enforcement are careful to keep important details such as cause of death from the public eye. But if you’ve read them as often as I have some things become increasingly obvious. 11 of the women were found either without pants or completely unclothed (and a startling number still had their socks.) This means that in all likelihood at least 44% of the cases I’m working on were violent sex crimes and this is excluding the killers that bothered to reclothe their victims.
The psychology and cultural influences behind rape and sexual assault have long been a source of both fascination and disgust for me. After watching documentaries such as The Invisible War I felt the need to discuss the issue because unlike topics such as female role models and lack of political representation for women the growing problem of sexual violence seems to be slipping deeper and deeper from public discussion.
Feminism is most certainly a fashionable topic among twenty-something students today and so it should be. I give credit to my elder and much wiser sister for introducing me to Miss Representation which since seeing over 2 years ago I have been a proud and card carrying feminist. But it seems there is still much work to do on the world’s stage.
The universal popularity of feminism can certainly still be called into question. 2013 was undoubtedly a year for feminist discourse – between Robin Thicke’s undeniably catchy date rape anthem and Miley Cyrus’ latex twerking debacle. Discussion is great but the fact that we still have to argue whether a club crowd of 400 + chanting lines like ‘I know you want it’ and ‘the way you grab me/ must wanna get nasty’ has an influence on both men and women is frankly quite insane. And Thicke was just the only one brazen enough to combine explicitly derogatory and dangerous lyrics with a jingle so memorable that it became a summer sensation. Music like this is everywhere.
The trouble is that it’s not just music. It’s been estimated that adolescents are exposed to various media sources for over 10 hours each day. This means that while girls are listening to these diminishing lyrics they may be flicking through a magazine where they are told page after page, ad after ad that they should be striving to attain an inhuman epitome of beauty and that working hard and becoming self-fulfilled just isn’t enough. They take time to watch tv instead and inevitably flick to E! while presenters question whether the latest starlet is pregnant (or maybe she just had white carbs for lunch) while at the same time deplore an actress for being too thin and sending a bad message. And if they want to shop online, ASOS is there to tell them via their ‘size guide’ that their measurements should look something like a 36″ bust, 25″ waist and 36″ hips – the perfect hourglass.
Meanwhile, teenage boys are learning from various porn sites that it is simply not natural for there to be one strand of hair anywhere on a woman’s body besides her head and above her eyes. They also learn here that to be a man is throw your woman down and give absolute reign to your primal instincts – and she’ll appreciate this every single time. Maybe some boys find this a tad unrealistic? So they go and pick up one of the magazines that comes free with the Sunday paper and see an ad, oh say for Calvin Klein jeans? Or American Apparel shoes?
This is 10 hours a day, 365 days a year and yet we still have to ask ourselves how much influence media has on both ourselves and the younger generation. The time when parents and teachers were 100% responsible for adolescents moral compass is long gone. Today, the media parents both us and our children.
The term objectification has been overused – are women seen as sex objects in the media? Undoubtedly. But more importantly they are dehumanised. Men are taught to value women only for their sexual attributes and women respond in valuing themselves this way too. The harsh reality is things are just not getting better. If you go on to IMDB, the largest public voting database for movies and televesion, among the top 20 tv shows of all time only 2 feature a female lead and these don’t even count because they’re ensemble casts. Meanwhile among the top 50 movies only 3 have a female lead. The most recent of these 3? 1994. So for over twenty years a movie lead by a female has not merited being included in the top 50.
Dehumanisation has occurred often throughout history – it’s how dictators incite genocide and how racial and religious hatred is maintained. The scary fact is that in these cases violence was dependent on the sense of there being an ‘other’ not like us but here not only are men, under the deep impression of media influence, dehumanising women but women and girls are dehumanising themselves. Instead of teen media promoting figures like Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey or Wendy Davis the female ideal is a hyper-sexualised cookie cutter image of “empowerment.” Men don’t need to rely on their sexuality to be seen as powerful so why should women?
The relevance to sex crimes? What is your immediate reaction when you hear the word ‘rapist’? Most men and women (including myself) picture a dark alley, a man in a trench coat wearing a ski mask. Or some variation. But in reality the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland reported in 2011 that 90% of perpetrators of sexual violence are known to the survivor. The even bigger problem is that a huge proportion of these men don’t think of themselves as rapists because of the simple fact that we are not teaching men and women what constitutes sexual assault. More often than not rape doesn’t necessarily involve a brutal struggle and it doesn’t have the obvious signs but not saying no does not mean yes.
We have national television adverts and school sessions dedicated to ‘Think Contraception.’ Where is the ‘Think Consent’ campaign? Does it really kill the mood that much to simply utter the words: “Do you want to do this?” 6 simple words. Unfortunately, not only is preventing rape the issue but when a survivor has the strength to come forward she is often revictimised by the judicial system. And before even coming forward she may google some things to research what she has experienced:
It is possible that sexual assault is one of the only crimes where the victim is essentially put on trial. The bruises? She liked it rough. She flirted/danced/ kissed me. She passed out? Well she shouldn’t have drank so much, worn that dress, she was asking for it. Victim shaming is possibly the most repugnant part of the crime itself. If you leave your door unlocked accidentally and are burgled will you be asked: Did you want that to happen? If you get drunk, pass out and wake up to find someone has stolen your bag: But you really wanted that right? And if someone leaves their DNA on you this is suddenly a different matter.
As long as we keep blaming the survivors we are both letting the perpetrators know that they can get away with it and simultaneously telling victims that their word and forensic evidence simply isn’t good enough.
Hence, the vicious circle is complete. The media conditions both men and women into accepting rape culture and when the crime is committed we are more likely to question the victim rather than the assailant. Sexual assault is both underreported and even when it is prosecution is extremely difficult. This isn’t a woman’s problem, it is a human problem. As long as one half of the population is underrepresented be it in politics or the media we will never receive a balanced view of the world. Media conglomerates simply have to be held accountable for their insidious and blatantly dangerous impact on the population as a whole because as much as we like to think of ourselves as being autonomous we are simply the sum of what we’re exposed to.
While we chastise Islamic states for using religion as an excuse to oppress women we fail to reflect on our own excuse. Sexual freedom does not equal empowerment as we are taught to believe and while Muslim men and women worship at the Mosque we switch on the television, open a magazine, log into twitter and plug in our headphones. Our altar is present it just may not be made of stone making it all encompassing and all the more powerful.
Join the cause at http://nomore.org/