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Walter writes: "Survivors of sexual violence told researchers that they were 'embarrassed' to report sexual offences and didn't think the police would 'do much to help'. This is down to a genuine underlying problem in our culture."

97 percent of rapists will never serve jail time, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. (photo: unknown)
97 percent of rapists will never serve jail time, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. (photo: unknown)

Men and Rape

By Natasha Walter, Guardian UK

14 January 13


Last week's sexual violence figures prove that young men need to be taught how to engage with women.

ever has there been such attention focused on rape and sexual violence. Over the past year, mainstream and social media have been riveted by one case after another. Yet even as these stories have followed one another, what has often been missing is the context that would link these apparently disparate instances.

Over and over again, some commentators have tried to comfort us by distancing or minimising the relevance of each case. This one was in the past. This one involved Asian rather than white British men. This one happened in another country. This victim was just particularly unlucky or particularly vulnerable or didn't even experience rape.

So it has sometimes been hard to see how these apparently disconnected instances might be connected - or might have much relevance to any of us or to our sisters or mothers or brothers.

The figures that were released last week on sexual offences in the UK must have put paid to that comforting sense of distance. These new statistics come right from the mainstream: they were prepared by the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Office for National Statistics. And the reality they disclose is shocking. They suggest that one in five women in the UK experiences a sexual offence in her adult life and that there are 473,000 victims of sexual offences every year, including 60,000 to 95,000 rapes. Yet all of these rapes lead to just 1,070 convictions.

Such statistics bring all the disparate stories home. This is not another country or another time. This is not just one famous guy who got away with it or just one survivor who may have got her story wrong. This is around 70,000 people being raped and nearly 500,000 experiencing sexual offences every year, right here, right now. Yet according to this report, only 15% of sexual offences were even reported to the police, let alone pursued through the criminal justice process.

These figures surely undermine the idea that it is just some kind of jumpy feminist paranoia to be anxious about the sexual culture that surrounds us. One message comes over very clearly. Survivors of sexual violence told researchers that they were "embarrassed" to report sexual offences and didn't think the police would "do much to help". This is down to a genuine underlying problem in our culture. For too long, the response to sexual violence has been a propensity to blame the victim, to suggest that she is overreacting or that she brought the crime upon herself. We may have been shocked by some of the statements coming from public figures in India about the victim of that horrendous gang rape and murder, but a tendency to shift the blame away from the perpetrator remains way too prevalent in the UK, too.

If we are to change that, we have to begin to take survivors of abuse seriously. One of the lines that will always stick in my head from this past year are the words "just the women". Apparently when the editor of Newsnight was deciding that his programme couldn't run with its story about Savile, he complained that these were the only sources.

Obviously, a journalist must find credible sources to stand up a story and nobody should be smeared with abuse allegations without evidence. But there is a resonance here to the dismissive tone of these words, a resonance that means something to everyone who has been abused or worked with survivors of abuse. Those abused by Jimmy Savile, those abused in Rochdale, those 85% of the 500,000 victims of sexual offences who never go to the police. Just the women. Just the children. Just the victims.

Against that dismissive statement is another resonant line that has stuck in my head from the past year: "We believe you." This line was used by parenting website mumsnet for the rape-awareness campaign it launched in March 2012, which aimed to encourage understanding of the prevalence of sexual violence and why so few women report these crimes. As they stated: "We hope to show that there is no 'typical' rape survivor and reassure those who have experienced rape that it's never your fault." A wonderful statement of solidarity, this line is one I often whisper to myself in my day-to-day work with refugees who have fled sexual violence and are struggling to convince the authorities of the reality of their experiences.

Alongside examining our dismissive attitudes towards survivors of abuse, and ensuring that in the future they are taken seriously, we must now also take another step. We must be prepared to shift some of our attention away from the victim and towards the perpetrator. For too long, women - and male survivors of abuse, too - rather than the perpetrators have been forced to bear the shame for these crimes. We need to break the cycle of impunity enjoyed by abusers and to do that we need to show men that it is not OK to abuse or to excuse, joke about or shrug their shoulders and ignore abusers.

There is also a real need to examine the wider culture in which we are bringing up our boys. The assumption that women are there to be objectified rather than seen as fully human, to give others pleasure rather than share in pleasure, is too often embedded in the culture around young people. Too often, boys are encouraged to believe that they must cut themselves off from nurturing, empathetic and intimate behaviour to become fully masculine. As long as we tolerate these assumptions in the name of normal masculinity and femininity, then we will find it tough to challenge the culture of sexual violence.

Despite everything, there are reasons to hope that this time could prove to be a turning point. I am not minimising the scale of the problem in wanting to look towards some points of light. One of those little lights might be the fact that views on sexual violence that might once have been seen as radical are now becoming more mainstream. Another is the fact there are new places now, such as the internet-based projects Everyday Sexism and Women Under Siege, where survivors of sexual violence and those who support them are able to share information and understanding.

There are initiatives to raise awareness and take steps for change that are coming from governments, such as the Foreign & Commonwealth Office's drive to tackle sexual violence in conflict; and from the grassroots, such as the protests that have been seen throughout India, or the actions planned for One Billion Rising, a worldwide day of action, on 14 February. None of these initiatives on their own can mark the change we want to see, none of us can do anything in isolation. But if we work together, step by little step, we may yet see genuine change. your social media marketing partner


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+6 # brux 2013-01-15 00:36
Come on, just scratch the surface and peel b back the veneer of our society and threats and violence is right under the surface, the big recurring ones we just call normal or course and settle for life as we cannot change it, even though there are some pretty big wins for everyone in changing quite a few things. That there is any major country in the world that is a real democracy is almost equal to a hoax.
-19 # fliteshare 2013-01-15 02:37
You mean that 40 year of Feminism has managed to convince boys they must cut themselves off from nurturing, empathetic and intimate behaviour to become fully masculine ?
Wasn't this accomplished by removing positive male role models from the family and the early education system ?
I'd say congratulations and enjoy.
+9 # dovelane1 2013-01-15 03:01
For me, the book "The Hazards of Being Male" detailed how much the stereotypical male expectations were dangerous to both men and women, boys and girls.

The main problem is the expectations that we men are all socialized to believe we have to live up(or down) to, in order to be a "man." In order to meet the expectations, we also have to ignorethe fact that we are all human beings first.

If we learn how to objectify ourselves, it's a very small, but extremely aggressive step to objectifying all those who, though human, don't happen to be male.

I read somewhere that, in order to resolve conflicts with others, one must first see the other person as our equal, and the other person must do the same. The learned male and female expectations many times do not allow us to see persons of the other gender as our equals.

That all changes if we can learn to see the ourselves and other people as HUMAN BEINGS first, and then look at all the other definitions we have learned to have of ourselves and others as merely subheadings.

For instance, I am a human being, who happens to be male, who happens to be white, who happens to like gardening, who happens to play the guitar, who happens to have a bachelor's degree, and so on.

Awareness is always the first step.
+9 # chinaski 2013-01-15 09:25
Every man on this planet, whatever he LOOKS like he is doing, has both hands covering his genitalia. We may look like we're talking on a cell phone, standing as casually as we can in a doorway, reading a newspaper, but 24/7 it's hands clutching genitals. We have the irreproachable exemplars of all the Self Made Men, having hauled themselves up by their collective scrota to show us how it's done. If that isn't enough we have testosterone gels, viagra, hair replacement, assault rifles and endless hours pumping iron to keep us hard. Our movies offer up hyper-macho muscle-bound badasses, and a Hero equals any man dressed in fatigues.
We walk around masked in a red-faced constipated grimace. But that's the look one gets from a continuous death grip on one's nuts.
Underneath the painted-on hardon? We're terrified, and that's REALLY why we're holding on 'down there'.
0 # PABLO DIABLO 2013-01-18 19:01
Work together for ONE BILLION RISING on February 14th.

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