March 21, 2017

Day 1250 – Rape culture

As my travels have continued I find moments where fellow travellers open up to me. More often than not they talk about their aspirations or their fears.  I have had some discuss personal matters which I have listened to respectfully and without judgement. Sometimes, we seek validation from others but other times we share personal experiences because it feels right and more importantly safe. I have shared parts of my life with people I have known for a short period of time but if it feels right to me, I don’t hesitate, I open up. There is certainly a sense of making oneself more vulnerable and open to judgment when we do. But it is also these experiences that help explain to others why we are the way we are. It provides essential background information and builds a solid platform for a relationship. I surprise myself with what I share and at the same time, other people also share a personal encounter when I least expect it.

One such encounter happened today while two travellers and myself were on our way to Waiheke Island. I built a good rapport with both these women the night before and was looking forward to spending the day with them on the island. We headed to the harbour to catch the ferry and for the most part the conversation was light-hearted. One of them had travelled, worked and lived in India for the last two years. Yes, I’m Indian but no I have not yet had the opportunity to travel, work or live in India and I’m not entirely sure when it will happen at this stage. We all discussed India and what an amazing country it is however, I also outlined why I would not travel around India solo. I have met many a female travellers that do but I am not keen. In India, a woman reports rape every fifteen minutes. In 2014, 37,000 rapes were reported in India and the numbers continue to increase. These statistics represent all the women who report but of course there are many women who do not report being raped.
When discussing the above, I didn’t factor in that either of my two friends had been raped. It turns out one had. She had spent two years working in India and stayed safe. However, she was raped back home, in America. This is why for her, India is safe over her hometown.  I wasn’t ready when she made her disclosure and for a moment I was lost for words. Yes, as both a domestic violence advocate and counsellor, I heard many women disclose and share their experiences and I was prepared. But on this occasion, on this day, I was not. It made me think of other female travellers and if they too had experienced this but more so if they had been supported by a counsellor or friends or family.
Unfortunately, in America, statistics show that every 98 seconds a American is sexually assaulted and 90% of survivors are female. 1 in 6 women are the victim of attempted rape or rape in her lifetime. College students are also three times more likely to experience sexual violence. Again, these statistics show part of the picture because there are many people who not report rape or sexual assault. Not only is it a horrific, unacceptable and outrageous, it makes me angry that rape is the only crime where the victim is blamed. No matter what she was wearing, what she drunk or where she was, no woman is to blame for rape and no woman ever asks for it. There has certainly been more media coverage on the matter more recently, but not enough. As opposed to telling women where they can and what they can wear, men should be told to respect women. Women are not the problem, they were never the problem, it is men, who take a no for a yes and commit a act of violence.
In the UK, the number of rapes recorded by police has doubled in the past four years while the conviction rate has fallen. Around 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales alone every year so approximately 11 rapes (adults alone) are committed every hour. Many women do not report sexual violence to the police and many struggle to go through court process. Figures continued to increase and yet not enough is being done with many women in the UK not having access to a Rape Crisis Centre. Marital rape was finally a crime in England and Wales in 1991 up until then men had sex regardless of whether or not their partner wanted to. Yes we have come a long way but we still have such a long way to go. I have yet to understand why this isn’t at the forefront of society and why media coverage was so scarce. As I once said to a friend if rape received the same media attention as terrorism, more people in society would be informed and more measures could be put into place.
There is no set type of woman who is raped and there is no set type of man who is a rapist. I worked with a range of women, different ages, backgrounds and cultures who experienced domestic and sexual violence. The commonality was many of these women had low self-esteem. Whilst I have never worked with perpetrators, many of my clients talk about them and again there is no set profile. If there were set characteristics or factors then of course we would be sharing this information. There are certainly risk factors and working in the field, I learnt about signs or traits which ring alarm bells. When I have people tell me what I do is hard it makes me angry because it is not hard, it is hard and overwhelming for my clients because they experienced domestic and/or sexual violence. Yes I listened to clients off load but I learnt to become resilient and not to get attached. At times, yes, it is inevitable that some clients and their experiences have more of an impact then others but this is why self-care is so important for workers.
So what is the answer? How do we eliminate this rape culture? Is it even possible? I don’t have a answer, I wish I did. I know how angry it makes me and how my frustrations continued to increase each time I supported a client at court for example, to the point, I wasn’t managing them. I want us, as a society to come together, as a community, to prevent rape from happening altogether. Yes, my work empowered women and many were thankfully and I saw their confidence grow and witnessed them turn their live around. But what I really want is there to be more education and awareness around rape that it no longer exists. Prevention and early intervention and continuous awareness on the impact of rape and education on how it is a act of violence and violation of another person, is needed in many countries. I struggle to fathom how we have developed so much and come so far with all this technology and innovation yet, numerous women continue to be violated and not enough is done to prevent this.